Milhaud, a frequent composer of film scores, wrote the dirge Cortège funèbre for a particularly poignant scene near the end of the film Espoir by André Malraux, which focuses on the Spanish Civil War. The piece uses themes from popular songs of the time, albeit ones not necessarily mournful in character.
The concert premiere of Cortège funèbre was given in 1940, in a New York CBS broadcasting studio. The performance was dedicated to those who fell in the Second World War. Similarly, a 1995 performance of this piece by the Austrian Chamber Symphony in Vienna was given to commemorate 50 years of peace.