John Cage and the Twenty-six Pianos of Mills College. Forces in American Music from 1940 to 1990. Nathan Rubin. 1994. Copyright 1994 by Sarah's Books, 101 Devin Drive, Moraga, California 94556. 401w

Darius Milhaud

Unwilling to pretend, as Wagner did, to godhead or, as Stravinsky did, to perfection, he seemed content to show himself for what he was--a human being devoted to a small white cottage on the Mills campus and the wife and son who filled it (and the humming-birds and flowers which surrounded it). In Wagner, said Cocteau, error is hidden by the hands with which Wagnerians clutch their brows. In Stravinsky (who stepped on your toes, said Debussy, while kissing your hand) error is pardonable. In Milhaud, it is a proof of humanity and a link to Cage, where it is irrelevant.

Milhaud's appointment brought onto the Mills campus a friend of Picasso, L‚ger, Nijinsky, Stravinsky and Cocteau (and an acquaintance of Debussy, Jean Genet, President Eisenhower and the Pope). In Russia, Shostakovich came to him with his First Symphony in hand in search of approval. In Paris the Princesse de Polignac turned his pages during a performance. Students arriving for classes in the tiny Spanish house on the Mills campus were confronted by artists from across the world: Margaret Lyon says that Leland Smith walked in to find the Budapest String Quartet playing the piece he had just written; another student, asked to pick up a ringing telephone, discovered herself talking to movie star Maurice Chevalier. When he arrived at Mills, he was a symbol of French culture--the best-known member of the French group called Les Six (because, as friends, they had shared the same restaurants and concert platforms: other than that, there had been little reason to connect their music). By the time he had left, he had become one of the United States' leading artistic figures, earning a commendation from President Eisenhower which read, "I hope you will continue to enrich the cultural life of our nation." He became an honorary associate in the National Institute of Arts and Letters, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Advisory Committee on Music of the National Arts Foundation of New York. The place at Mills in which he taught was named by the Exxon Corporation as one of two hundred sites important to the evolution of the nation's music.