Academic journal article The American Music Research Center Journal

Nadia Boulanger, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, and American Music

Academic journal article The American Music Research Center Journal

Nadia Boulanger, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, and American Music

Article excerpt

Musicians who came to America from Europe and Britain in the 1930s and 1940s to escape political upheaval and war at home exerted various influences on American music. The renowned French teacher, organist, conductor, and composer Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) lived in the United States during the Second World War, arriving in 1940 and returning to Paris after the war ended in 1945. She made several visits to America before and after the war as well, to teach, lecture, and conduct; she was often the first woman to conduct a particular orchestra. In her early years she composed music, although her younger sister, Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), is probably better known than Nadia as a composer. Uli was ill most of her life and died at the age of twenty-four. After UN's death, Nadia ceased composing and continued to promote UN's work.

Many Americans travelled to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger. By the 1920s she was already known for bringing out a neophyte composer's own voice. She also conveyed a distinctive view of European classical traditions.

Peggy Glanville-Hicks (1912-1990), an Australian who studied with Boulanger in Paris in 1937, immigrated to the United States in 1941, with Boulanger's help. Glanville-Hicks stayed for almost twenty years, became a U.S. citizen, and made her career in New York City as a leading composer, respected critic, and successful producer of concerts and recordings of new music.

If Boulanger represented old-world traditions in America, Glanville-Hicks was a new-world figure-an Australian by birth-who was drawn to the notquite-so-new world of America by its musical opportunities. Unlike Boulanger, she held no academic positions; she taught only occasionally. She played piano but did not perform publicly; neither did she conduct.

Besides composing music, she published hundreds of concert reviews and long articles about new music and aesthetics; she was adept at publicity and public relations. Both Boulanger and Glanville-Hicks, however dissimilar as people and as musicians, are nevertheless apt to be described similarly as "exceptional women"-exceptions to the general rule that women and their work are not worthy of public recognition. Although the description is absurd and demeaning on its face, Glanville-Hicks in particular seems to have endorsed it, often claiming to be the only female composer of any merit.

Glanville-Hicks often cited her study with Boulanger as a crucial element in her life, but she did not give many details. She said that with Boulanger she completed her musical training, made contacts with American members of the "Boulangerie" who would later welcome her to the United States, and began to understand her status as a woman in the male-dominated professional world of music. Glanville-Hicks explained her admiration of Boulanger in a letter she wrote in 1948 upon hearing that a representative of UNESCO's International Fund in Paris was looking for young musical talent. She advised him to consult Mademoiselle Boulanger, whom she described as follows:

She is, and has always been, a meeting point for the creative avant-garde musicians of all ages and of every country, and she has been, during these past years, a great spiritual light to many of us also.

More than anyone in our time has she guided and fostered and tirelessly maintained the standard of excellence in musical purity and integrity. And if there are those among her pupils who have sometimes fallen short of her concepts, they have at least never left her hands without a full consciousness of those standards.

When I think of her many annual journeyings back and forth, back and forth between the New and Old Worlds in the years before this war; of the pupils, now famous names in every country, who went to her, or of those she came here to discover; when I consider, as I often do, the immense pyramid of knowledge and aesthetic judgment that she carried stone by stone across the Atlantic; I am humbled, as I always am in her presence, at the spectacle of one solitary and wholly creative human's achievement in an epoch of chaos and destruction. …

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