Academic journal article Journal of Band Research

Nadia Boulanger and Her Legacy through Wind Repertoire

Academic journal article Journal of Band Research

Nadia Boulanger and Her Legacy through Wind Repertoire

Article excerpt


Nadia Boulanger taught hundreds of American composers over the course of her seventyplus year career. In 1979, the year of Nadia Boulanger's death, Ned Rorem attested to her impact: "So far as musical pedagogy is concerned - and by extension musical creation - Nadia Boulanger is the most influential person who ever lived."1 Indeed, Boulanger's impact did not cease after her death. After studying with her, many of Boulanger's students returned to the United States to serve as important composition teachers, many as pillars in the academy.

This paper will outline key factors and events that sowed the seeds for Boulanger to attain her teaching position at the American Conservatoire at Fontainebleau, which provided her with a platform to reach American students. Through one of her first American students, Aaron Copland, we will examine her pedagogy and explore how Copland, as well as other Boulanger students, returned to the United States to teach others.

Through Copland and others, Boulanger's legacy lives on through her students, and students of students, who returned to the United States to permeate academic institutions as composition faculty. Boulanger's exponential influence resonates when illustrated in a family tree of composers who studied with her and returned to the United States to teach. This chart lists Boulanger's students who wrote for winds during their careers, and traces their students (and students of students) who also wrote for winds. The chart illustrates an often-quoted statement by one of Boulanger's first American students, Virgil Thomson, who said, "She was a onewoman graduate school, so powerful and so permeating that legend credits every United States town with two things: a five and dime and a Boulanger pupil."2 While not all of Boulanger's students immediately returned to the United States to compose music for winds, her students, and their students in turn, continue to contribute to a great legacy of important pieces for winds, as evidenced by her family tree.

General Pershing, Walter Damrosch, and Nadia Boulanger

Boulanger's ultimate success as a teacher was greatly affected by the relationship between the United States and France that developed during World War I.3 Her relationship with the United States began with her involvement in one of many war relief charities, the Comité Franco-Américain du Conservatoire de Paris.4 Boulanger, along with her younger sister, Lili, founded this charity in 1915 to support mobilized French musicians and provided them with newsletters, packages, and even corrected harmony exercises.5 The charity also provided financial assistance, which was possible due to the involvement of American benefactors on the committee.6

While Boulanger was not directly involved in setting up the American Conservatoire at Fontainebleau in 1921, in her role as secretary of the committee, Boulanger does mention an idea for a school where Americans could study music in France. In a letter dated May 1918 to Mrs. George Montgomery Tuttle, chair of the executive committee of the American Friends of Musicians, Boulanger expresses her gratitude for the Americans' support of French musicians and also writes of her loss of Lili, who had long suffered from a chronic illness, just two months earlier. At the end of the letter, she suggests the idea of a place for Americans to study in France:

I will write again soon, hoping to speak to you of the coming together of the young people of our two countries, in order to fill each other mutually ... How charming it would be for young Americans to come to these friendly surroundings to train with their French comrades in such an open atmosphere - and this reciprocally, our children then coming to you.7

In the summer of 1918, towards the end of World War I, Walter Damrosch, conductor of the New York Symphony and President of the American Friends of Musicians, traveled to Paris to conduct an orchestra of French musicians. …

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