Saturday, May 05, 2012

We'll always have Paris Nadia Boulanger

Fritz and I know a couple of composers and many musicians personally and a vast number more just from being life-long lovers of music, music of all kinds.  And it has always been astonishing when looking up the bios of the composers we like, or that I'm researching for some talk or other, to see how many of them are listed as having studied with Nadia Boulanger.  In fact, there's an old joke in the music world that every town in America had a Woolworth's 5 & 10 Cents store and a Nadia Boulanger-trained composer.

Madame Boulanger (1887-1979) never married and spent much of her life wearing mourning for her sister Lili, a major prodigy in composition and performance who died at age 24 in 1918 of Crohn's Disease.  Nadia was herself a composer and conductor and had a vast memory for musical scores of composers of all styles and eras of music.  She traveled widely and often, her visits to the U.S. resulting in her being the first woman to conduct the Boston and Philadelphia Orchestras as well as the New York Philharmonic.   She lectured at Harvard University, Radcliffe and Wellesley Colleges.  She helped revive the music of early composers such a Monteverdi and Rameau and, toward the end of her rather fabulous life, was invited to arrange all the music for the marriage of Princess Grace of Monaco.  She had medals and orders of merit bestowed on her by a slew of countries.  When she died, she was laid to rest next to Lili in Paris's Cemetery of Montmartre.

Among her activities were conducting concerts to benefit the movement for Women's Rights, although she denied being a feminist herself and even made the astonishing statement that women should not be given the vote because they "lacked the necessary political sophistication."  

Madame didn't teach how to compose music -- her pupils came to her as established composers for her critical analysis of their work, her challenges to them to explore and develop different areas of their talent.  She maintained that each one had to be approached differently.  Ned Rorem called her the most influential teacher since Socrates.  American composers -- Irving Fine, Roger Sessions, Elliot Carter, Douglas Moore, Roy Harris, Virgil Thomson, Aaron Copland, Gian Caro Menotti, Philip Glass, James Yannatos (whose opera I designed last year just before his death) and Thomas Pasatieri, among many, many others from all over the world, including music critics, conductors and performers flocked to her.  After an extensive questioning of George Gershwin, she concluded there was nothing left she could teach him.  Stunned, but accepting her words as a compliment, he departed.

More surprising than these classical music giants were others from pop, Broadway and film whose music she did not find beneath her in any way: Burt Bacharach, Quincy Jones, Charles Strouse, Joe Raposo (the Muppets!) and, again, a host of others.  

Whenever one of us comes across the credit proudly announced in a program bio or elsewhere that Composer X studied with Madame, he calls out, "guess who ELSE studied with Nadia Boulanger?"  It's one of the many private jokes between us, we dissolve into laughter and wonder, who DIDN'T study with Nadia Boulanger?. 


From the Facebook page, I Fucking Love Science -- and isn't it surprising to see the F word, unedited by replacing a couple of letters with asterisks -- as the title of a Facebook page? 

Singapore's SuperTrees! Enormous vertical gardens in the form of 150-foot-tall tree-like structures. The structures support solar panels, collect rainwater, provide ventilation for two major underground plant conservatories. The 18 structures are also planted with over 200,000 plants; the horticultural trimmings are composted into biofuels.

They also suggest the columns and fan vaults of some Gothic cathedral that has otherwise fallen into compete ruin.  There are a large number of them -- perhaps now they just hold up the sky!


Fashion designer Kenneth Cole has become famous all over again for his billboards supporting social justice of all kinds, including the dreaded (gasp!) homosexual agenda.  I'm not sure where this one is, but I see one of his every time I drive into or out of Manhattan on the Henry Hudson Parkway up around 125th Street.  They're always to the point, strikingly direct, uncluttered (the man's a designer, after all) and very frequently witty.  Wit is a quality I value -- a little wry humor instead of always going for the belly laugh.  And the sentiments on Mr. Cole's billboards are always what we used to call in the 60s, right on.

You know, I miss the 60s -- there was a lot of upheaval and some terrible things happened in the 60s, but it was all in the service of making the U.S. inclusive of ALL of its citizens regardless of race or gender or sexuality.  "Activist" was not a dirty word then, but stood for working for progress.  Not like now when everything we strove for in the 60 has been declared by some people to be unAmerican, or communist, socialist, Kenyan, unChristian, unBiblical, or likely to deprive a miniscule portion of the population of its god-given right to vast amounts of wealth and economic domination over everyone else.

I'm proud to have been part of the 60s. 

I'd forgotten the name James Yannatos until you mentioned it here, Will. For all that I attended HRO performances in the late 70s; sadly I can't put a face to his name.

Speaking of 60s upheaval, there is currently an interesting dichotomy in Canada. Students in Quebec have been on strike for weeks to protest against proposed tuition increases. English Canada is oblivious. It is a real cultural divide.
the music alone must have been worth it.
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