Nadia Boulanger, A History of North American Music

What do Copeland, Glass, Pezzola, Michel Legrand and Igor Markievicz have in common? An exceptional teacher, world famous, the great Nadia Boulanger, respectfully called “Mademoiselle”. But Lily’s sister was also a composer. In five meetings, Radio France has highlighted this much-forgotten work, including two world premieres fugue And the Allegro.

Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) will always represent a strange hyphen between the world of yesterday and the world of today, such a counterintuitive oddity: how was a composer like Vladimir Kuzma, who made us laugh and cry alongside Louis de Funes in 1973 and Agnes Jaoui in 2022, was Could he have had the same teacher as Igor Stravinsky whose music was involved in scandal at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in 1913? How can we imagine that Quincy Jones, the Soul Bossa Nova composer who would give all his flavor to the Austin Powers movie, had the same master as Aaron Copland whose brass fifths and string bands would be an emblem of twentieth-century scientific American music?

reads address Telerama October 10, 2020. The twentieth century is usually seen as the century of the most radical transformation of the musical language, in its forms and sounds. It is also the late confirmation, but no less recognizable to the ear of what we call American music in the broadest sense.

When do we talk about national music? When do we talk about Spanish music? French musician? Russian music? Is it just music composed by an individual born on the right earth? Music composed in the language of the country? The criteria are obviously more complex, and of a stylistic order: for example, the first music to be considered truly Russian would eventually be composed only during the nineteenth century, prompted by the efforts of Mikhail Glinka and his contemporaries. Why are they and why are they late? There was indeed music in Russian that had been composed by Russians before, but it lacked substance: Russian land music, country music, choreographed for centuries by country dancers. And this is well understood by Mikhail Glinka, who incorporated these sounds into his music.

what American music? American civilization is not built on a centuries-old foundation. So it is difficult to search in the countryside for what might be uniquely American. Most of the musicians came from Europe, with completely European technical processes in their bags, with cadenzas (“Rhythms! Naturally, cadenzas!” Nadia Boulanger exclaims to her students) and symphonies from the New World. Antonin Dvorak responds very cleverly to the question of what will be specific to the United States: he barely sets foot on American soil when he writes his book American Suite in A major op. 98 bin 1895, dealing with the melodic and rhythmic turns of the heartbreaking spiritual song of American blacks.

Where do we go from there? (“Where are we going now?”) Here comes Mademoiselle, a Frenchwoman born in Paris on September 16, 1887, who will take on the role of music educator: her talent will be to listen to music newly composed by Americans and help them give birth to their ideas. During the summer of 1918, Nadia Boulanger dreamed of a career as a soloist in the United States, made impossible by her lack of reputation (good or bad). She will at last publish less than the Spanish influenza introduced to the American continent by returning soldiers, and she will return to France to teach at the Normal School of Music recently founded by Alfred Corto, an alternative considered more democratic than the conservatory.

Nadia Boulanger’s assistance to the reconstruction effort will be noted by two organizations, American Friends and the French American Committee. Thanks to Melville Smith in the 1920s, the “Bakery” is created, an immaterial school that will follow Nadia Boulanger to the regular school, to the American Conservatory of Fontainebleau and to her home, in her Parisian apartment at 36 rue Balleau. Nadia Boulanger learns composition through repertoire analysis. Igor Stravinsky’s son, Svyatoslav Stravinsky, said: “Suddenly one gets the impression that the work becomes as deep as the sea.” She said, “American composers and students I have known share some characteristics, and I would say what they have in common is the rhythmic element and the culture of the individual. Their works are very frank and show a mastery of form. These things create a genre that is recognized as uniquely American. I don’t think that It will happen by bringing in outside influences but only by expressing national characteristics.Can jazz be considered a typical American expression?Yes of course;it expresses part of the American feeling.A few students played it for me.It has some interesting possibilities The bakery’s first student was born in Brooklyn and was named Aaron Copeland (1900-1990).

They worked with Nadia Boulanger

Leonard Bernstein

“I went to see her yesterday. I had brought a little piece that I had just wrapped up. I was playing with it… Then she stopped me: ‘Ah! That B flat on the bass! No!” I was 58 years old, and I found myself like a child, like a 21-year-old student who came to study with Mademoiselle. It was my first lesson with her, I had never been her student. By pressing this “Ah! So flat! ‘, she began to live. We had just talked for an hour about all things Mozart, Schoenberg, Boulez, but after insisting that I play this piece I noticed that this piece B flat is in the left hand because I have already heard it in the right hand, and it doesn’t “It didn’t work. She wanted something fresher. I understood she was a great lady, indestructible. Almost blind, almost immobile, but in good shape! Ready to pounce and criticize.”

Aaron Copeland

“Joining Nadia Boulanger’s class was the most important event in my life. We are new Americans. We need an art that allows us to perceive ourselves as individuals and as a society. The fashion in Europe is to think of us as Americans, not as human beings. Especially with regard to our music: they want to learn what an American note is. Why Nadia Boulanger never brings up an American composer to distinguish him from a French or a Spanish composer. Instead, she seeks the deep personality who will create great music, and she sees the personality as pushing boundaries. In doing so, she confronts each student with the strengths and weaknesses of his own personality. She makes the student stronger by doing so. At the same time, his faith in the future of America is remarkable. Yet her faith is not based on blind interest, but on knowledge of the works she knows. Mademoiselle Boulanger did not particularly speak of nationalism when I was a student, but she was knowledgeable with the musical heritage of its students, and tried to make them understand how their music fits with this heritage and this tradition. »

Quincy Jones

“Nadia Boulanger used to say to me all the time, ‘Quincy, your music can’t be more or less than you as a human being. ‘” “It’s nice to play fast and all that, but unless you have life experience and something to say about what you’ve been through, you have absolutely nothing to contribute.” So I decided to live my life, and I did. I learned early on why God gave us two ears and one mouth: He wants us to listen twice as much as we speak, otherwise He would have given us our mouths, not our ears. There are twelve leaves floating in the universe for 720 years now. We have the same twelve notes as Brahms, Bach and Beethoven. When I moved to Paris in 1957 and studied with Nadia Boulanger, I saw Stravinsky every day. He too was with her. There is no better than Paris! France is my second home. Since my first trip as a teenager, as a trumpet player for Lionel Hampton, I have always been associated with this country. When I went back to study with Nadia Boulanger, I had planned to stay for two weeks and stayed for five years…”

Philip Glass

She exclaimed one day, putting her finger on one scale, “Ah! This scale was composed by a real composer. It was the first and last time she said something nice to me in two years. Since I was a young 26-year-old, I’ve been a child again, forced to start over from the beginning. “How many notes are there?” 12 – 88? As much as possible? Boulanger Was Waiting for No. 7: Diatonic”.

In short, Nadia Boulanger invented American music by helping Americans compose it.

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