|1, place Lili Boulanger|
Most importantly, and serving as a frame for all of my work on Boulanger, is the question of how her successes and failures can be understood in the context of women’s lives. I consider her as part of (as well as virulent opponent of many aspects of) the complex French feminist movement. I also reconstruct societal hostilities toward women, first in France during the interwar period, and second in the United States after the Second World War. Analyzing how Boulanger negotiated the cultural spaces to which she had access—many of which she had to fight to enter—and contextualizing them in terms of women’s freedoms, or lack thereof, I reveal the tenaciousness of Boulanger’s professional ambition. Certainly she lived in a world where success depended upon a command of gendered politics—a skill set she honed over the course of her career.
Nadia Boulanger first met Stravinsky after the premiere of the first of his three Sergei Diaghilev commissions: L’Oiseau de feu (1910). Little was more captivating to Boulanger—at the time an emerging keyboard virtuoso and opera composer—than the exotic, breathtaking productions of the Ballets Russes. If later tales are to be believed, Boulanger was entranced by Stravinsky’s music after only the first few notes. The night of the premiere was the first time she met Stravinsky—a man only five years older than she and barely taller. (She was 5'4".) They did not meet again until after the First World War. Following 1919, Boulanger reemerged in Paris professionally reinvented, working now as a teacher instead of a performer-composer, and it was then that Stravinsky’s music assumed a central place in her teachings.
Ten years later, it was an anxious note from Stravinsky, sent to Boulanger while she was on summer vacation at her cottage in Gargenville in 1929, that served to bring the two into more frequent contact. Stravinsky wrote to her that he needed a teacher for his son, Soulima: would she be willing to serve in that capacity? She agreed. From that October on, she grew close with Stravinsky’s sons and later with the composer himself. More than a master composer observed at a distance, Stravinsky became a colleague and friend. Boulanger’s understanding of his compositions, then, became informed by her understanding of him as a person, particularly as a loving father.
|Nadia Boulanger, Fontainebleau, 1921|
(all photos: Louise Talma Papers, Music Division, Library of Congress)
Master Teacher. What could possibly be more exciting than examining a new work, the ink on the score barely dry, beside the woman who had been present when it was rehearsed for the first time in the composer’s presence? The almost visceral enjoyment Boulanger took in Stravinsky’s music transferred into her classroom, as student lecture notes reveal. Overall, her work as a teacher saw her transform into an extremely commanding presence in music circles after 1920.
|At a café in Fontainebleau, 1937|
From L: David Diamond, Irène Kedroff, Hugues Cuénod, NB, Emma Endres
(Library of Congress)
|Mademoiselle and Igor|
Fontainebleau, 15 August 1938
(Library of Congress)
For more on Boulanger’s legacy and events related to her and her sister, Lili Boulanger, visit the Centre International Nadia et Lili Boulanger.
Boulanger’s Conservatoire Américain, housed in Fontainebleau, has since been rebranded as the European American Musical Alliance under the directorship of Dr. Philip Lasser.
For a list of Boulanger’s pupils and other important resources, see also nadiaboulanger.org.