Sunday, October 23, 2011

What do these composers have in common?

Ástor Piazzolla, Virgin Thomson, Quincy Jones, Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, Elliot Carter, David Diamond, Walter Piston, Louise Talma, Elie Siegmeister, Ned Rorem, Philip Glass, and Marc Blitzstein. 

They (and scores of others) all studied under Nadia Boulanger, who died October 22, 1979 at the age of 92. In notes to a program of works by her pupils put on by the American Symphony Orchestra, Leon Botstein writes:
It would be hard to imagine a more charismatic and forceful personality in the history of 20th-century music.... She began her career as a composer studying under Fauré, but eventually turned to performance in keyboard (she also studied with Charles Marie Widor) and conducting. She was central to the rebirth of public performances of pre-classical music during the first part of this century, particularly music from the Renaissance and Baroque. Boulanger’s first performance in the United States was as the organist in the premiere of the Symphony for Organ by her most famous pupil, Aaron Copland. Boulanger was the first woman to conduct the major symphony orchestras in the United States. One of her last appearances was here in New York with the New York Philharmonic in 1962, when she conducted works by her sister and the Fauré Requiem. With characteristic elegance and generosity, she dedicated the Sunday afternoon performance to the memory of Bruno Walter, who had died the night before. ....What made Boulanger a great and magnetic teacher not only for a cadre of famous composers but for many other distinguished musicians who studied with her was less the imposition of an aesthetic than the transmission of discipline and the encouragement of individuality.

"The first thing I ask a pupil is, 'Can you live without music?' If you can live without music, thank the Lord and goodbye…. The one that you must push will never do anything." Below, with Stravinsky and Bernstein.

Boulanger's profound influence can be seen in the books and recordings reflecting works by her pupils that even a cursory search of our catalog reveals. Among my favorites are those by Ned Rorem, Astor Piazzolla, and Quincy Jones.

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