“So far as musical pedagogy is concerned-and by extension of musical creation-Nadia Boulanger is the most influential person who ever lived.”
As the lesbian opera singer I am, it feels good to introduce the composer, conductor and pedagogue Nadia Boulanger to women and the LGBT audience. There are very few that know that classical music’s primary influence during the 1900s was a woman. In addition, she was probably a dyke and practically nobody knows about that! She lived 1887-1979 born of a Russian mother and a French father. Very musical of course, just like her sister Lili Boulanger. Very ambitious, very proud and very productive. I suspect, very much a lesbian. And very, very faithful catholic too… How easy was that?
Composers such as Ned Rorem, Astor Piazolla, Philip Glass, Leonard Bernstein and Quincy Jones are on her roster of famous pupils. Mostly men, as so often, not because there were no women, but because women are not as famous and you’re not talking about women in the terms of “genius”. Just as you are not talking about most great culture bearers of the female sex after their death. She may have been ever so famous during her lifetime still there is silence as soon as the coffin is closed. But had it been a man, he remains famous. However, was it a gay or transgender icon, in some way that will be retouched with a practiced hand!
Many women composers in the 1800s Europe were at least as successful as their male colleagues. Unfortunately, they were excluded and briskly crossed from music history after their death and thus they were forgotten, quickly removed from memory, one by one. So here we are, ripped both our women’s history and our LGBT heritage and to this day most people believe that there were no women composers before present time. I think it’s up to us, women and non-heteronormative thinkers to talk about La Boulanger and her likes, otherwise she too will sink into the swamps of oblivion.
Also, please, do not talk about Boulanger living with a woman for 40 years! A woman whose official role was “assistant” and who always called her “Mademoiselle,” when anyone was listening. Mademoiselle is receiving now. Mademoiselle will return next Monday. Mademoiselle is very busy, can I forward a message? And sadly: “Mademoiselle is asking for the last rites” on her deathbed. Annette Dieudonné, was her name and also Dieudonné was a composer and teacher. How often do you live for decades with a person who then inherit everything you owned and produced, but it was not in an intimate relationship? Surprisingly often if it is a same-sex couple when posterity may determine. Should we laugh or cry about this absurd situation?
Curiously enough, she has also affected my musical life since I’ve rehearsed and recorded a demo with Nanette Nowels-Stenholm, whom in turn has been her pupil! It feels great and a bit unreal to have such a giant that close, somewhat like a musical grandmother.
If you want to know more, there is Leonie Rosenstiel’s book Nadia Boulanger – A Life in Music or The tender tyrant and Nadia Boulanger: A Life Devoted to Music, a biography by Alan Kendall.
Here is also a great article on the genius of this remarkable woman written by Don Campbell: http://www.scena.org/lsm/sm6-3/nadia-en.html