C1420. NADIA BOULANGER Cond. Boston Symphony Orchestra, w.Marguerite Paquet (MS), Roland Gagnon (T) & Donald Gramm (BAR), w.Lorna Cooke de Varon Cond. New England Conservatory Chorus: Lili Boulanger Program. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-314, Live Performance, 19 April, 1962, Symphony Hall, Boston. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“For those who judge recordings on a cents-per-minute basis, this is likely to fall short. At 38:54 there will be complaints about the short duration from many quarters. While I understand them, I would disagree vigorously in this case. This was one half of a Boston Symphony concert conducted by Nadia Boulanger, with the other half featuring music of Mozart and Mendelssohn conducted not by her but by Music Director Charles Münch. Combining them would have made no artistic sense at all. What we have here is a superb transfer of a high quality broadcast recording of one of the most important musicians of the twentieth century paying tribute to her all-too-short-lived sister.
Lili Boulanger died of what is today called Crohn’s Disease before her 25th birthday. This was a huge loss to us, and this disc demonstrates the depth of that loss. There have been fine recordings of her choral music before, but none approach the level of execution and emotional commitment heard here. Yan Pascal Tortelier leads a fine Chandos disc that includes two of these Psalms along with Boulanger’s first prize-winning composition (when she was 19!), ‘Faust et Hélène’. Tortelier’s elegant and clear-headed performances have much to offer, and that recording can recommended. These performances, however, inhabit a different dimension.
If you are not familiar with Boulanger’s work, think of Fauré with more rhythmic tension, or Massenet with more harmonic bite. Other composers who might come to your mind are Debussy, Florent Schmitt, and Honegger (but it is important to note that Honegger was influenced by Boulanger, not the other way around). The choral and vocal writing is highly idiomatic, the orchestral writing extraordinarily imaginative and skilled for one so young.
This recording is essential. Nadia Boulanger was utterly devoted to her sister’s music, and having the Boston Symphony Orchestra at her disposal along with the excellent New England Conservatory Chorus must have seemed quite a luxury. The intensity of these performances is riveting, with a zeal and commitment quite unique.
Despite Tortelier’s lovely disc, or more taut performances of Markevitch on Warner, the experience of these performances is on another level. These are memorable readings in every way, and we are grateful to the Yves St. Laurent Studio (no relation to the designer) for preserving them and making them available. As is typical of this company, there are no notes or printed texts, but the sound quality is superb.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“Nadia Boulanger’s father, Ernest Boulanger, was a respected professor at the Paris Conservatory. Her mother, Raissa Myschetsky, was a Russian princess who had been one of Ernest's students. In 1897, she became a student at the Paris Conservatory, where the renowned Gabriel Fauré taught her composition.
It was Boulanger's younger sister, Lili, who in 1913 became the first woman to win the Prix de Rome. After Lili - whose health had always been fragile - died in 1918, Boulanger deemed her own music ‘useless’ and stopped composing. Musical instruction became Boulanger's primary focus.
Boulanger had a profound impact on a large number of musicians and composers, particularly through her work at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France. Though her primary focus was on her students, Boulanger also worked as a conductor. A friend and admirer of Igor Stravinsky, she led the 1938 world premiere of his ‘Dumbarton Oaks Concerto’ in Washington, D.C.
As a conductor, Boulanger broke gender barriers in multiple settings. In 1937, she became the first woman to conduct London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In America, Boulanger was the first woman to lead the New York Philharmonic, as well as orchestras in Boston and Philadelphia.
Boulanger père instilled in his daughter the assumption that music was a more urgently natural part of life than literature or even sex. Her mother stressed the moral obligation to do better, always better, and dominated Nadia with a Spartan charm. After her husband's death she shared her daughter's bedroom until 1935, when Raissa died, long after Nadia had become a world figure….Through osmosis I knew what the mentor was made of, even to her appearance (thin bow ties, hair in a bun, pince-nez and sensible shoes, the long black dress) [and] her technical proficiency.
At 10 the girl entered the Paris Conservatory, where for a decade she won first prizes in harmony, counterpoint, fugue, organ and accompagnement (a term covering all aspects of score reading), and studied composition with Gabriel Fauré. In 1908 she was granted Second Grand Prix de Rome for her cantata LA SIRÈNE. (The First Grand Prix came five years later to Nadia's fragile younger sister, Lili, the first woman composer ever to be so honored.
From 1908 to 1918 Nadia taught harmony at the Conservatory. But not until 1948 would she be named full professor, that position in France being thought unsuited to a woman, even her country's most sought-after pedagogue. Meanwhile, Nadia entertained a very public rapport with Raoul Pugno, a famous and fat pianist old enough to be - and who in a sense was - her father. With Pugno she not only gave concert tours but also composed an opera, never produced, on a libretto by the poet Gabriele D'Annunzio. After the deaths in 1914 of Pugno and in 1918 of Lili, Nadia Boulanger stopped composing to become a full-time teacher and occasional performer.
When the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau was founded in 1921, Boulanger was its chief draw, which she remained, except for the war years, every summer for the rest of her life. Tours of the United States resulted in her becoming the first woman to conduct the Boston Symphony, and then the New York Philharmonic.
Second only to Bach in the Boulanger pantheon came her friend Igor Stravinsky, who habitually supplied his new manuscripts for her perusal. Stravinsky could do no wrong….In the autumn of 1964 I visited her just after her return from Berlin, where she had heard Stravinsky's newest excursion into 12-tone terrain, ABRAHAM AND ISAAC. Asked how long the piece lasted, Mademoiselle Boulanger replied, ‘Does one speak of temporal data where Stravinsky is concerned?’ I later understood: The piece, 13 minutes by the clock, seemed like a numbing hour.
All her life she was newsworthy even to philistines, enigmatic even to intimates. Boulanger's fame lay in her femaleness, thus in her firstness. She excelled at what no other woman ever had, musical pedagogy at its highest, but she also gave up what no woman ever had, a composing career….Her old-maidish aspect notwithstanding, Boulanger was a creature of high temperament. The open infatuations with old Raoul Pugno, later with young Igor Markevitch, now seem rife with pre-Freudian innocence, as do intimations of latent lesbianism. She visibly preferred men because they were not in competition with her, that is, with Lili, for beside Lili there was no room for other female composers.
Nadia Boulanger is mainly remembered as a mentor of composers, although she was the guiding light for every breed of musician, not least of all the female musician, and her public career as organist, conductor, musicologist, lecturer and even for a time newspaper critic was unprecedented…. Her years of dedication to teaching - one student, Virgil Thomson, described Boulanger as a ‘one-woman graduate school’ - provided her with a lasting musical legacy.
Boulanger also helped spur interest in the music of Claudio Monteverdi, and made sure that pieces written by her sister and by Fauré, her former teacher, were not forgotten….Even before the war, as a teen-ager, I had been imbued with her version of Monteverdi's madrigals on the one record which, still today, I would take to a desert island….Listen again to the soprano Countess Jean de Polignac's rendition of ‘Amor’ among those Monteverdi madrigals.”
- Ned Rorem, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 23 May, 1982
“Each of these disks, from Canadian engineer Yves St Laurent… [feature] St Laurent's natural transfer – made without filtering, like all his dubbings – it is easy to listen to, despite the surface noise.”
- Tully Potter, CLASSICAL RECORD QUARTERLY, Summer, 2011