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Nadia Juliette Boulanger


"Je pense en notes avant de penser en mots"
"I think in notes before I think in words."
Nadia Boulanger

The French female music educator, composer, conductor and organist was born in Paris on 16 September 1887. Her father was a composer and in 1835 he won the Prix de Rome. Her mother was a singer and her younger sister Lili, six years her junior, had been composing since she was 14. Nadia received the first music lessons from her mother. Later she studied composition under Gabriel Fauré, organ under Guilmant and Vierne and harmony under Paul Vidal at the Paris Conservatory.

At 21 she won the second Prix de Rome for her cantata "La Sirène." She was an assistant in the harmony class of the Paris Conservatory from 1909 to 1924. Lectureships at the Ecole normal de Musique (1920-1939) and at the American conservatory in Fontainbleau, since 1950 under her direction, followed. In addition, she appeared as a conductor and organist in other countries in Europe, in the United States and in Canada.

With the outbreak of WW II Nadia Boulanger went to the US where she received instruction at Wellesley college, Radcliffe college and Julliard School. In 1938 she became the first woman to conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1946 she returned to France and led a piano accompaniment class at the Paris Conservatory. Her teaching earned her extremely high international recognition.

She had students from around the world, including George Gershwin, Igor Markevitsch, Aaron Copland, Grazyna Bacewicz, Elisabeth Lutyens, Thea Musgrave, Priaulx Rainier, Elliot Carter, Dinu Lipatti, Pierre Schaeffer, Krzysztof Meyer, Marcelle de Manziarly, Leonard Bernstein and many other well-known composers.

Appointed director of the Ecole d’art américaine in 1953, she continued to teach, acted as a member of the jury in international music competitions and supported contemporary compositions both by work analyses and in concerts she conducted herself. After an extremely rich life devoted entirely to music, which included friendships and formative meetings with Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin, Igor Markevitch, Yehudy Menuhin, Princesse Edmond de Polignac, Maurice Ravel, Igor Strawinsky and Paul Valéry.

Nadia Boulanger died in Paris on 22 October 1979, where she had been appointed “Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur” two years earlier.

“In a world of such fluctuating and relative values, of such variety and confusion of standards of behaviour and of convictions, Nadia Boulanger is a fixed point — in itself an unbelievable achievement. But beyond this, she is a beacon and a guide-post for the many new generations which have flocked to her side during the course of her ninety years.
From the time of my own childhood in Paris I have admired and loved her." 
Yehudy Menuhin, London, 1976

book tip

Don G. Campbell: "Master Teacher Nadia Boulanger."
The Pastoral Press, Washington, D.C.


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Nadia Boulanger, 1904







Nadia Boulanger and companions, 1908