36 Rue Ballu, 75009 Paris, France
Montmartre Cemetery, 20 Avenue Rachel, 75018 Paris
Juliette Nadia Boulanger (16 September 1887 – 22 October 1979) was a French composer, conductor, and teacher. She is notable for having taught many of the leading composers and musicians of the 20th century. She also performed occasionally as a pianist and organist. From a musical family, she achieved early honours as a student at the Conservatoire de Paris but, believing that she had no particular talent as a composer, she gave up writing music and became a teacher. In that capacity, she influenced generations of young composers, especially those from the United States and other English-speaking countries. Among her students were those who became leading composers, soloists, arrangers, and conductors, including Aaron Copland, David Diamond, Igor Markevitch, Virgil Thomson. Boulanger taught in the US and England, working with music academies including the Juilliard School, the Yehudi Menuhin School, the Longy School, the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, but her principal base for most of her life was her family's flat in Paris, where she taught for most of the seven decades from the start of her career until her death at the age of 92. Boulanger was the first woman to conduct many major orchestras in America and Europe, including the BBC Symphony, Boston Symphony, Hallé, New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia orchestras. She conducted several world premieres, including works by Copland and Stravinsky.
Her sister, named Marie–Juliette Olga but known as Lili Boulanger, was born in 1893, when Nadia was six. When Ernest brought Nadia home from their friends' house, before she was allowed to see her mother or Lili, he made her promise solemnly to be responsible for the new baby's welfare. He urged her to take part in her sister's care. From the age of seven, Nadia studied hard in preparation for her Conservatoire entrance exams, sitting in on their classes and having private lessons with its teachers. Lili often stayed in the room for these lessons, sitting quietly and listening.
In the autumn of 1904, Nadia began to teach from the family apartment at 36, rue Ballu. In addition to the private lessons she held there, Boulanger started holding a Wednesday afternoon group class in analysis and sightsinging. She continued these almost to her death. This class was followed by her famous "at homes", salons at which students could mingle with professional musicians and Boulanger's other friends from the arts, such as Igor Stravinsky, Paul Valéry, Fauré, and others.
In 1908, as well as performing piano duets in public concerts, Boulanger and Pugno collaborated on composing a song cycle, Les Heures claires, which was well-received enough to encourage them to continue working together. Still hoping for a Grand Prix de Rome, Boulanger entered the 1909 competition but failed to win a place in the final round. Later that year, her sister Lili, then sixteen, announced to the family her intention to become a composer and win the Prix de Rome herself.
With the advent of war in Europe in 1914, public programs were reduced, and Boulanger had to put her performing and conducting on hold. She continued to teach privately and to assist Dallier at the Conservatoire. Nadia was drawn into Lili's expanding war work, and by the end of the year, the sisters had organised a sizable charity, the Comité Franco-Américain du Conservatoire National de Musique et de Déclamation. It supplied food, clothing, money, letters from home, etc. to soldiers who had been musicians before the war. Weakened by her work during the war, Lili began to suffer ill health. She died in March 1918.
In 1919, Boulanger performed in more than twenty concerts, often programming her own music and that of her sister. Since the Conservatoire Femina-Musica had closed during the war, Alfred Cortot and Auguste Mangeot founded a new music school in Paris, which opened later that year, the École normale de musique de Paris. Boulanger was invited by Cortot to join the school, where she ended up teaching classes in harmony, counterpoint, musical analysis, organ and composition. Mangeot also asked Boulanger to contribute articles of music criticism to his paper Le Monde Musical, and she occasionally provided articles for this, and other newspapers, for the rest of her life, though she never felt at ease setting her opinions down for posterity in this way. In 1920, Boulanger began to compose again, writing a series of songs to words by Camille Mauclair. In 1921, she performed at two concerts in support of women's rights, at both of which music by Lili was programmed. Later in life she claimed never to have been involved with feminism, and that women should not have the right to vote as they "lacked the necessary political sophistication."
Leaving America at the end of 1945, she returned to France in January 1946. There she accepted a position of professor of accompagnement au piano at the Paris Conservatoire. In 1953, she was appointed overall director of the Fontainebleau School. She also continued her touring to other countries. As a long-standing friend of the family (and officially as chapel-master to the Prince of Monaco), Boulanger was asked to organise the music for the wedding of Prince Rainier of Monaco and the American actress, Grace Kelly, in 1956. In 1958, she returned to the US for a six-week tour. She combined broadcasting, lecturing, and making four television films. Also in 1958, she was inducted as an Honorary Member into Sigma Alpha Iota, the international women's music fraternity, by the Gamma Delta chapter at the Crane School of Music in Potsdam, New York. In 1962, she toured Turkey, where she conducted concerts with her young protégée Idil Biret. Later that year, she was invited to the White House of the United States by President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline, and in 1966, she was invited to Moscow to jury for the International Tchaikovsky Competition, chaired by Emil Gilels. While in England, she taught at the Yehudi Menuhin School. She also gave lectures at the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, all of which were broadcast by the BBC. Her eyesight and hearing began to fade toward the end of her life. On August 13, 1977, in advance of her 90th birthday, she was given a surprise birthday celebration at Fontainebleau's English Garden. The school's chef had prepared a large cake, on which was inscribed: "1887–Happy Birthday to you, Nadia Boulanger–Fontainebleau, 1977". When the cake was served, 90 small white candles floating on the pond illuminated the area. Boulanger's then-protégé, Emile Naoumoff, performed a piece he had composed for the occasion. Boulanger worked almost until her death in 1979 in Paris. She is buried at the Montmartre Cemetery, with her sister Lili and their parents.
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