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BOULANGER, Nadia (1887-1979)

As precocious as her younger sister Lili, Nadia Boulanger entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of ten, where she studied harmony with Vidal, composition with Widor and Fauré, and the organ with Vierne and Guilmant. Her cantata La Sirène won her second place in the Prix de Rome in 1908. In 1912, she composed a Fantaisie variée pour piano et orchestre for Raoul Pugno, a pianist and composer with whom she wrote Les Heures claires (mélodies after Verhaeren, 1909) and La Ville morte (an opera to a libretto by D’Annunzio, 1910-1913). This collaboration came to an end with Pugno’s death, in 1914. Four years later, after losing Lili, whom she considered to be more gifted than herself, the composer laid down her pen for good. Although Nadia Boulanger may well have lacked confidence in her own talent, her scores (particularly the vocal settings of poems by Verlaine, Samain, Silvestre, Heine and Maeterlinck) certainly do not deserve such harsh judgement. “Mademoiselle”, as she was called by her pupils, concentrated on teaching at the École Normale de Musique, the Paris Conservatoire and, in particular, the Conservatoire Américain in Fontainebleau, of which she was one of the founding members in 1921 and which she ran from 1948. As an organist and conductor, she performed the solo part in the premiere of Copland’s Symphony no. 1 (with organ), and conducted the first performance of Stravinsky’sDumbarton Oaks Concerto. Boulanger also founded a vocal ensemble and revived various early works. Her recording of Monteverdi’s Madrigals, in 1937, confirmed the decisive role played by this pioneering woman.