Nadia Boulanger


Portrait of Nadia Boulanger © Livingston Gearhart Collection,
Music Library University of Buffalo

Nadia Boulanger (1887 – 1979) was a French composer, conductor, and teacher who taught many of the leading composers and musicians of the 20th century. Her musical aesthetic was strongly influenced by her admiration for Igor Stravinsky. She is most remembered for her work as a teacher, which has influenced generations of young composers, especially those from the United States and other English-speaking countries. 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.

Boulanger accepted pupils from any background; her only criteria was that they wanted to learn. She always claimed that she could not inspire creativity in her students and that she could only help them to become intelligent musicians who understood the craft of composition. She believed that the desire to learn, to better oneself, was all that was required to achieve – always provided the right amount of work was put in. She would refer people to Rameau (who wrote his first opera at fifty), Wojtowicz (who became a concert pianist at thirty-one), and Roussel (who had no professional access to music till he was twenty-five), to prove her point.

Many of her students went on to receive commissions from Louisville. They included Aaron Copland, Roger Sessions, Walter Piston, Roy Harris, and Elliott Carter.