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#3142143 07/31/21 02:22 PM
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https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/30/arts/music/nadia-boulanger-bard-music.html

A NY Times article on Nadia Boulanger. Can someone explain why some people consider her music's greatest teacher and why so many famous composers studied with her?

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Her name comes up a lot. I wish I knew more about her, but it seems pretty clear that she was an intellectual that left a clear mark on anyone who spent time with her. The article you linked covers a fair bit of that.

Here's a quote from Gardiner's book on Bach:

Originally Posted by JEGardiner
The person who crystallised all these ideas for me was Nadia Boulanger, justly recognised as the most celebrated teacher of composition in the twentieth century. When she accepted me as a student in Paris in 1967, she had just turned eighty and was partially blind, but with all her other faculties in tip-top order. Her way of teaching harmony was founded on Bach's chorales, which she regarded as models of how to establish a beautiful polyphony — with each voice being accorded equal importance while still playing a different role in the four-way conversation, now advancing, now retreating: contrapuntally conceived harmony, in other words. She insisted that the freedom to express yourself in music, whether as a composer, conductor or performer, demanded obedience to certain laws and the possession of unassailable technical skills. One of her favourite sayings was 'Talent [by which I think she meant technique] without genius is not worth much; but genius with talent is worth nothing whatsoever.'

She seems like she must have been an amazing person to know. And likely she was a bridge between two/three eras. Having known a lot of the great composers and musicians at the turn of the century, she would have picked up a lot of insights from them and so in some ways I expect that gave her students access to their ways of thinking in a way that few other people could offer. She was also a brilliant musician and composer, and it may be that she would have become one of the great conductor-composers of her time had that path been open to her, and that teaching became the most effective way to share her genius instead. But one can only speculate. Aside from all of that, she was probably just an amazing intellectual, a damn good teacher, and someone socially well-connected enough to help launch her students' careers.

If I think about the teachers I have been most lucky to have studied under, any attempt to describe what made them so great, and the way each affected my life would be very personal and would not make much sense. It's similar when I read about other legendary teachers, like Carl Czerny, Martin Krause, Claudio Arrau, and Pablo Casals: one can codify some of their pedagogy and innovations (which is important!), but what really set them apart are going to be the things that can never really come across in a written page. I've had the opportunity to study under a student of Claudio Arrau and under a student of Pablo Casals. My strongest sense of how great they were as teachers was in the excitement my teachers had when they talked about them more than what they said. And if I were to talk about the mark my greatest teachers left on me, it would be similar.

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Piazzolla's composition won a grant from the French government to study in Paris with the legendary French composition teacher Nadia Boulanger at the Fontainebleau conservatory

......Piazzolla was tired of tango and tried to hide his tanguero past and his bandoneon compositions from Boulanger, thinking that his destiny lay in classical music. Introducing his work, Piazzolla played her a number of his classically inspired compositions, but it was not until he played his tango Triunfal that she congratulated him and encouraged him to pursue his career in tango, recognising that this was where his talent lay. This was to prove a historic encounter and a cross-road in Piazzolla's career.


Any teacher who has the foresight to realize that a student's talents are in a musical sphere which is quite uniquely his own and which needs to be fostered rather than suppressed for something more conventional has to be a great teacher.


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Liszt


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Originally Posted by dolce sfogato
Liszt

Yes. Absolutely yes.

Some of his pupils turned out to be outstanding pianists. Emil von Sauer for example. (Although we don't have any recordings of him in his youth, when he would play virtuoso pieces like the Scharwenka #1 or the Henselt; but we do have him in the Schumann and the Liszt two concerti [E-flat & A major].)


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I believe certain composers and their pieces in the less-played repertoire ought to be re-examined.
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Originally Posted by dolce sfogato
Liszt
Maybe for the greatest piano teacher. But the article was about the the greatest composition teacher of the 20th century so Liszt doesn't qualify in either category.

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I have no idea what he was like as a teacher, but I expect one 20th century teacher who had an outsized impact on classical/postclassical music composition would be Arnold Schoenberg. That said, there is going to be a lot of disagreement as to whether that impact was a net positive :-)

One of the challenges in trying to define "great" in terms of 20th century composition teachers is that there is a lot of divergence in opinion as to what is "great" 20th century music. Obviously, opinions will vary for who the best composers are in any period (see other thread about Tchaikovsky), but there's far more agreement about the great composers before WWI than after. It drops off pretty quickly after WWI and even more after WWII. And I don't think it's just about recency — I think the classical music world fractured in a way that's not likely to ever be put back together.

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I have done a little reading sbout Nadia Boulanger and there is a consistent theme:
She was demanding but supportive
Most importantly, she strove to have all of her compositional students find their own voice.

How could any compositional student ask for more???


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Originally Posted by Jun-Dai
Her name comes up a lot. I wish I knew more about her, but it seems pretty clear that she was an intellectual that left a clear mark on anyone who spent time with her. The article you linked covers a fair bit of that.

Here's a quote from Gardiner's book on Bach:

Originally Posted by JEGardiner
The person who crystallised all these ideas for me was Nadia Boulanger, justly recognised as the most celebrated teacher of composition in the twentieth century. When she accepted me as a student in Paris in 1967, she had just turned eighty and was partially blind, but with all her other faculties in tip-top order. Her way of teaching harmony was founded on Bach's chorales, which she regarded as models of how to establish a beautiful polyphony — with each voice being accorded equal importance while still playing a different role in the four-way conversation, now advancing, now retreating: contrapuntally conceived harmony, in other words. She insisted that the freedom to express yourself in music, whether as a composer, conductor or performer, demanded obedience to certain laws and the possession of unassailable technical skills. One of her favourite sayings was 'Talent [by which I think she meant technique] without genius is not worth much; but genius with talent is worth nothing whatsoever.'

She seems like she must have been an amazing person to know. And likely she was a bridge between two/three eras. Having known a lot of the great composers and musicians at the turn of the century, she would have picked up a lot of insights from them and so in some ways I expect that gave her students access to their ways of thinking in a way that few other people could offer. She was also a brilliant musician and composer, and it may be that she would have become one of the great conductor-composers of her time had that path been open to her, and that teaching became the most effective way to share her genius instead. But one can only speculate. Aside from all of that, she was probably just an amazing intellectual, a damn good teacher, and someone socially well-connected enough to help launch her students' careers.

If I think about the teachers I have been most lucky to have studied under, any attempt to describe what made them so great, and the way each affected my life would be very personal and would not make much sense. It's similar when I read about other legendary teachers, like Carl Czerny, Martin Krause, Claudio Arrau, and Pablo Casals: one can codify some of their pedagogy and innovations (which is important!), but what really set them apart are going to be the things that can never really come across in a written page. I've had the opportunity to study under a student of Claudio Arrau and under a student of Pablo Casals. My strongest sense of how great they were as teachers was in the excitement my teachers had when they talked about them more than what they said. And if I were to talk about the mark my greatest teachers left on me, it would be similar.

Thank you for this wonderful post. You obviously meant, "genius without talent", right?
I really recommend Bruno Monsaingeon's book (later made a film) "Mademoiselle: entretiens avec Nadia Boulanger". I re-read chapters of it often; it is a fountain of inspiration and rare wisdom, not only for music but also for life. Here is an amazing extract- it's hard to resist the urge to quote all of it: https://www.sol.com.au/kor/17_02.htm


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Since Arnold Schoenberg's name came up in this conversation about teachers...He wrote a book, "Theory of Harmony" which was translated to English (maybe around 1970) by Roy Carter. . It's very densely packed with both content and extraneous pontifications. As I recall reading once, Stravinsky called it a masterpiece.

I studied it for maybe about 1 1/2 years online (Skype) about 6 years ago with someone (Mark Polishook) who studied the book in graduate school...I worked out 4 part written harmony exercises at the piano in this study. I believe this book should be more commonly used in studying harmony, the content is so difficult to trudge thru, it seems mostly ignored. Based on this book, Schoenberg is on my list of greatest little known pedagogues. I wish someone would extract pertinent sections into a more practical method book.

He also wrote a book, "Preliminary Exercises in Counterpoint" which he wrote to attempt remedy deficiencies in students' grasp of "musical logic".

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She probably was a good teacher but I notice that article never cited any sources as to who says she was the greatest. First, I don't believe in such a thing, that only one person could be a better teacher than anybody else in the world ever was.

But there is a little circular logic going on here -- she taught a lot of good composers, etc., because she was teaching at some of the top music schools and conservatories. And that's where students like that go. Of course she would get good students at schools like Juillard, Paris conservatory, etc. And the reason she had a lot of American students was because she took a position teaching at the American conservatory just outside Paris.


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