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In Memoriam: Nadia Boulanger

Boulanger / Faure / Ibert / Fournier / Leger
Release Date: 04/12/2011 
Label:  Ligia   Catalog #: 109206  
Composer:  Lili BoulangerNadia BoulangerGabriel FauréJacques Ibert,   ... 
Performer:  Carolyn Shuster FournierMagali LégerHampus Lindwall

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

IN MEMORIAM NADIA BOULANGER Carolyn Shuster Fournier (org); Magali Léger (sop 1 ) LIGIA 0109206-09 (70:26)

1 L. BOULANGER Pie Jesu. N. BOULENGER Prelude. Petit Canon. Improvisation. Pièce sur des airs Read more populaires flamands. 1 FAURÉ Requiem: Pie Jesu. IBERT Fugue des 3 Pièces. THOMSON Pastorale on a Christmas Plainsong. COPLAND Preamble for a Solemn Occasion. FRANÇAIX Suite carmélite. LEE Mosaïques. CONTE Prelude and Fugue

The impact that Nadia Boulanger (1887–1979) had upon America’s musical development was profound. As a teacher she became the implementor and empowerer of a stylistically dazzling array of American composers from Walter Piston, Roger Sessions, Virgil Thomson, Roy Harris, and Aaron Copland to Marc Blitzstein, Elliott Carter, Irving Fine, David Diamond, Ned Rorem, Noël Lee, Philip Glass, Paul Chihara, Adolphus Hailstork, and David Conte (to give a woefully incomplete list). On the European front, as a composer, conductor, organist, and tireless promoter of contemporary music, her life spanned the period from Fauré (her teacher of composition at the Paris Conservatory, whom she revered), through the ascendancy of Debussy and Ravel and the subsequent comings of age of Poulenc, Ibert, and Françaix (the last two also her composition students). Though she died 21 years short of the dawn of the 21st century, her influence will resonate through many generations yet to come.

What I admire most about her approach to teaching is that she exhorted each of her students to find his or her own voice. Thus she wisely persuaded Astor Piazzolla to follow his inborn and highly personal musical lights and become the creator and propagator of his Tango Nuevo rather than that of Eurocentric sonatas, concertos, and symphonies. And so it went through so many of our composers of the mid 20th century she touched, through to those of our very latest moment in time. What a special teacher she was—one who didn’t dictate the art of music as she knew it, but one who looked into music’s yet-to-be-realized possibilities. Her legacy to her students was a thorough and uncompromising grounding in the fundamental elements of music that they could use to bring their individual stylistic proclivities to fruition. Modernist that she was, she fully realized the importance of studying and digesting the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms, and her legacy to all of us, on both sides of the Atlantic, is her unprecedented nurturing of a staggering array of composers who created so many of the classics of our time in all their polymorphic splendor. What a contrast to Hindemith’s teaching at Yale, where he strove to produce nothing more than a new generation of Hindemiths! Incidentally, to this I should add her similar nurturing and promotion of a vast list of performers that encompasses a great number of world-class pianists and conductors including Dinu Lipatti and Igor Markevitch. She was, in the end, a total and eminently practical musician.

This release gives us a rare opportunity to hear Nadia Boulanger’s own musical voice, and also that of her short-lived sister, Lili, who tragically died at age 25 and who left a handful of tantalizing works that leave us with the same question we can apply to Mozart or Schubert—what could they all have accomplished if only they had lived longer? The few pieces of hers that I know tell me that she was a composer of great promise. Her older sister sensed this, and self-effacingly switched her focus from composing to promoting Lili’s music, and to teaching. She, I feel, quite incorrectly called her own compositions “worthless.” Here Lili’s setting of Pie Jesu is typically exquisite, especially as realized in this performance by soprano Magali Léger and organist Carolyn Shuster Fournier.

This release also gives us a taste of Paris’s musical world during Nadia Boulanger’s formative years. It was, and still is, given the numerous Cavaillé-Coll instruments thriving throughout the city, arguably the organ capitol of the world. The ghost of César Franck still roamed the streets, and the personalities and music of Charles-Marie Widor, Louis Vierne, and Alexandre Guilmant flourished—the last two of whom were her teachers of organ at the Paris Conservatory. It was a time and place where Boulanger could enjoy the company and musical insights of André Caplet, Marcel Dupré, Georges Enescu, Charles Koechlin, Francis Poulenc, Maurice Ravel, Florent Schmitt, and Igor Stravinsky. It was also a place where the aesthetic trap of judging a work of music by its surface style and language rather than its inherent qualities wasn’t generally doing its critical mischief.

Nadia Boulanger’s own pieces on this offering are, predictably, pristinely clear, elegant, and meticulously crafted. Most importantly, they are musically satisfying in what I feel to be a timeless way. With the exceptions of the two settings of Pie Jesu , and her four pieces, all the remaining works are by a tellingly diverse cross section of her students. As to be expected, they are similarly technically impeccable and satisfying in their own inimitable ways.

American organist and musicologist Carolyn Shuster Fournier (currently titular of the 1867 Aristide Cavillé-Coll organ at the Trinité Church) performs here on a later instrument—the Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (1894) of Saint-Antoine des Quinze-Vingts—and rises to the challenge of realizing such a diversity of musical styles. Her sense of tempo, rhythm, accent, and general articulation are unassailable. Add to this her sensitivity to the coloristic possibilities of that splendid instrument as realized through her registration choices, balances, and dynamic control, and what emerges is a series of well-thought-out and hauntingly beautiful performances. Through them all she seduces even the most indifferent of listeners to live in the moment.

The production values of this Ligia release are among the highest of the high. The liner notes by Fournier herself are, in keeping with the eloquence of her performances, tellingly written and informative on levels that are not easy to pinpoint in words. The recording of this organ ranks, in its immediacy, airiness, timbral richness, and undistorted dynamic range, among the best I have yet encountered on CDs. As to be expected, full organ specs are provided.

This one, for all the reasons listed above, is unhesitatingly Want List material.

I can find no better way to end this review than to quote Nadia Boulanger herself: “Living in the realm of music is such a source of joy that I was determined to share it in my teaching with all the means in my power.”

Amen to that.

FANFARE: William Zagorski
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Works on This Recording

Pie Jesu by Lili Boulanger
Performer:  Carolyn Shuster Fournier (Organ), Magali Léger ()
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1918; Italy 
Venue:  Saint-Antoine-des-Quinze-Vingts, Paris 
Length: 4 Minutes 50 Secs. 
Prelude for organ in F by Nadia Boulanger
Performer:  Carolyn Shuster Fournier (Organ)
Period: Modern 
Venue:  Saint-Antoine-des-Quinze-Vingts, Paris 
Length: 4 Minutes 3 Secs. 
Requiem, Op. 48: Pie Jesu by Gabriel Fauré
Performer:  Carolyn Shuster Fournier (Organ), Magali Léger ()
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888 rev 1893; France 
Venue:  Saint-Antoine-des-Quinze-Vingts, Paris 
Length: 3 Minutes 47 Secs. 
Petit canon, for organ by Nadia Boulanger
Performer:  Carolyn Shuster Fournier (Organ)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1912 
Venue:  Saint-Antoine-des-Quinze-Vingts, Paris 
Length: 2 Minutes 25 Secs. 
Improvisation for organ by Nadia Boulanger
Performer:  Carolyn Shuster Fournier (Organ)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1911; France 
Venue:  Saint-Antoine-des-Quinze-Vingts, Paris 
Length: 2 Minutes 52 Secs. 
Pièce sur des airs populaires flamands , for organ ("A ma petite Lili") by Nadia Boulanger
Performer:  Carolyn Shuster Fournier (Organ)
Period: 20th Centujry 
Written: France 
Venue:  Saint-Antoine-des-Quinze-Vingts, Paris 
Length: 6 Minutes 7 Secs. 
Pieces (3) for Organ: Fugue by Jacques Ibert
Performer:  Carolyn Shuster Fournier (Organ)
Venue:  Saint-Antoine-des-Quinze-Vingts, Paris 
Length: 5 Minutes 23 Secs. 
Pastorale on a Christmas Plainsong by Virgil Thomson
Performer:  Carolyn Shuster Fournier (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1922; France 
Venue:  Saint-Antoine-des-Quinze-Vingts, Paris 
Length: 5 Minutes 29 Secs. 
Preamble for a Solemn Occasion by Aaron Copland
Performer:  Carolyn Shuster Fournier (Organ), Hampus Lindwall (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1949; USA 
Venue:  Saint-Antoine-des-Quinze-Vingts, Paris 
Length: 6 Minutes 21 Secs. 
Suite Carmelite for Organ by Jean Françaix
Performer:  Carolyn Shuster Fournier (Organ)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960; France 
Venue:  Saint-Antoine-des-Quinze-Vingts, Paris 
Length: 7 Minutes 57 Secs. 
Mosaïques doubles for 2 pianos and percussion by Noel Lee
Performer:  Carolyn Shuster Fournier (Organ)
Period: Modern 
Written: 1994 
Venue:  Saint-Antoine-des-Quinze-Vingts, Paris 
Length: 9 Minutes 13 Secs. 
Prelude & Fugue, for organ by David Conte
Performer:  Carolyn Shuster Fournier (Organ)
Period: Contemporary 
Venue:  Saint-Antoine-des-Quinze-Vingts, Paris 
Length: 10 Minutes 29 Secs. 

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