Nadia Boulanger, A Musical Grandmother

Nadia Boulanger

As the lesbian opera singer I am, it feels exiting to introduce the composer, conductor and astonishing pedagogue Nadia Boulanger to the lgbt audience. Very few know that classical music’s primary influence during the 1900’s was a woman. In addition, she was probably a dyke too. Practically nobody talks about that!

She lived 1887-1979. Born with a rich musical heritage of a Russian mother and a French father. Very musical of course. Just like her sister Lili Boulanger. Very ambitious, very proud and very productive. Very, very faithful Catholic. My awareness tells me; Very much a lesbian too… Hmmm… How easy was that?

Nadia Boulanger

 Nadia Boulanger And Her Famous Students

Prominent composers such as Ned Rorem (Gay), Astor Piazolla, Aaron Copland (Gay) Philip Glass, Leonard Bernstein (Bi), Gian Carlo Menotti (gay) and Quincy Jones are only a few on her roster of famous pupils.

Mostly men, as so often. Not because there were no women. But because women don’t become as famous. And you don’t talk about women in the terms of “genius”. Just as you don’t talk about any important woman after her death. She may have been ever so famous during her lifetime. Still there is silence as soon as the coffin is closed. But had it been a man, he remains famous. However, is this a gay or trans gender icon, in some way it will be retouched with a practiced hand!

Craps! I sound bitter! 😉

Alright, so Nadia Boulanger had outstanding female students too. Thea Musgrave, Marion Bauer (Most likely Lesbian), Suzanne Bloch, Ruth Anderson (Lesbian), Cécile Armagnac, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Helen Hosmer, and Louise Talma (Lesbian). They all became/are notable and successful in their lifetime.

(Talma was deeply in love with Boulanger, but that is another story altogether.)

Nadia Boulanger

It’s Up To You And Me To Remember Her!

Many women composers in the 1800’s Europe were just as successful as their male colleagues. Unfortunately, they were excluded and briskly crossed from music history soon after their death. Thus they were forgotten and quickly removed from memory, one by one. So here we are, ripped of both our women’s history and our lgbt heritage and to this day most people believe there were no women composers before present time.

Let’s face it. It’s up to us, you and me, women and non- hetero normative thinkers, to talk about La Boulanger. Otherwise she too will sink into the swamps of oblivion.

 So, Was She A Lesbian?

We don’t know for sure, but Nadia Boulanger lived with a woman for 40 years. A woman whose official role was “assistant” and who always called her “Mademoiselle,” when anyone was listening. Mademoiselle is receiving now. Mademoiselle will return next Monday. Mademoiselle is very busy, can I forward a message? And sadly: Mademoiselle is asking for the last rites, on her deathbed.

Nadia Boulanger

Mademoiselle reaction when the press was so astonished she was a FEMALE conductor.

Annette Dieudonné, was her name. Dieudonné started out as Boulanger’s student, and she too was a composer and teacher.

How often do you live for decades with a person whom inherits you after death, but it was not in an intimate relationship? Surprisingly often if it is a same-sex couple. At least when posterity may determine. Should we laugh or cry about this absurd situation? I’ve decided to keep a wry smile, and talk about it!

Also, Boulanger did regularly visit the salon of Princess de Polignac, whose lesbianism was no secret. The princess salon was more discreet than Gertrude Stein’s. She stubbornly avoided Stein’s salon. That couple was oozing homosexuality. Some things can be too evident!

Her Far Reach To Me

Strangely enough, she has also affected my musical life. When I was to record a demo, my vocal coach recommended Nanette Nowels-Stenholm. Such a fine pianist, working at the Stockholm Opera as rehearsal coach. During our work together she told me she had been a student of Boulanger! It feels honorable and a bit unreal to have such a giant that close. Somewhat like a musical grandmother.

An Example

I could not for my life find a picture of Annette Dieudonné, but here is a expressive piece of music by her hand. Emile Naoumoff is playing. He was the last of Nadia Boulanger’s exquisite students. He began studying with her at 8, as a young prodigy. And stayed until her death, ten years later. An exceptional musician!

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