Richard Stoker recently sent me a copy of an article he had written for the "Books & Bookman" December 1976 edition. This magazine is no longer extant and has not been digitalised.
Richard asked me to transcribe it and put it onto his MusicWeb International web pages.
There is no doubt that Nadia Boulanger was one of the most important figures of 20th century musical composition – it is not so much what she composed as who she taught. A list of her pupils reads like a catalogue of the ‘greats’ – including Elliott Carter, Lennox Berkeley, Philip Glass, Virgil Thomson, Astor Piazzolla, Thea Musgrave, Nicolas Maw,,, Interestingly it was not just ‘classical’ composers who benefited from her teaching, but included George Gerswhin and Burt Bacharach!
"The first thing one notices about Nadia Boulanger is her delicate refined perfume, the next is her dress – neither of the Twenties, nor of the Sixties but timeless and above all, her own. When she speaks a slightly Americanised-English is noticeable but it is at all times musical, concise and pointed, with much warmth and precision. She gives you her full attention, listening carefully to all you have to say with a remarkable concentration and patience.
You immediately gain confidence from this attention and you begin to feel a worthwhile person in your own right. I am sure that this one of her great secrets as a teacher; no one is too unimportant for this attention and a few moments speaking to her is enough to treasure for a long time to come. Any merit you may have, in your work or in your personality, is immediately noticed, drawn out, and encouraged. I believe as a teacher Nadia Boulanger discovers the latent talents of her pupils, however small these may be and concentrates on them as a gardener would on a delicate hot-house plant, the result being a new self confidence and growth of creative character. Next she endeavours to assist you to find the true direction that your work should take. To do this, she makes you aware of the contemporary climate in art and encourages any personal traits and original ideas you may have to come to the fore. She is first and foremost an ideas person, just as Schoenberg was an ideas man; indeed it is my opinion that Boulanger and Schoenberg have been the two great composition teachers of this century so far ...continued here