Thursday, 12 June 2008

Nadia Boulanger as Teacher by Lennox Berkeley: an article

Lennox Berkeley studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris form 1927 until 1932. The present article was written towards the end of this period for the January 1931 issue of the Monthly Musical Record. It is well known that the ‘Paris Years’ were extremely influential on the composer’s subsequent career. Not only did he learn a great deal from Boulanger, but he had the opportunity to meet many great composers including Maurice Ravel, Francis Poulenc, Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud, Albert Roussel and Arthur Honegger. It is hardly surprising that critical opinion often alluded to the ‘Gallic flavour’ of much of Lennox Berkeley’s composition. It certainly explains his attention to detail and the fine craftsmanship of virtually all his subsequent compositions.
Little of Lennox Berkeley’s music from this period is regularly played although there is quite a catalogue of chamber, piano and choral music from these years.

In considering a great teacher of composition, one wonders to what extent composition can be taught at all; for examples spring to one’s mind of musicians of great knowledge and impeccable technique who fail completely as composers, and others full of talent and ideas who fail equally for lack of training and musical workmanship. One can only conclude that teaching in composition is useless in the case of people who have insufficient natural ability, but indispensable to those who have talent.
Although a certain amount can be achieved by a man of great musical gifts without study, I know of no great composer whose talent alone has sufficed. All have had to go through the mill and master a certain amount of theory. Nor is this all: a young composer requires somebody who is capable of guiding his faltering steps, and of showing him how to develop his ideas and to present them in an intelligible form.
Nadia Boulanger is more than a teacher of counterpoint and fugue, and by this I do not mean merely that she also teaches the piano and the organ and lectures on musical form and interpretation, but that she is a teacher of the art of music as a whole, and has a positive genius for the training and development of the aesthetic sense of a composer. She infuses into her pupils that power of self-criticism and discipline which is so essential to the composer.
Let us consider her attitude towards music in general…(article continued at MusicWeb International)
The Monthly Musical Record January 1 1931 [transcribed by John France]
With thanks to ‘The Lennox Berkeley Estate’ for permission to reprint this article.


d fisher said...

Thank you for posting this excerpt-I have also accessed the article.

Lennox Berkeley's first person comments provide insight into Nadia Boulanger's teaching style and her underlying pedagogical philosophy.

I am in the initial stages of researching her impact on select composition students and have been looking for general first person accounts such as Berkeley's.

Delores Fisher MA(music-musicology)
Lecturer SDSU

Delores Fisher said...

D Fisher

Although it's been a few years, I must comment briefly on studying "New Music" at San Diego State University in the School of Music and Dance with now deceased composer, professor, and mentor Dr. David Ward-Steinman who fondly recalled his time as a student with Nadia Boulanger in mentoring conversations.

One semester,I struggled for weeks to shape my newest "eclectic tertian harmony concept-composition piece." Dr. Ward-Steinman eventually sat me down one day. As I sulked shaking my head in angst, he quietly related that during his studies in France with Nadia Boulanger, he learned the importance of hearing one's work clearly enough to edit, and also when necessary, to be willing to use the circular file.

He passed on knowledge and experience to me that music composition starts with an aural idea. A composer must be willing to put in effort, the "work," to birth that idea into sonic reality.

Delores Fisher MA (Musicology)
Lecturer SDSU, Africana Studies Department