Nadia Boulanger has been championed as one of the 20th centuries foremost composition teachers. Her life has been documented, analyzed, idolized, and chronicled. However, no amount of scholarship can capture the whole essence of Nadia Boulanger. Her inner most thoughts, personality quirks, and mannerisms can’t be portrayed fully in academic writing, but one author has tried to capture sincere, non staged thoughts from Ms. Boulanger. In Mademoiselle, Conversations with Nadia Boulanger author and concert violinist Bruno Monsaingeon gives fictional conversations that have been pieced together from real sentiments shared with him by Nadia herself. He compares writing the book to editing a film that was shot before the plot was known, and the lead actor dies leaving many holes to be filled. Monsaingeon pieced together this book from many scattered conversations because as he says,
“There was no possibility of creating a script with Nadia Boulanger. One does not direct a woman of her age and stature…” (10)
His book is filled with conversations that he claims are all hers not his; he only arranged them to keep them organized and to minimize tangents.
Although this book claims to be authentic, I don’t think it will be useful for much more than aspects of Nadia’s character because I don’t know which thoughts are her’s directly and which are holes that he has filled in with his own editing. The idea of cherry picking and arranging thoughts out of context also makes me wary. I do think it will be interesting when looking at Ms. Boulanger as an idol for fellow French people since it is written by another Frenchman.
On the other end of the spectrum is another book that claims to be purely Nadia Boulanger’s thoughts, but this time in the form of translated articles, quotes, and writings by Ms. Boulanger herself. Master Teacher: Nadia Boulanger by Don G. Campbell is a compilation of Nadia’s thoughts copied into one book. I don’t know how much more authentic to the actual figure you can get than their own writings, but the author again shed’s doubt on this loft goal using Nadia’s own words.”Mademoiselle[Nadia] saw that words taken out of context could be meaningless and misleading.” He comments further explaining how she often refused to comment or write on music or books knowing they could be read and interpreted incorrectly. She was wary of him writing this book about her saying, “I am terrified to let you create a real deception of my life.”(xi)
Even though Master Teacher tells me to be wary of misconstruing thoughts of Ms. Boulanger’s as thoughts she held impunitively throughout her life, I am much more comfortable using these authentic writings by her as a source than the supposedly authentic thoughts of hers shared in Conversations.
Don G. Campbell, Master Teacher: Nadia Boulanger (Washington D.C.: The Pastoral Press, 1984)
Bruno Monsaingeon, Mademoiselle Conversations with Nadia Boulanger, trans. Robyn Marsack (Manchester: Carcanet Press Limited)