Nadia Boulanger

Orchestra conductor and pedagogue (Paris, 1887- Paris, 1979)

The unmissable figure of the 20th century Nadia Boulanger had a major influence on the musical life of her time. That pedagogue mixed a strict discipline with a very open mind and marked several generations of composers, even the most avant-gardists.

Nadia Boulanger was born in a family of musicians: her father was a composer (Rome Prize) and a singing teacher, her mother who was from Russian descent had been one of his students. She was very close to her sister Lili Boulanger, a prodigy composer who died prematurely. Nadia Boulanger studied the piano, the composition and harmony under Gabriel Fauré at the Paris Conservatoire. She started her career first as a pianist and then as an organist. She composed at the time vocal pieces, chamber music and pieces for orchestra. She judged her work to be unsuccessful though and left that career to become an orchestra conductor and a teacher. Deeply touched by the death of Lili, she would work to promote her young sister’s work.

Nadia Boulanger was one of the first female conductors to lead great phalanxes in France and in the United States. She made her debut as a conductor in 1912 in Paris and conducted her own compositions. During the Second World War, she stayed in the United States where she conducted the orchestras of Boston, Philadelphia and New York. From 1921, she taught at the American Conservatoire in Fontainebleau; several generations of eminent American composers would pass through her class. Nadia Boulanger also taught at the Paris Conservatoire and at the École Normale de Musique de Paris where she assisted Paul Dukas before taking his place in the composition class. She always paid attention to the musical language of her time and during 75 years, she trained exceptional musicians, some of whom would become great composers or performers worldwide like Aaron Copland, Dinu Lipatti, Elliott Carter, Igor Markovitch, Daniel Barenboïm, Marius Constant, John Eliot Gardiner, Philip Glass, Astor Piazzolla, Yehudi Menuhin, Quincy Jones, Lalo Schifrin...

Huge admirer of Monteverdi, Schütz and J.S. Bach, she contributed in giving their pieces a second life on the music scene of her time.

Six landmark dates in the life of Nadia Boulanger

1903: became deputy organist for Gabriel Fauré at the Église de la Madeleine
1908: won a second Grand Prix de Rome
1912: conducted for the first time her own pieces in Paris
1948: was appointed director at the American Conservatoire in Fontainebleau
1977: received the Légion d'Honneur
1983: creation of the Fondation Nadia et Lili Boulanger