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22.3.08

DVD: Mademoiselle

available at Amazon
Mademoiselle Nadia Boulanger, film by Bruno Monsaingeon

(released November 20, 2007)
Idéale Audience International DVD5DM41
The name of Nadia Boulanger comes up all the time in the discussion of music, not least because of the long list of composers who studied with her, including Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, Pierre Henry, Astor Piazzola, Quincy Jones, Philip Glass, Virgil Thomson, David Diamond, Roy Harris, Thea Musgrave, Daniel Pinkham, Walter Piston, and many others. Michel Legrand once described her thus:
A monster, and one of the wonders of the world. She is the undeniable master who has made all the composers of the entire world work. I was in her class for seven years. I learned rigor there, discipline, and when she was done with me, when I was 20, I was ready for anything. I acquired such technique from her that, when I am at the podium, when I play, when I write, I know exactly what I want. I play very badly, but I play all the instruments, which means that almost no one can bullshit me.
This recent release is a DVD repackaging of a 1977 film that English-language audiences may never have seen, although students of Nadia Boulanger are likely familiar with the transcripts of these encounters, published as Mademoiselle: Conversations with Nadia Boulanger. In 1977, Canadian filmmaker Bruno Monsaigneon was allowed to film some of the famous mercredi, the Wednesday classes that Boulanger held in her apartment, even at this point, when she was 90. It is not really a documentary, since Boulanger zealously guarded her private life from outside eyes, but it is perhaps the best way to gain an understanding of what her teaching process was like (not to mention to learn how well Leonard Bernstein spoke French).

The camera gives the perspective of one of the students sitting in her classroom, with closeups of Boulanger's hands and face as she speaks and listens. For all that she was demanding and tough, she shared the mark of all great teachers in that she was willing to submerge her own personal taste in music to help her students find their voice. Stories are told here about her including the work of Schoenberg and Hindemith in her classes, for example, to help her students understand their work (even though her own tastes were not necessarily in those directions). The DVD has a bonus track, the ORTF Philharmonic Orchestra playing Mozart's Prague Symphony, conducted by Nadia Boulanger's student Igor Markevitch, who is featured in the film. It is not in itself a reason to buy this DVD, but a pleasant enough addition.

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