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Nadia Boulanger

Mademoiselle, Film by Bruno Monsaigneon

Ideale Audience DVD5DM41 (1977, 79 mins)

Nadia Boulanger is a central figure in the 20th C history of music, and this DVD captures her provocative style in a class, and through interviews with pupils Lenny Bernstein & Igor Markevich. Gradually the picture is built up of an indomitable, unique figure, around 90 but still not allowing herself an iota of relaxation.

As a teenager I became aware of Monteverdi through Boulanger's pioneering 1937 recordings with Hugues Cuenod, Doda Conrad and the Princesse de Polignac - names to conjure with. Much later, but now too long ago to remember details reliably, I attended and even played in a class she gave in London (? late '60s) and also heard Nadia Boulanger in the BBC Maida Vale Studios conducting music by her sister Lili, who died so young and to whose music and memory she remained devoted ever afterwards (she describes her own compositions dismissively as worthless).

In the filmed class, Boulanger emphasised that for her unswerving 'seriousness' was axiomatic. She enters into the mysteries of what is needed beyond technique - essential though that is - else all the skill in the world is worth nothing... My guess is that if asked, she might have treated thus the music of the accomplished contrapuntalist Taneyev, whose monster piano quintet I went to hear yesterday straight after having watched this DVD, and whilst still continuing to ponder the wisdoms and paradoxes that Boulanger dispensed to her Wednesday classes.

Monsaigner's film is invaluable though quite short. The problems associated with making it are described in the 16 page booklet accompanying the disc. There are of course many clips of Stravinsky etc, but I was not persuaded that the old film of Markevich conducting Mozart's Prague Symphony was worth including as an extra; its sound is so poor and I could not discern special quality in that 1967 ORTF performance.

Peter Grahame Woolf