Who knew Nadia Boulanger could compose?

Who knew Nadia Boulanger could compose?


norman lebrecht

March 03, 2017

Two new releases suggest that Mademoiselle was more than just a teacher of great composers.

Read the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

In half a century of listening to records, I cannot recall ever hearing music by the noted French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. Revered by a stream of American (Copland, Harris, Carter, Glass) and British (Berkeley, Musgrave, Maw) pupils, the formidable Mademoiselle deferred to the music of her short-lived sister Lily and barely spoke of herself as a composer. Two releases, newly landed, may help to adjust that misperception….

Read on here.



  • George says:

    Most classical musicians are familiar with Boulanger’s compositions.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      They are familiar with Lily Boulanger’s.

      • SDG says:

        A nickname, but usually (or always?) spelt “Lili”.

        And some of us did know that Nadia composed, though we don’t hear her much.

      • Mikey says:

        No, we are familiar with Nadia Boulanger as a composer. just because a UK author doesn’t seem to be aware of her fantastic output doesn’t mean the the rest of the world shares in his ignorance.

      • Steven Holloway says:

        They are familiar with Nadia Boulanger’s. In my 62 years of listening to music, I’ve heard some. But note also that, for musicians, being familiar with compositions and hearing them are not the same thing. Musicians can read music. Musicians have scores.

        • Steven Holloway says:

          I should add that after a search had revealed thirteen recordings devoted to or including works by Nadia Boulanger, I stopped looking, for that’s enough to make the point, and a good start for anyone who has never heard her music, ahem. Methinks a few discs slipped by someone.

          • Nanette McGuinness says:

            Yes, Nadia Boulanger definitely did, including some lovely songs–which I’ve come close to programming a number of times, without ever doing so in the end–among other works. While musicians (as the above folks attest) do know of her compositions, it’s still lovely to get them heard by the greater music-listening world with a new release. Lili Boulanger was also an excellent composer; my then-chamber group from the 90’s (Athena Trio) recorded an arrangement of her “D’un matins de printemps” on our “Fabulous Femmes” CD from 2000. Here’s the Naxos YouTube link:.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOp4lEfjAt0

  • Robert Holmén says:

    The 3 Pieces for cello are are well-known among cellists, at least, with numerous recital performances on YouTube.

    Fine pieces, one wishes she had written three more!

    • Polly van der Linde says:

      If you mean the Three Pieces for cello and piano, I agree. They’re gorgeous

      • Robert Holmén says:

        No, I was referring to a 3-piece pant suit she made that one dresses the cello with. 😀

        Who knew she was a seamstress too?

  • John says:

    Most of Nadia Boulanger’s compositions pre-date Lili’s death in 1918 and very little or nothing after 1922.

  • David Osborne says:

    “Yes, but can composition be taught?”
    John Ireland.

  • jonathan dunsby says:

    There are a couple of great pre-WW1 pieces for chorus and orchestra which have been widely performed “Les sirènes” and “A l’aube”. And those organ pieces are frequently put in recitals.

    OK, Nadia gave up composition early and deferred to her sister. But her works have often been performed