Leonard Bernstein describes Nadia Boulanger in tolerable French

Leonard Bernstein describes Nadia Boulanger in tolerable French


norman lebrecht

January 15, 2022

From a 1977 Bruno Monsaingeon documentary.

The Lenny section starts at 07:15.



  • Zenaida says:

    Most, most enjoyable documentary and insights with Mademoiselle!

  • E says:

    Thank you! This was excellent.
    Even more impressive this time
    than at first view many years ago.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    I love the bit with a little Emile Naoumoff.

  • David B says:

    His French is more than “tolerable”, rather admirable, and I say this as a French speaker.

    • Robin Worth says:

      In the 50s and 60s lots of Americans tried to learn French. American kids went to France ( the university at Grenoble was swarming in 1963) Piaf sang in New York. French was fashionable. Jackie Kennedy spoke it well.

      How things have changed!

    • John Nicholls says:

      Je suis d’accord.

      I was really impressed with his French.

  • DG says:

    Excellent, I really enjoyed watching that. I should probably know this, but what is the piece playing in the closing credits?

  • Pablo says:

    Brilliant stuff. Thanks for sharing it, Norman.

  • Thanks for that. My mentor, Elie Siegmeister (1909-1991), also studied with Boulanger in the late twenties and early thirties. That bit where Bernstein was describing her critical comment that the B-flat was the wrong note because we had just heard it earlier struck home because Elie would often chide me for the same faux pas. Inevitably, he was right and I have no doubt he got that from Boulanger…

  • debuschubertussy says:

    I always show the segment starting at 23:40 to my piano pedagogy class, and they are always floored by her teaching style. Granted, this type of public class is probably different from how she would approach a one-on-one lesson, but it is still quite eye opening to watch!

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    I think LB’s French is much better than “tolerable”. It’s a charming appreciation he makes.

    Every time I see Lenny I realise how much I miss him