- Nadia Boulanger and the Stravinskys: A Selected Correspondence ed. by Kimberly A. Francis
In her newest book on Nadia Boulanger and the Stravinsky family, Kimberly A. Francis uses selected letters between Boulanger and the Stravinskys to create a narrative that seeks to clarify the relationship between the French pedagogue and the Russian composer and his relatives. Francis asserts that in doing so she pushes back against Robert Craft’s dismissive account of Boulanger’s involvement in Stravinsky’s life and career (that she was only a proofreader); argues that Boulanger’s interest in the composer was entirely platonic; and examines Boulanger’s connections with the women of the Stravinsky family.
Francis does repudiate Craft’s dismissals of Boulanger, but she does this much more effectively in her previous book, Teaching Stravinsky: Nadia Boulanger and the Consecration of a Modernist Icon (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), rather than through these letters. Her second argument, that the relationship between Boulanger and Stravinsky was platonic, is based on Alexandra Laederich and Rémy [End Page 67] Strickler’s research into Boulanger’s private life and a claim that Boulanger’s passionate language in her letters to Stravinsky is, despite appearances, utterly platonic. This latter claim would be stronger if Francis had compared Boulanger’s language to Stravinsky with that of her letters to other composers and those whose work she supported; as it is, the letters can certainly be read as indicative of Boulanger’s non-platonic interest in Stravinsky, while his clearly do not reciprocate. On the final point, that it was the Stravinsky women who “facilitated and nurtured the lines of communication between Igor Stravinsky and Nadia Boulanger in the early 1930s”, the letters included here are simply too few and too superficial to support this reading (p. 4). Despite the mixed results in Francis’s stated goals for the book, this collection is an important addition to the literature, not just on Stravinsky and Boulanger, but in documenting a common manifestation of gender roles in music in the twentieth century in which male composers used the admiration, connections, and goodwill of female colleagues to assist them for free and promote their careers. In particular, it offers additional support for Virgil Thomson’s claim that “Nadia bullied women, but she served men”, a critical issue in understanding Boulanger and her influence (Virgil Thomson to Leonie Rosenstiel, 14 May 1982. Gilmore Music Library, Yale University, MSS 29 Series 3, Box 28, Folder 29).
Not long after Boulanger accepted Igor and Katherine Stravinsky’s son Soulima as a composition and analysis student, Katherine Stravinsky asked Boulanger to intervene in Soulima’s love life, encouraging him to end a relationship that the family felt improper. Boulanger’s social engineering with her students knew no bounds, and in addition to her teaching Soulima, this request for involvement in the family’s affairs allowed her to begin a relationship with all of the Stravinskys. From there, Boulanger made herself available to Igor Stravinsky as a colleague, a champion of new music, and, above all, an enthusiastic volunteer editor and proofreader. Writing that Stravinsky and his music were “constantly present” (p. 23) in her mind and heart, Boulanger worked to become indispensable to Stravinsky. For his part, Stravinsky used Boulanger’s connections with patrons to obtain commissions, her knowledge of publishers to make his work more quickly available, and her teaching to make his work better known to both French and American performers. She obtained guest teaching and conducting engagements for him, and even paid him out of her own salary for classes he taught to her students (p. 36). Boulanger benefited from this by being able to teach Stravinsky’s works—and sometimes première them—before anyone else, and was able to bring Stravinsky to the Conservatoire Américain for masterclasses, raising her own cachet among her students and potential students, and establishing her as an expert on his works. She was...