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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: January 2014

Nadia Boulanger

from A Teacher


I believe I first heard of Nadia Boulanger from Aaron Copland in Budapest in November 1969. In our interview, he remembered fondly the young woman he had studied with in 1921 at Fontainebleau; half a century on, she was still teaching in the very same rooms.

I met Nadia Boulanger in 1974. I had written her a letter asking for an appointment and she replied by return post. That would be a particularly busy week, she wrote, so all she had time for would be a short interview on March 12, at 6:45 in the evening.

I turned up punctually for our appointment but the maid who opened the door looked at me in surprise. “Mademoiselle is teaching,” she said, “she is not expecting visitors” I showed her Boulanger's letter. She took it and disappeared behind a door. When she returned, she apologized and said there had been a misunderstanding. She asked for my telephone number and promised that I would be contacted.

Early next morning, the telephone rang in my hotel room. An age-old, deep voice said: “This is Nadia Boulanger calling.”

It was embarrassing to hear her profuse apologies for having forgotten our meeting. Her eyesight was failing, she explained, and her secretary, who might have reminded her, was on leave. We arranged another time and after more apologies, the shaky old voice said good-bye.

First time around, however, there was to be no interview.