A stolid, literate, psychologically acute study of the famed teacher/conductor/composer/performer: for all Boulanger's...



A stolid, literate, psychologically acute study of the famed teacher/conductor/composer/performer: for all Boulanger's accomplishments, the emphasis here is on a life ""frustrated by time and circumstance."" Child of demanding, pressuring bourgeois parents--music-teacher father and pretentious Russian-born mother--Nadia became fiercely ambitious but was plagued by self-doubt, never allowed to enjoy success. Furthermore, she was, from the start, ""trained to revere her mother and to assume the role of head of household"" when her old father died. So, while frail, charming younger sister Lili stayed home with Mme. B., gifted teenager Nadia had to work (teaching); and, never rebelling at home, she did so in public--going out unchaperoned, dressing frumpishly, abrasively taking on the musical establishment (winning the 2nd Prize in the Prix de Rome composer competition), courting gossip through her relationship with composition/performing mentor Raoul Pugno. (Rosenstiel doesn't quite refute those rumors of an affair.) The result was modest early celebrity (especially as an organist), but only half-success--a frustration which was highlighted when sister Lili then won the Prix de Rome's 1st Prize. And when Lili died in 1918, Nadia--secretly guilty and relieved--""embarked on a lifelong campaign of self-denial and atonement."" Work with WW I French war relief brought US contacts: soon-famous American students, invitations to play and lecture in the States. Her teaching career soared (composers, performers, prodigies); her groundbreaking conducting career bloomed; her image changed to that of ""a secular apostle of art and culture."" But her personal life remained ""unrelentingly frustrated"" (sublimated into possessiveness towards students), and, always, ""her inner ambition clashed with her outward humility."" Rosenstiel, to her credit, neither ignores nor over-emphasizes the feminist angle in this conflicted life. To her credit, too, she shrewdly notes Nadia's musical-politics (sometimes, as with Schoenberg vs. Stravinsky) more important than esthetics. And, though perhaps too leisurely and densely detailed for casual readers, this is an unusually well-balanced, well-researched, compassionate yet un-hagiographic biography.

Pub Date: May 17, 1982

ISBN: 0393317137

Page Count: -

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1982