[Smt-talk] Written record of Boulanger pedagogy?

JONATHAN W BERNARD jbernard at u.washington.edu
Thu Dec 16 19:39:32 PST 2010

Hello, Dmitri, and everyone,

Among the previously unpublished essays and lectures of Elliott Carter that I edited for the Rochester collection some years ago was his reminiscence of his three years under Boulanger's tutelage.  It struck me at the time as odd that, despite the vast number of students she had over the years, I'd run across hardly any other published accounts by former pupils of the instruction they received.  Carter's account is one of the most detailed -- but, as anyone knows who has ever read his essay, he has very little to say about the "nitty-gritty" of harmonic instruction or anything else.  I'd be intrigued, to say the least, to learn that someone had made an attempt to set down the rules of harmony a la Boulanger.  I can also think of several reasons why no such attempt might ever have been made, by anyone; but that's a different conversation.

One caution I'd like to offer here concerns the Vidal basses.  Having spent untold hours of my freshman year in college plugging through page after page of these figured-bass exercises, under the tutelage myself of a Boulanger disciple, I have the distinct impression that Vidal designed these quite deliberately not to follow any known rules of harmonic progression.  The whole point seemed to be to make progression unpredictable, forcing the student to learn to read the figures mechanically and accurately, to get them right at first sight without any contextual clues (such as what would "make sense" harmonically in a given situation).  They are entirely artificial exercises: no upper parts are provided, as would of course be present for real continuo playing.  Other veterans/victims of the Vidal regimen may disagree with this assessment; I'd love to hear from them either way.

Jonathan Bernard
University of Washington

On Fri, 10 Dec 2010, Dmitri Tymoczko wrote:

> Hi Everybody,
> I'm looking for written materials that record the nitty-gritty of harmony as 
> taught by Nadia Boulanger and associates: for instance, which tonal chord 
> progressions were common and which were rare, according to Boulanger?  Which 
> tonal sequences were most common?
> There is a set of figured basses by Vidal, which she used in teaching, that I 
> guess provide some indirect evidence here.  But I'm wondering if there's 
> anything more direct?  Ideally I'm looking for something like "Nadia 
> Boulanger's ideas about music, as written by Kostka and Payne."
> The reason is that (1) I would like to do some quantitative evaluation of the 
> ideas in this tradition, based on my own analytical data, and (2) that some 
> of what I've seen in Vidal interacts interestingly with my own ideas about 
> these issues.
> Thanks,
> DT
> Dmitri Tymoczko
> Associate Professor of Music
> 310 Woolworth Center
> Princeton, NJ 08544-1007
> (609) 258-4255 (ph), (609) 258-6793 (fax)
> http://music.princeton.edu/~dmitri
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