[Smt-talk] Written record of Boulanger pedagogy?

David Kopp dako at bu.edu
Sat Dec 18 16:12:38 PST 2010

Nicolas –


The copy of Paul Vidal’s basses that has circulated over here was
transcribed by Easley Blackwood, one of Nadia Boulanger’s students. It’s
been reproduced and distributed privately in various degrees of
completeness. A few of us on the list should possess a copy.




David Kopp

Boston University


From: smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org
[mailto:smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org] On Behalf Of Nicolas
Sent: Friday, 17 December 2010 18:29
Cc: SMT Talk
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Written record of Boulanger pedagogy?


It strikes me that Jonathan's description of the purpose (or the lack of
purpose) of Vidal's exercises exactly matches what I'd say (here, not in
France) of the traditional exercises of the Paris Conservatoire and of the
French way of teaching harmony in general. Harmony properly speaking in not
taken in account, in so far as there is no attempt made to distinguish good
progressions from poor or bad ones. The only concern is to have a correct
voice leading, especially in avoiding parallel perfect consonances.

French "harmony", since Catel's treatise of 1801, probably, is nothing more
than a kind of naïve tonal counterpoint, without any real concern for
harmonic progressions or (which boils down to the same) for tonality. And,
as Jonathan seems to suggest, the figures become mere labels for the chords,
to be translated at first sight into chords totally decontextualized.
"Making sense" is utterly foreign to this teaching.

I am afraid to have to say that this, even today, remains the way harmony is
taught not only in the French conservatoires (after all, conservatoires are
the places where tradition is conserved), but also in universities, and
even, horresco referens, in the Sorbonne.

This all would tend to indicate that Boulanger's harmonic pedagogy, if it
was based on these Vidal basses, may not have been very different from the
French traditional one (i.e. that of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de
Paris), with its odd figures includig +6, +4, etc., or barred 5, etc.

But let me know: who is the Vidal mentioned here? Is there a publication of
his basses? I never heard of these exercises around here. They cannot be
worse than some I have had to do during my studies, but I know nothing of
them. And as one of my former students is planning a study of this extremely
odd French tradition, I'd very much like to know.

Nicolas Meeùs
Université Paris-Sorbonne

Le 17/12/2010 04:39, JONATHAN W BERNARD a écrit : 

Hello, Dmitri, and everyone,
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
Jonathan Bernard
University of Washington
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