[Smt-talk] Written record of Boulanger pedagogy?

Donna Doyle donnadoyle at att.net
Sun Dec 19 20:24:41 PST 2010

Dear SMT List:

As a former Boulanger student, and as one who's preparing to write my  
dissertation on the French
Partimento tradition and NB's place in it, I communicated with Dmitri  
shortly after his post. Here's
a reprint of my message to him, plus my thoughts about what's been  
offered by others.

"I recall that Boulanger used the following:

	A few pages of unpublished v-l rules, a copy of which was in the  
library, that we handcopied
	for our own use. Someone has recently digitized them online. You'll  
find them if you do a search.

	Her modulating cadences, also online

	The Dubois harmony text

	The Vidal basses (currently published by Dinsic, edited and realized  
by Narcis Bonet, with Forwards
	by Philip Lasser and myself)

	Her oral tradition

I myself am preparing to write my dissertation on her place in the  
partimento tradition."

Re the Levin-Harrison-Talma text: I think I have a photo of them  
sitting behind the Hotel D'Albe in
F'bleau working on it. Subsequently, I believe, the task fell to Louis  
Martin (trained in France,
Hunter College faculty). He used it at Hunter (where I taught from it  
briefly in the early 90s), refining it
until the mid 90s, when he and Jim tried to market it.  But around  
that time the Gauldin text came out,
with marketing that dwarfed theirs. Louis abandoned hope, retired from  
teaching and left the USA.
Afterwards, Hedi Siegel gave me some boxes of his materials, but his  
theory text is not there.
I recall it was a carefully wrought amalgam of species ctpt, figured  
bass, harmonic syntax, analysis
and keyboard harmony, requiring a three-year theory sequence. (He also  
published an ET text,
which had a more successful run--now out of print.)

Re the Vidal: When I studied with Boulanger, playing the exercises at  
the keyboard was not sufficient--
she expected us to write them (the more involved ones, anyway) in open  
score (four clefs) in ink,
then play them for her. My understanding was that this required us to  
hear/see each voice as a line
and to carefully work out our solutions. (We would sketch in pencil,  
then ink our final version just
before our lesson.) She rarely gave answers directly, but would  
discuss passages with us,
suggesting alternatives, refinements, etc. We would then make our  
revisions with tabs taped carefully
over the original version--there are spots in my notebooks that have  
layers of tabs suggesting different
possible patterns for a sequence. She also believed we'd have a record  
of our thought process this way.
These exercises are not so much for continuo playing as for  
improvising/composing, just as jazz players
learn hundreds of patterns for the filing cabinets of their minds. In  
my opinion, this is a fabulous way to
develop one's ear, fingers, reflexes, sensibility, etc. True, Vidal  
gives too many exercises and some
are boring. But one is free to choose. And to know when enough's enough!

Hope this sheds light on some things.

Best regards,
Donna Doyle

Aaron Copland School of Music
Queens College
65-30 Kissena Blvd.
Flushing, NY  11367

tele: 718-997-3819
fax:  718-997-3849
email: donna.doyle at qc.cuny.edu
email: donnadoyle at att.net


On Dec 18, 2010, at 7:12 PM, David Kopp wrote:

> 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.
> Best,
> David Kopp
> Boston University
> From: smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org [mailto:smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org 
> ] On Behalf Of Nicolas Meeùs
> 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 way.
> Jonathan Bernard
> University of Washington
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