from Three Improvisations for Organ
by Nadia Boulanger, Arranged by Patrick J. Burns (Grade 4, 5:15)
Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) was one of the twentieth century’s most influential musical figures. A skilled and deft composer, she became far better known as a teacher of composition and music theory, and for her profound influence on hundreds of young composers, many of whom would eventually be recognized among the greats in their field. The American composer and author Ned Rorem has called her the most influential teacher since Socrates; while composer and music critic Virgil Thomson only semi-jested that every American town had two things – an Esso Gas Station and a pupil of Nadia Boulanger. Among her diverse list of students were Aaron Copland, Elliot Carter, Walter Piston, Quincy Jones, Karel Husa, George Antheil and Burt Bacharach, just to name a few. Her music is highly chromatic and reflects the substantial influence of an early contemporary of hers, Claude Debussy.
The Prelude in F Minor is the first movement of Boulanger’s Trois Improvisations for organ, composed in 1911, and published in 1912. The music is pensive and reflective, and, at times, dramatic and highly expressive. Boulanger’s conservative and lean writing is counterbalanced by her astonishing use of timbre throughout the piece. Colors change frequently and with great subtlety throughout the work, allowing each new musical phrase to be cast in a slightly different light. This technique moves Boulanger’s economical musical ideas forward in an effective compositional way, and also enables the listener to maintain a high degree of interest for the duration of the work.
Mr. Burns’ setting is more of a transcription than arrangement, in that he has attempted to match Boulanger’s color changes as exactly as possibly, using the traditional instrumentation of the modern wind band. His goal was to remain as true as possible to her original conception of the piece, over a century ago.