Mildred Bliss tells Nadia Boulanger to think of herself for once
Locke, Ralph P. and Barr, Cyrilla (eds.)
Cultivating Music in America: Women Patrons and Activists since 1860.
University of California Press
Igor Stamnsky's Dumbarton Oaks Concerto was premiered as part of a program conducted by Nairn Boulanger on 8 May 1938 at the Washington, D.C., home for which the piece was named. The concerto was the result of a commission by the philanthropists Mildred and Robert Woods Bluss for a piece to celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary. The commision was apparently negotiated in the spring of 1937 by Boulanger, a passionate champion of Stramnsky's music. Early plans may have involved a first peformance conducted by Stramnsly himself, but his poor health, which forced him to undergo a cure for tuberculosis in the spring of 1938, made the voyage to America impossible. The program was turned over to Boulanger, who presented the concerto with extracts from Bach cantatas (sung by the tenor Hugues Cuenod and bass Doda Conrad, who had both come from France with her for her American tour) and Stravinsky's own Duo Conceitanl for violin and piano.
Mildred Bliss mote thefollowing lettei to Boulangei (now in the Bibliotheque nationale, Paris) a week after the Dumbarton Oaks concert, in the fluent but somewhat idiosyncratic French she normally employed in communications with the musician. She explams that her letter was delayed because of the sudden death of a close friend, whose admirable qualities she describes, the highest praise she can imagine is that he was "a useful citizen," the emphasis reflecting her own strong commitment to public service and her belief in the necessity of contributing to society in practical ways. After explaining why her letter is late, Bliss discusses the arrangements for paying the composer and the participants in the concert. She wants Stravinsky's concerto to be named after Dumbarton Oaks, a gesture that seems to have had the desired effect of affording the mansion's owners at least a degree of anonymity (at its premiere in England later the same year the piece was identified as named "after the California home in which it was written"). Thioughout the letter Bliss's deep affection and regard for Boulanger is evident. She is concerned about Boulanga's tendency to over work, as well as her penchant for dispensing money to her students rather than keeping it for herself. And her reference to perfume and a neglige (which she did send to Boulanger's ship when she sailed for France, as a subsequent letter makes clear) seems to indicate a desire to help Boulanger to pamper herself more than she was generally inclined to do.
Bliss closes with a request for Boulanger's opinion on two letters, which she encloses, she does not discuss the content, but it is clear she values her advice greatly. Her trust in Boulanger's musical judgment worked to Stravinsky's advantage again the following year. Boulanger acted as Stravinsky's go-between with Bliss to arrange for the premiere of his Symphony in C during the fiftieth anniversary season of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
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