Chapter 3, 17 March 1941

Title

Chapter 3, 17 March 1941

Subject

Igor Stravinsky

Creator

Nadia Boulanger

Date

17 March 1941

Source

Paul Sacher Stiftung

Type

Letter

Extracted Text

Boulanger to Stravinsky
Gerry’s Landing
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Throwbridge 78-89
Monsieur Igor Strawinsky
Chateau Marmont
3221 Sunset Boulevard
Hollywood, Los Angeles
California
March 17, 1941
My dear friend, I’m ashamed not to have written you earlier, but, if I am very busy, I am also
dealing with a heavy moral crisis. It was twenty-three years ago on Saturday that my little Lili
died—it will be six on Wednesday since Mother has been gone—it is impossible to do here what
we always did in Paris, but at least I had believed it possible. All of this, the feeling of shame I
have for having left at such a time, has filled my heart with pain. I should have known, but on the
other hand, what else can be done. To help them over there, it was truly necessary to carry out
this other work. Ultimately, as you see, it’s not going very well. And it’s not really necessary that
things work, if we want to find a balance again. These past few years have been filled by our lost
ones and today we pay for it; it’s only right. And it has to be so, because if remorse acts as a
springboard for us, we can create new strength in ourselves from it. The trick is to figure out
what it is we are ready to give our lives for. And we have several things to give, because even if
it is hopeless, we must all still prepare for the end. But just imagine how my despair is paired
with an indescribable hope. And I offer my strength to that which requires all of it, but for the
time being I have lost my strength, which is absurd. But I didn’t know how much I loved France,
how I need her, and how, in her weakness, I feel she is great. How badly we have served her, we
other French men and women whose flesh and spirit were crafted by her, her traditions, and her
faith. We are suddenly reminded that we descended from those who fought with Joan of Arc,
who prayed with Saint Louis, who witnessed the construction of Chartres. And such memories
will permit neither weakness nor treason.
What have we done with this heritage that was our honor and demanded our responsibility? We
suddenly realize when waking up from such an awful nightmare—because that has been our
collective existence—that we do not have enough tears to offer up to God. It has nothing to do
with sentimentality, but rather the awakening of the conscience—it is well worth going through a
serious crisis. So if it takes cruelly seeing one’s self in an unsympathetic mirror, the result is
worth the suffering. I do not like to be ashamed, and, thank God, I have not had much shame in
my life. I have been selfish, like almost all humans, but haven’t had too many irreparable faults.
(I believe in the forgiveness of sins, certainly, but for the past to be erased, it must remain the
past.) As for life in general, there are so many concessions to let go of. And the result doesn’t
allow us to blame our neighbors—the “guilty ones” (the “guilty ones” are easy to blame)—but it
forces us to judge our own actions, our own efforts. And it is not a pretty picture. Everything gets
forgotten, it’s that simple. As if we didn’t have parents to whom we must show respect and be
accountable. The time has come—but a great country that radiated glory has lost everything in a
few wretched days by the mistakes accumulated over such a long time. We have to think about
this first, then next, and for always; we must understand it from every angle, and then—and only
then—with our house put back in order—we will (perhaps) be able to set out on a new course, or
be left to sleep in the peace of God, having measured [our] faults, and though forgiving [them],
fearing them still.
Please forgive all of this, which makes no sense other than to me. But I am so alone with this that
I must open my heart. And who can understand it like you? What bad luck to be honored by such
an overwhelming trust. It doesn’t matter. It is worth something, because how many men, at this
very moment, are beating their own breasts?
As for the score, I hope that it will not come right now because we are giving a concert for the
Polish on April 4 in New York, with Schütz’s Resurrection . . . . One set of parts had to be
completely redone since I did not have them anymore, and although Barbara is making copies,
that has taken a long time. One would not think, to see this endless and useless letter, that I am
short on time. But it is easier to say everything in a jumble than it is to choose, eliminate, reject,
and craft.
I have not yet found a copy of the prayers. I have just sent a letter on this subject and will keep
you informed.
Give Vera my love, and, rest assured, I am finished. I send my love. I miss you both terribly, and
I hope that we will meet again . . . one day.
Yours,
Nadia
Boulanger à Stravinsky
Gerry’s Landing
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Throwbridge 78-89
Monsieur Igor Strawinsky
Chateau Marmont
3221 Sunset Boulevard
Hollywood, Los Angeles
California
17 mars 1941
Mon cher ami,quelle honte de ne pas vous avoir encore ecrit,mais,si je suis tres occupee,je passe
aussi par une crise morale assez dure.Ces jours d’anniversaires,il y a eu samedi 23 ans que ma
petite Lili est morte—il y en aura six mercredi que Maman n’est plus la–l’impossibilite de faire
ici ce que nous faisions toujours a Paris,du moins je l’ai cru,tout cela,le sentiment de honte que
j’ai d’etre partie dans untel [sic] moment,a pris dans mon esprit de douloureuses
proportions.J’aurais du le savoir,mais d(autre [sic] part,que faire autrement.Pour les aider la-
bas,il fallait bien remplir cet autre devoir.Enfin,comme vous voyez,cela ne va pas.Et il ne faut
pas que cela aille,si nous voulons retrouver un equilibre.Ces dernieres annees avaient ete
remplies par nos abandons.Nous payons aujourd’hui: ce n’est que juste.Et c’est necessaire,car si
les remords nous servent de tremplin,nous pouvons grace a eux creer en nous de nouvelles forces
.Le tout est de bien determiner ce a quoi nous sommes prets a donner notre vie.Et nous avons de
quoi en donner plusieurs,car meme si c’est sans espoir,encore faut-il se preparer a la
terminaison.Mais figurez-vous que mon desespoir est double d’un espoir indicible.Et c’est a
tendre mes forces vers ce qui les demande toutes,que pour le moment je les ai perdues,ce qui est
absurde.Mais je ne savais pas combien j’aimais la France,combien j’ai besoin d’elle,et
combien,dans sa faiblesse,je la sens grande.Comme nous l’avons mal servie,nous autres francais
dont la chair et l’esprit sont formes par elle,ses traditions,sa foi.Il nous souvient soudain que nous
descendons de ceux qui ont lutte avec Jeanne d’arc,qui ont prie avec Saint Louis,qui ont vu
s’elever Chartres.Et de tels souvenirs ne permettent ni faiblesse ni trahison.
qu’avions nous fait de ce patrimoine qui etait notre honneur et engageait notre responsabilite.A
se reveiller d’un tel affreux cauchemar,car c’est-ce qu’a ete notre vie nationale,on comprend
soudain,et on n’a pas assez de larmes pour offrir a Dieu.Il ne s’agit pas de sentimentalite,mais du
reveil de la conscience–cela vaut bien de passer par une lourde crise.Si l’on s’est cruellement vu
dans un impitoyable miroir,le resultat vaut bien la souffrance.Je n’aime pas avoir honte,et,j’en
benis Dieu, je n’ai pas eu beaucoup honte dans ma vie.De l’egoisme, comme presque tous les
humains,mais,pas trop de fautes irreparaples(je crois a la remission des peches,certes,mais le
passe pour effacable qu’il soit reste le passe)En ce qui concerne la vie en generale,que de
concessions de laisser aller.Et le resultat ne nous permet pas d’accuser le voisin,les
« responsables »(qu’ils ont bon dos,les responsables)mais nous force a juger notre propre
action,notre propre effort.Et,ce n’est pas joli.Tout oublie,c’est bien simple.Comme si on n’avait
pas de parents a qui il faut donner son respect,et rendre des comptes.L’heure est venue—mais,un
grand pays rayonnant de gloire,en quelques pauvers journees a tout perdu,par les fautes
accumulees pendant si longtemps.C’est a cela qu’il faut penser d’abord,ensuite,et
toujours,l’entendre a tous les domaines et ensuite,mais ensuite seulement,dans la maison remise
en ordre,repartir pour un nouvel effort,ou s’endormir dans la paix du Seigneur,ayant mesure ses
fautes,et meme pardonne,les craindre encore.
Pardon de tout ceci qui n’a aucun sens, sauf pour moi.Mais je suis si seule a cet egard,qu’il me
faut bien ouvrir mon cœur.Et qui,comme vous peut comprendre?Mais pas de chance,que d’etre
honore d’une si ecrasante confiance.Cela ne fait rien,cela vaut bien quelque chose,car,quel est le
nombre d’hommes qui en ce moment meme,se frappent la poitrine?
Pour le materiel,j’espere qu’il ne viendra pas maintenant,car nous donnons un concert pour les
Polonais le 4 avril a New-York,avec la Resurrection de Schutz…il a fallu refaire tout un
materiel,puisque je n’avais plus rien,et bien que Barbara fasse les copies,cela a pris beaucoup de
temps.On ne dirait pas,a voir cette interminable et inutile lettre,que je manque de temps.Mais il
est plus facile de dire toute,en desordre,que de choisir,eliminer,refuser,et donner forme.
Pas encore trouve un exemplaire des prieres.Je viens d’envoyer une lettre a ce sujet,et vous
tiendrai au courant.
Embrassez Vera,et,rassurez-vous j’ai fini.Je vous embrasse.Vous me manquez tous deux
affreusement,et je veux esperer que nousnous reverrons…un jour
Votre
Nadia

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Nadia Boulanger , “Chapter 3, 17 March 1941,” Digital Exhibits, accessed October 18, 2021, https://digex.lib.uoguelph.ca/items/show/2302.

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