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Stars of the Conservatoire Américain de Fontainebleau

Hollywood is abuzz in anticipation of the annual Academy Awards ceremony coming up on February 9th. I’ll admit that regardless of how late it is on Sunday night, I stay up to find out who the winners are. Equally exciting for people who are starstruck like me is when iconic film stars or other celebrities are given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Earning a star on Hollywood Boulevard traditionally means the person made an indelible contribution to the entertainment industry in America and deserves to have their name monumentalized.

I always thought these stars were only awarded to the biggest names in American popular culture, so you can imagine how surprised I was when I learned that there are some classical musicians who received this honor.

Robert and Gaby Casadesus, 1965. Photo courtesy of Carter Rawson.

On the list, my eyes immediately found two names: Leonard Bernstein and Yehudi Menuhin, two of the foremost American-born musicians of the 20th century. The third name I recognized was Robert Casadesus, a French pianist, composer and teacher whose collection of 65 CDs I recently enjoyed listening to. Like a fantastic actor who helps you understand a complicated story with many nuances and emotional twists, Casadesus plays with clarity, lyricism, and a deep understanding of the music, allowing you to hear musical lines and ideas that you were not aware of before.

Leonard Bernstein with Nadia Boulanger at the New York Philharmonic tribute to recently deceased Bruno Walter, 1962. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

These three musicians have something in common besides having their names immortalized with stars on Hollywood Boulevard. All three were actively involved with the Conservatoire Américain de Fontainebleau in France. This was a summer music institute founded in 1921 by Walter Damrosch and Francis Casadesus, Robert’s uncle, when Germany stopped being the top study destination for American musicians and students, due to the American involvement in the Great War. Robert Casadesus was professor of piano when the school first opened, and during the Second World War, Robert and his wife Gaby, who joined the piano faculty in 1936, continued to teach and operate the Conservatoire in exile in America.

Bernstein was an enthusiastic supporter of the Conservatoire Américain due to his close ties with its longtime director, Nadia Boulanger, and several alumni of the school. He gave a series of benefit concerts and master classes. Menuhin held numerous master classes and performed as a conductor and violinist at the Conservatoire for many years.

The names of other faculty of the Conservatoire Américain de Fontainebleau such as Maurice Ravel, Charles-Marie Widor, Philippe Entremont, Francis Poulenc, and Henri Dutilleux are familiar to us

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of Conservatoire Américain. Seated fourth from left, Maurice Ravel, followed by Walter Damrosch. Photo courtesy of Ecoles d’Art Américaines de Fontainebleau.

as some of the most celebrated French musicians of the late 19th and 20th century. Aaron Copland, Quincy Jones, Elliott Carter, John Kirkpatrick, and Virgil Thomson, some of the most influential figures in the history of American music, are among the notable alumni of the conservatory.

Next time you are on Hollywood Boulevard, look for the stars of these three classical musicians whose contributions to American music culture are undeniable, not only in their connections to the Conservatoire Américain, but because these artists dedicated a large part of their lives to developing the next generation of American musicians.

Learn more about the influential musicians mentioned in this post and explore their music with the following titles in audio, braille, and large print from the NLS Music Section and the NLS talking-book collection.

Talking Books

Large Print Music

  • Bernstein, Leonard. Vocal Selections from the West Side Story. (LPM00029)
  • Widor, Charles-Marie. Toccata : from Fifth Symphony for Organ, op. 42. (LPM00860)

Braille Music

  • Bernstein, Leonard. West Side Story: Vocal Score. (BRM36377)
  • Carter, Elliott. Piano Sonata (1945-46). (BRM24718)
  • Copland, Aaron. Piano Variations. (BRM17946)
  • Dutilleux, Henri. Sonatine for Flute and Piano. (BRM30902)
  • Poulenc, Francis. Thème varié for Piano. (BRM36806)
  • Ravel, Maurice. Five Greek Folk Songs. (BRM22131)
  • Widor, Charles-Marie. Symphonie V, op. 42, III for Organ. (BRM30249)

To borrow any materials mentioned in this blog, you may access BARD or contact the Music Section by phone at 1-800-424-8567, option 2, or e-mail [email protected].

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