Recital: Marie-Elise Boyer '24 DMA, Collaborative Piano

NEC: Burnes Hall | Directions

255 St. Botolph St.
Boston, MA
United States

In the course of completing the Doctor of Musical Arts degree at New England Conservatory, performance majors present not just one, but three full-length recitals, for which they also write program notes.  It's an opportunity to observe multiple facets of an emerging artist.

Marie-Elise Boyer ‘24 DMA studies Collaborative Piano with Cameron Stowe and Jonathan Feldman and is the recipient of a scholarship made possible by the Ken and Barbara Burnes Scholarship Fund.

She has titled her recital:
Women and Their Works: Outside the Box!

This is an in-person event with a private stream available to the NEC community here:



Women and their works: outside the box!

This program is designed to honor women and their works, whether they be composers or poets, by taking a journey through not just the world, but also various genres. I chose these specific composers and works to reflect my own musical journey —it took me through France, of course, but also England, Germany and the United States. The pieces I wish to share with the audience in this program also reveal my personal bond with certain genres and particular works, such as German Lied, Mélodie Française, American Art Song and arrangements of African-American Spirituals.
        Some may say it has become trendy to feature works by women composers in events such as recitals or symphonic concerts. But is it really that fashionable? Or, is it rather a habit that needs to be expanded in order to do justice to a repertoire that has been, and still is, vastly overlooked—or even forgotten—by performers and listeners alike? The fact is, out of the eleven composers included in the present program, three —namely Valerie Capers, Camille Nickerson and Jacqueline Hairston—apparently do not deserve to have their own entry in Grove Music Online, the major and largest encyclopedic reference in English language covering music and musicians. As for the other composers, only Cécile Chaminade’s biography consists of more than a couple of paragraphs. Even the entry for Lili Boulanger—the first woman to ever win the coveted Prix de Rome, in 1913—consists of only three bare paragraphs.
        The composers whose works are featured in the present program are only a handful of many more talented, hard-working and resilient women who have been forced to deal with the nature of their condition as women, on various levels. Some, like Mel Bonis, née Mélanie, had to think outside the box and change their name in order to sound more masculine and secure more opportunities to be published. Others—such as Clara Schumann, Elsa Respighi or Alma Mahler whose husbands were famous composers, but also Fanny Hensel who published some of her works under her brother’s name, Felix Mendelssohn—remained in the shadow of a close masculine figure. If things seem to be changing for the better, women’s works remain largely unknown by most music lovers. Female composers’ names such as Cécile Chaminade, Clara Schumann, Alma Mahler or Lili Boulanger are famous nowadays, however few people would be able to hum a tune written by one of them by memory.
        Another fact reflects the general lack of consideration for the repertoire that encompasses musical works written by women: the recurrent difficulty to find the scores. For instance, a number of published songs written by female composers can only be found within anthologies of works by women, as if each of these composers did not deserve to have all of their songs compiled in one whole collection dedicated to each of them. Often, musicians interested in performing specific works not found in these anthologies struggle to find scores. Sometimes the songs have not been published for decades and have never been digitized; in other instances, the songs were never published at all and the manuscripts are sleeping in a box, in an obscure location.


  • Marie-Elise Boyer '24 DMA, piano
  • Sophie Boyer, mezzo-soprano
  • Shiyu Zhuo, soprano
  • Kaitlyn Knudsvig, violin
  • Cameron Stowe, studio teacher
  • Jonathan Feldman, studio teacher


    Josephine Lang
         Seid mir gegrüsst
         Wiegenlied in stürmischer Zeit

              Sophie Boyer, mezzo-soprano

    Josephine Lang

    Born in 1815, Josephine Lang began composing at a very young age and would simultaneously play and sing her songs in the numerous dinners organized by her father at home. Felix Mendelssohn himself has been a fervent advocate of her works. In 1831 he wrote that “when she sits down at the piano, and begins one of [her] songs, the tones sound different—the entire music is moved back and forth so strangely, and in each note there is the deepest, finest feeling.” He added that “whoever is not moved by her current songs must be completely without feeling.”
            Lang wrote about 150 Lieder spanning most of her life. One of her particularities lies in the fact that, between 1840 and 1856, she exclusively set her husband Christian Reinhold Köstlin’s poems to music. Otherwise, she usually used her friends’ and acquaintances’ texts for her songs; of course, these poets included women. The poem “Seid mir gegrüsst” was written by the Duchess of Orleans when she was fourteen years-old. Wiegenlied in stürmischer Zeit is a lullaby on a poem by Ottilie Wildermuth, one of Lang’s acquaintances from Tübingen, her hometown from 1842 until her



    Adela Maddison
    Einsam stand er
         Küsse mir Lieb

              Sophie Boyer, mezzo-soprano

    Adela Maddison

    It is especially difficult to find any reliable information about English composer Adela Maddison. Even her birthdate does not seem to be accurate, according to the contradicting dates found on various sources: either 1862, 1863 or 1866. Notwith-standing the lack of information, scholars seem to agree on the following fact: she was of Irish descent, married to the director of a publishing firm, and in close relation with French composer Gabriel Fauré (there are rumors about a liaison between the two). Maddison’s name appears on some of Fauré’s songs as the author of the English translations of the poems.
            It is also interesting to note that Maddison was involved in women’s fight for the right to vote; in June 1911, a journal article mentions her marching along British composer and suffragette Ethel Smyth in a womens’s procession.

            As a composer, Maddison was a little bit of a chameleon able to write songs using poems in different languages and their corresponding genre. When she wrote in her native language (English), her music sounded British. When she wrote in German, one could hear some German Lieder. And the French poems gave birth to mélodies with touches of impressionism. For both Einsam stand er and Küsse mir Lieb, Maddison used poems by Minna von Witte (also known as Minna von Mädler, her married name), a German poet who was born in 1804 in Hannover and died in 1891. The songs are in a German late-romantic style, quite dramatic for the former, and almost erotic for the latter; in both of them, while the music remains tonal, Maddison uses chromaticism to a point where the listener does not know anymore what key is used and where the music is going. In the first one, the chromaticism is coupled with fast pace and a sense of urgency, whereas in the second one, it enhances the general slow motion and sensuality suggested by the text.



    Cécile Chaminade
    Bonne humeur
         Tu me dirais
         L'anneau d'argent

              Shiyu Zhuo, soprano

         Chanson triste
         L'amour captif

              Sophie Boyer, mezzo-soprano

    Lili Boulanger
    D'un matin de printemps

              Kaitlyn Knudsvig, violin

    Cécile Chaminade

    Cécile Chaminade, a very prolific composer—and one of the generally better known female composers—used to be performed a lot in the States around the turn of the twentieth century. This included the New England Conservatory, where piano students would regularly play her works in concerts. However, today, Chaminade’s music is not performed as much as it used to be, despite the large amount of works she has written: about 400 works including many solo piano pieces, mélodies and chamber music.
            The five songs selected for this program are representative of her refined, delicate and colorful style – her romantic piano-writing complements the lyrical vocal line to reflect the poetry’s expression in the most exquisite manner. As is common with Chaminade, her songs challenge both the singer and the pianist through expressive leaps and long phrases in the melody, and the large range of dynamics and technical tricks for the piano: arpeggios covering most of the keyboard range, numerous and varied phrasing markings, lightness of the touch.

    Lili Boulanger

    As mentioned above, Lili Boulanger was an extremely gifted composer who won the Prix de Rome in 1913, twenty years after her birth; her father also won the Prix de Rome in composition, in 1835! Her family was very musical, and her sister Nadia (also a composer) became one of the most renowned composition professors of the twentieth century, especially among American composers. Sadly, Lili Boulanger died at the young age of 24, and many of her works were lost or destroyed; however, she did leave about twenty mélodies, some orchestral and instrumental music, including chamber music works. D’un matin de printemps, written for piano and violin (or flute), also exists in a very beautiful and colorful orchestral version. Boulanger’s writing is generally impressionist and incorporates many complex and contrapuntal layers, making her music extremely fluid and sensual. D’un matin de printemps is one of the more rhythmical, joyful and agitated pieces.


    Art Song

    Undine Smith Moore
    Lyric for Truelove

    Valerie Capers
         Autumn, from Songs of the Seasons

    Shiyu Zhuo, soprano

    Margaret Bonds

    Louise Talma
    Rain Song, from Seven Songs

    Sophie Boyer, mezzo-soprano

    Undine Smith Moore

    A native of Virginia, Undine Smith Moore is sometimes referred to as the “Dean of Black Women Composers.” She wrote many choral works, but also instrumental and piano pieces. The two songs presented in this program demonstrate her ability to write art songs as skillfully and powerfully as arrangements of African-American spirituals. In addition to the numerous awards she received—such as the National Association of Negro Musicians Distinguished Achievement Award in 1975 and honorary Doctor of Music degrees by Virginia State University in 1972 and Indiana University in 1976—her oratorio Scenes from the Life of a Martyr, recalling
    Martin Luther King’s life, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1981. Moore was also the co-founder of Virginia State University’s Black Music Center, where she taught.

    Valerie Capers

    Born in the Bronx, Dr. Valerie Capers is the first blind woman to have been awarded Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the Juilliard School of Music. She received them in classical composition and performance, after which she focused more specifically on jazz. She is a vocalist, pianist, educator, composer and arranger. “Autumn” is the third of the four Songs of the Seasons, and the only one for only the piano and the voice: the three other songs also require a “cello obbligato.” Capers wrote the texts of all songs as well as the music—which sounds like a fusion between impressionism and jazz—in the manner of an improvisation, with the piano part echoing at times the melody from the vocal line. Interestingly, the poetry emphasizes the characteristic colors of the fall, which are enhanced by the changing colors of the harmonies in the piano, as if the autumnal brown and yellow and the silver moon and azure sky could be perceived by the ear.

    Margaret Bonds

    Margaret Bonds was a piano and composition student of Florence Price, the last composer featured in this program. Both composers were pioneers in various fields for African-American musicians, especially as Black female composers and were the first African-Americans to be awarded Wanamaker Foundation Prizes (first and third for Price and second for Bonds, in 1932). Additionally, Margaret Bonds was the first African-American soloist to perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra: they played Price’s piano concerto in 1933. Bonds’ compositions mainly consist of art songs and arrangements of spirituals; her friendship with poet Langston Hughes led her to write many songs inspired by his poetry. She was especially struck by “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” recalling that “because in that poem he tells how great the Black man is: and if I had any misgivings, which I would have to have—here you are in a setup where the restaurants won’t serve you and you’re going to college, you’re sacrificing, trying to get through school—and I know that poem helped save me.”
            In Hyacinth, the contrapuntal dissonances present in the harmony and chromaticism reflect the anguish of the speaker whose love is neglected; the poem is written by Pulitzer Prize-winner and feminist Edna St. Vincent Millay. In the arrangement of the spiritual Lord I just can’t keep from cryin’,” Bonds uses similar compositional tools with dissonances emphasizingthe grief contained in the text.

    Louise Talma

    Louise Talma was one of many American composers—and one of the very few women—who studied with Nadia Boulanger at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France.  Talma became very close to Boulanger and admired her to the point of dressing like her and converting to catholicism. Boulanger eventually became her godmother.
            Talma was awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Senior Fullbright fellowship, a Sibelius medal. She also was the first woman to be elected at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, in 1974. Rain Song was written in 1973 and is a setting of a poem by American poet Jean Garrigue, originally Gertrude Louise Garrigus (she changed her name to make it sound more French and more gender neutral). The poem is rather witty, with many onomatopoeias reflected in the music through some repetitions and mechanical ideas.

  5. Arrangements of Creole Folk Songs

    Camille Nickerson
    Chère, mo lemmé toi
         Gué-gué, Solingaie

    Arrangement of Chilean Lullaby

    Jacqueline B. Hairston
    Dormi, Jesu!

    Arrangements and Works based on African-American Spirituals

    Undine Smith Moore
    Come down, Angels

              Shiyu Zhuo, soprano

    Margaret Bonds
    Lord, I just can't keep from cryin'

              Sophie Boyer, mezzo-soprano

    Florence B. Price
    Fantasie-Negre No. 1 for Piano Solo, after "Sinner, please don't let this harvest pass"

         My soul's been anchored in de Lord

              Shiyu Zhuo, soprano


    Camille Nickerson

    “The Louisiana Lady” Camille Nickerson was a pianist, educator and arranger of Creole folk music. She spent the majority of her life advocating for the preservation and diffusion of her Creole heritage and those of musicians of color. She was especially involved in the National Association of Negro Musicians (she became its president from 1935 to 1937). Her musical studies took her to Oberlin, Juilliard and Columbia Teachers college.
            In her arrangements of Creole folk tunes, one does hear a true composer who adds her own personal and creative ideas to the original tune. For example, in Gué-gué Solingaie, she harmonizes each verse slightly differently, adding counter-melodies to the piano; she also incorporates some chromaticism to enhance the expressivity in the accompaniment, especially in the introduction, the interludes, and the cadential progressions. The role of the accompaniment in Chère, mo lemmé toi is more rhythmical in nature, however Nickerson changes the texture of the last iteration of the tune, by giving a legato countermelody to the piano and a humming part to the voice—all in a very quiet dynamic.


    Jacqueline B. Hairston

    Pianist, composer, arranger, music educator and vocal coach, Jacqueline Hairston studied at the Juilliard School, Howard University School of Music and Columbia University in New York City. Her works are regularly performed and recorded by orchestras, companies and performers such as London Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Women’s Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, Kathleen Battle, and Denyce Graves. Hairston wrote many art songs and arrangements of spirituals, but also an arrangement of a Chilean lullaby in Latin: the exquisite Dormi Jesu, dedicated to Kathleen Battle. The accompaniment in the piano features a beautiful cello-like line with a never-ending flow of sixteenth notes, as if breaking this melody in the bass could possibly disturb the child’s sleep.

    Florence Price

    Perhaps the most exciting composer of this program for a recital taking place at the New England Conservatory, Florence Price was the first female African-American composer to have one of her large-scale works performed by a major orchestra in the States: the Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered her Symphony in E minor in 1933. This exceptionally gifted composer stood out by graduating from NEC with a double major (organ and piano teaching), as well as getting composition guidance from the conservatory’s director of the time, George Whitefield Chadwick.
            Notwithstanding her mother’s attempt to make Price “pass” as a White person— she listed her hometown in Mexico when enrolling her at NEC—the vast majority of Price’s compositions are either arrangements of African-American spirituals or works that incorporate elements coming from plantation songs. It is as if Price used her composition skills to reconcile her own personal and cultural heritage with her classical musical upbringing.

             The two final pieces of this program are perfect examples demonstrating her mastery of merging two different genres in one single musical work: the African-American spiritual on one hand, and the romantic piano-writing on the other hand. The first, Fantasie-Negre, is extremely virtuosic and was dedicated to Margaret Bonds, who was fourteen years-old at that time! It features some Chopinesque variations on the spiritual Sinner, Please Don’t Let This Harvest Pass, as well as some more impressionistic passages at times. My Soul’s been Anchored in de Lord was dedicated to famous contralto Marian Anderson and gives prominence to aRachmaninov-like piano-writing; the complementarity of the vocal line and the piano partenhances the spiritual’s jubilant message.