Though born in France, Talma is considered to be an American composer, having moved permanently to the United States in her early teenage years. Talma's compositions range from neo-classical and tonal to 12-tone and serialist.
Photo: Louise Talma, Louise Talma Society Website
Born in Arcachon, France, Talma came to study in New York at the Institute of Musical Arts (now the Juilliard School) in 1922 at the age of 16. In 1929, she traveled back to France to study composition with Nadia Boulanger at the Fontainebleau School of Music, but returned to the United States to finish her Bachelor and Master degrees in New York, at New York University and Columbia University respectively.
Talma taught at Hunter College and CUNY, as well as the Fontainebleau School of Music, the first American to do so. New York City remained her home base throughout her life, though she spent many summers at the MacDowell Colony, an artists colony established in 1907 in Peterborough, New Hampshire by Edward MacDowell and his wife. She claimed to have done most of her composing there.
Talma was a woman of “firsts": she was the first American to have an opera performed in Europe (The Alcestiad, with libretto by Thorton Wilder) and the first woman to receive the Guggenheim fellowship in Music twice.
Talma had a talent for shaping musical phrases and has a large output of vocal music. Some of her song cycles include Diadem, with seven songs, each characterizing a different gem, as well as her Variations on Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, setting the poems of Wallace Stevens. She has also set the poetry of American poets Emily Dickinson, Jean Garrigue, and E. E. Cummings.