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.
De Toda la Eternidad
(Margaret Bonds, Libby Larsen, Louise Talma and Gabriela Lena Frank)
Voices From Elysium: Copland, Crawford
(Aaron Copland, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Miriam Gideon and Louise Talma)
Paul Sperry Sings an American Sampler
(Samuel Barber, Robert Beaser, William Bolcom, William Billings, Elliott Carter, Celius Dougherty, John Woods Duke, Stephen Foster, Charles Griffes, John Musto, Ned Rorem, May Swenson, Louise Talma, Hugo Weisgall and Kurt Weill)
Modern Music-Makers: Contemporary American Composers
Originally published in 1952, this volume is dated but does contain a thorough biography, chronology, and catalog for many important song composers, including Charles Ives, John Alden Carpenter, Marion Bauer, William Grant Still, Virgil Thomson, Aaron Copland, Lousie Talma, Samuel Barber, William Schuman, and Leonard Bernstein.
Unsung: A History of Women in American Music
This updates and expanded edition of the classic text in the field describes hundreds of women musicians -- composers, instrumentalists, orchestra and opera managers, music educators, and music patrons, and their activity from the 18th to 21st centuries.