In Memoriam Lili Boulanger
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In Memoriam Lili Boulanger
Lili Boulanger, as remembered by her sister Nadia
Music wassecond nature for my younger sister, Lili, born on 21st August 1893 in Paris.
She had perfect pitch and a love of singing even as a child. Faure himself usedto come to our home to read his latest songs with her. From the age of six tosixteen, she studied harmony, played a little piano, violin, cello and even theharp, while discovering new scores, such as Debussy's Pelleas. Her very poor healthkept her away from school, as well as from practicing too hard. In fact, shemastered composition with Paul Vidal and Georges Caussade in only three years.
At the age of nineteen, she made history by being the first woman to be awardedthe prestigious Premier Grand Prix de Rome for composition. After the greatParisian success of her cantata Faust et Hel?¿ne, she traveled through Italy andwrote some of her best works in the Villa Medici in Rome.
These happytimes were interrupted by the war. Back home, she devoted herself to caring forwounded soldiers. Knowing that her days were numbered, she worked feverishly.
Towards the end of her life, she dictated to me her Pie Jesu. On her deathbed,her strong faith gave her a sense of serenity. She died on 15th March 1918.
Thoughthere are no technical novelties in Lili's writing (she lived in an age whenintellectual speculation had not yet arrived), she was able to find the necessaryelements for expressing her own very personal message, leaving a short butlasting mark in musical history.
The firstrecording of Lili Boulanger's Th?¿me et variations for piano (1914) is due tothe recent rediscovery and completion of the manuscript by Emile Naoumoff. Theaustere beauty of these few pages is almost frightening.
D'unmatin de printemps
(1917) is a small fantasy using \Debussyan" technique for quick changes ofmood. The slow and meditative Nocturne (1911, first draft in 1908) isfollowed by the joyous and playful Cort?¿ge (1914). D'un vieux jardin
and D'un jardin clair (1914) both describe imaginary landscapes, much asSatie would do, using a subtle and very sensitive palette of shades andcolours, reminiscent of impressionist paintings. These gardens are probablythose of her childhood in Hanneucourt (near Giverny).
The Clairi?¿resdans le ciel (1914, words by Francis Jammes), is a song cycle, reflecting awoman's life. The last song is a poignant vision of her own death. Her uniquetalent for dramatic expression is enhanced here by both her Slavic and Frenchorigins.
(1910-1916) were written in her adolescence, displaying a striking earlymaturity, creating a harmonious balance between the lyrics and the music. Inorder to reflect the profundity of the text, she uses the very low register ofthe voice, combined with unusually long held notes and rests. She achieves anemotionally powerful peak with the Pie Jesu (1918, composed on herdeathbed). It is very representative of her religious works, such as Vieillepri?¿re bouddhique or her Psalms.
NadiaBoulanger (1887-1979) composed between 1906 and 1922. The rest of her long lifewas devoted to the music of others. In her youth, her works were widely playedand published with the exception of her opera La ville morte (1914), theperformance of which was cancelled owing to the outbreak of the First World Warand which was never staged. She was, however, a major influence in the musicalscene of the twenties and thirties, mainly through Stravinsky. The first of herPieces for cello and piano (1915) has the expressivity of Bloch'sPrayer, while the second is a very exuberant and strongly syncopated Spanishdance.
Vers lavie nouvelle (1919)symbolises the hope of the post-war period, as well as a "new life" for NadiaBoulanger herself after her sister's painful death. The obsessive and ratherSlavic use of the harmonic pedal (of C) in the opening pages, is reminiscent ofMussorgsky's technique in Boris Godunov's coronation scene.
(1922) Nadia Boulanger proves her extremely wide range of interest insong-writing by choosing words of popular and relatively crude content. Since1918, Nadia's Lux aeterna and Lili's Pie Jesu have been sung every15th March at a memorial Mass in Paris. The original version of this piece wascalled Hymne ?á I'amour (1910). The Latin version, composed at a later date,followed her sister's choice of instruments such as the organ, harp and strings.
Inmemoriam Lili Boulanger by Nadia Boulanger's last pupil Emile Naoumoff, for bassoon and piano,was written during the making of this record in June 1993. This follows aFrench tradition of musical tributes from composers to their peers, such asRavel's Tombeau de Couperin or Debussy's Hommage ?á Rameau.