Haupz Blog

... still a totally disordered mix

Lili Boulanger

2021-01-10 — Michael Haupt

In classical music, there aren't many female composers, which is a pity. On top of that, many of the few female composers aren't too well known, which is an even greater pity.

I want to share a bit about Lili Boulanger. Her sister Nadia Boulanger was a rather famous composer and teacher, whose students include such illustrious people as Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, and Daniel Barenboim. But Lili Boulanger was the first woman to ever win the highly prestigious Prix de Rome. Her life was tragically short and overshadowed by her fragile health from early childhood, to which she had to succumb at the age of twenty-four.

Boulanger's inevitably short list of compositions is filled with incredible goodness - she was a genius in the late-romantic style. Her orchestral instrumentation is influenced by impressionism and very well balanced, and in the works where she combined orchestra and choir, this leads to a very organic whole.

To me, three pieces stand out.

"Soir sur la plaine" (voici the lyrics) - written for orchestra, choir, and soprano solo, but often performed with a piano instead of the orchestra - is a highly impressionistic and beautiful piece. It captures the mood of a dreamy sunset very well.

Psalm 24 ("La terre appartient a l'Eternel") - for organ, brass (much brass!), harp, timpani, and choir. This should be on the BAM! list I mentioned earlier.

Psalm 130 ("Du fond de l'abîme") - for large (large!) orchestra and choir. This is a 25-minute piece of immense depth and gravity, and shows all the composer's mastery in handling orchestral colour and choral settings. Amazing.

I recommend finding more on the tubes. It's all worthwhile. I'm left to wonder what Lili Boulanger might have contributed, had she only been given more time.

Tags: music