Lili Boulanger

Marie-Juliette Olga "Lili" Boulanger (French: [bu.lɑ̃.ʒe]; 21 August 1893  15 March 1918) was a French composer, and the first female winner of the Prix de Rome composition prize. Her older sister was the noted composer and composition teacher Nadia Boulanger.

Lili Boulanger
Born21 August 1893
Paris, France
Died15 March 1918(1918-03-15) (aged 24)


Early years

As a Parisian-born child prodigy, Boulanger's talent was apparent at the age of two, when Gabriel Fauré, a friend of the family and later one of Boulanger's teachers, discovered she had perfect pitch. Her parents, both of whom were musicians, encouraged their daughter's musical education. Her mother, Raissa Myshetskaya (Mischetzky), was a Russian princess who married her Paris Conservatoire teacher, Ernest Boulanger (1815–1900), who won the Prix de Rome in 1835. Her father was 77 years old when she was born and she became very attached to him. Her grandfather Frédéric Boulanger had been a noted cellist and her grandmother Juliette a singer.

Boulanger accompanied her ten-year-old sister Nadia to classes at the Paris Conservatoire before she was five, shortly thereafter sitting in on classes on music theory and studying organ with Louis Vierne. She also sang and played piano, violin, cello and harp. Her teachers included Marcel Tournier and Alphonse Hasselmans.


In 1912, Boulanger competed in the Prix de Rome but during her performance she collapsed from illness. She returned in 1913 at the age of 19 to win the composition prize for her cantata Faust et Hélène, becoming the first woman to win the prize. The text was written by Eugene Adenis based on Goethe's Faust.[1] The cantata had many performances during her lifetime.[2] Because of the prize, she gained a contract with the publisher Ricordi.

Nadia Boulanger had given up entering after four unsuccessful attempts and focused her efforts upon her sister, who, after studying with her sister, studied with Paul Vidal, Georges Caussade and Gabriel Fauréthe last of whom was greatly impressed by her talents and frequently brought songs for her to read. Boulanger was greatly affected by the 1900 death of her father; many of her works touch on themes of grief and loss. Her work was noted for its colorful harmony and instrumentation and skillful text setting. Aspects of Fauré and Claude Debussy can be heard in her compositions, and Arthur Honegger was influenced by her innovative work.

Illness and death

She suffered from chronic illness, beginning with a case of bronchial pneumonia at age two that weakened her immune system, leading to the "intestinal tuberculosis" that ended her life at the age of 24.[3][lower-alpha 1] Although she loved to travel and completed several works in Italy after winning the Prix de Rome, her failing health forced her to return home, where she and her sister organised efforts to support French soldiers during World War I. Her last years were also a productive time musically as she labored to complete works. Her death left unfinished the opera La princesse Maleine on which she had spent most of her last years.

Boulanger died in Mézy-sur-Seine and was buried in a tomb in the Cimetière de Montmartre, located in the southwest corner of section 33 close to the intersection of Avenue Saint-Charles and Chemin Billaud. In 1979, her sister Nadia Boulanger was buried in the same tomb. It also contains the remains of their parents.[4]


Les sirènes

Les sirènes (1911) is written for solo soprano and three part choir. The topic, mermaids, uses a text by Charles Grandmougin. This work was first premiered at one of her mother's exclusive musical gatherings. Auguste Mangeot, a critic from the Paris music journal Le Monde Musicale, reported that everyone liked the piece so well it had to be repeated. Boulanger used this piece as a preparation for the Prix de Rome competition, and from it one can see her firm grounding in the classical technique taught at the Conservatoire. She uses this technique as a starting point and employs many devices popular at that time to create a personal and clear statement.[5]

The poetry of this selection deals with the mythological siren, a creature that sings to seduce sailors to steer closer; when they do, the sirens devour the men. Boulanger depicts this scene as vividly as she possibly can. She uses a pedal tone on F combined with ascending C octaves at the beginning to portray the mesmerizing effect of the sirens. She uses this effect for twenty-eight measures, in effect, lulling listeners into a trance-like sleep.[5]

The work is dedicated to Madame Jane Engel Bathori.[6] Bathori, a soprano, was known for her concert organisation, and supported many new artists and composers.[7]


Boulanger composed three psalm settings: Psalms 24, 129 and 130.[8]

Psalm 24

She composed Psalm 24, entitled La terre appartient à l'Eternel ("The earth is the Lord's"), in 1916 while she was resident in Rome. The work is dedicated to Monsieur Jules Griset, who was the director of Choral Guillot de Saint-Brice.[2] Durand published the work in 1924. The work is scored for choir (consisting of soprano, alto, tenor and bass), accompanied by organ and brass ensemble (consisting of 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 4 trombones, 1 tuba), timpani and 2 harps.[9] Boulanger's score uses brass fanfares and homophonic choral passages: the contrast of sections contrast to the style of her 1912 Prix de Rome winning cantata, Faust et Hélène, as heard in Yan Pascal Tortelier's recording.[10]

Psalm 129

Psalm 129 was also composed in 1916 in Rome. This psalm is much longer than Psalm 24 and is composed for full orchestra.[11] The premiere performance was held at the Salle Pleyel in 1921, conducted by Henri Busser.[12]

Psalm 130

Du fond de l'abîme (Psalm 130: De Profundis / "Out of the depths"), composed for voice and orchestra, is dedicated to the memory of her father, as noted at the top of the score.[13] The work, completed when Boulanger was aged only twenty-two, sounds mature and conveys a developed compositional style.[14] Boulanger's psalms convey her Catholic faith.[8] It has been suggested that the work was composed in reaction to World War I.[15]

Pie Jesu

Lili Boulanger finished this Pie Jesu (1918) towards the end of her life, but "the first of Lili Boulanger's sketches for the Pie Jesu are to be found in a composition book she used between 1909 and 1913."[16] As noted by her sister, Nadia, she dictated the work to her.[17] Scholars such as biographer Léonie Rosenstiel[5] and Olivia Mattis[18] speculate that Boulanger intended to write a complete Requiem Mass but did not live to complete it. Scored for high voice, string quartet, harp and organ, Boulanger's setting is sparse.[19] Pie Jesu is the only surviving Boulanger text setting that uses an explicitly Christian text.[20]

Vieille prière bouddhique

This work, "Old Buddhist Prayer", is written for tenor and chorus (soprano, alto, tenor and bass), accompanied by a large orchestra consisting of: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets (B♭), bass clarinet (B♭), 2 bassoons, sarrusophone + 4 horns (F), 3 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba + tympani, cymbals, bass drum + celesta + 2 harps, strings.[21] Composed during 1914–1917, as many of her works, it was not performed until after World War I, in 1921. This work is not based within Catholicism, as her psalms were. Rather, it sets a Buddhist daily prayer.[22] James Briscoe notes that this work shows similarities to Stravinsky but also to the next generation.[23]

D'un soir triste

This instrumental work was the last Boulanger was able to compose by her own hand, without help in writing.[24]

D'un matin de printemps

This symphonic poem is one of the last pieces Lili Boulanger completed. Different arrangements were produced including a version for violin, for flute, and for piano, another for piano trio, and another for orchestra. Although she finished both these instrumental works, her sister Nadia reportedly edited the works to add dynamics and performance directions.[25]

List by year

Title Year Instrumentation Lyricist
Nocturne 1911 Violin and piano N/A
Renouveau 1911 Vocal quartet (SATT) and piano/orchestra Armand Silvestre
Les Sirènes 1911 Mezzo-soprano, chorus and piano Charles Grandmougin
Reflets 1911 Voice and piano Maurice Maeterlinck
Prelude in D Flat 1911 Piano N/A
Attente 1912 Voice and piano/orchestra Maurice Maeterlinck
Hymne au Soleil 1912 Contralto, chorus and piano Casimir Delavigne
Le Retour 1912 Voice and piano Georges Delaquys
Pour les Funérailles 1912 Baritone, chorus and piano Alfred de Musset
Soir sur la Plaine 1913 Soprano, tenor and orchestra Albert Samain
Faust et Hélène 1913 Mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone, chorus and orchestra Eugène Adenis
D'un Jardin Clair 1914 Piano N/A
D'un Vieux Jardin 1914 Piano N/A
Cortège 1914 Violin and piano N/A
Clairières dans le Ciel 1914 Voice and piano Francis Jammes
Psaume 24 1916 Chorus, organ and orchestra N/A
Psaume 129 1916 Baritone and orchestra N/A
Dans l'immense Tristesse 1916 Voice and piano Bertha Galeron de Calonne
Psaume 130 1917 2 solo voices, chorus, organ and orchestra N/A
Vieille Prière bouddhique 1917 Tenor, chorus and orchestra
D'un Matin de Printemps 1918 Violin and piano N/A
Pie Jesu 1918 Voice, string quartet, harp and organ


In March 1939, Nadia Boulanger with the help of American friends created the Lili Boulanger Memorial Fund. It has two objectives: to perpetuate Lili Boulanger's music and memory and financially support talented musicians. The Lili Boulanger Memorial Fund does not accept applications for its annual competition but a list of candidates is produced by a group of nominators selected each year by the Board of Trustees. Each nominator can then propose a candidate for the prize. The Fund then awards the Prix Lili Boulanger to one of these candidates. The University of Massachusetts Boston curates the fund.[26] Previous winners have included Alexei Haieff (1942), Noël Lee (1953), Wojciech Kilar (1960), Robert D. Levin (1966, 1971) and Andy Akiho (2015).[27]

In April 1965, the Friends of Lili Boulanger Association was created in Paris. This organization became the Nadia and Lili Boulanger International Centre (CNLB) in 2009.[28]

The asteroid 1181 Lilith was named in her honour.

The two definitive biographies are The Life and Works of Lili Boulanger (ISBN 0-8386-1796-4) by the American musicologist Léonie Rosenstiel and À la recherche de Lili Boulanger by French musicologist and tenor Jérôme Spycket.[29]


  1. Crohn's disease is another possible cause of death. That diagnosis was not available during her lifetime.


  1. Rosenstiel, Leonie (1978). The Life and Work of Lili Boulanger. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. p. 258. ISBN 9780838617960.
  2. Potter, Caroline (2006). Nadia and Lili Boulanger. Farnham: Ashgate. p. 94. ISBN 978-0754604723.
  3. "Composer of the Week". Retrieved 7 November 2012.
  4. "BOULANGER Nadia (1887-1979) et Lili (Juliette-Marie : 1893-1918) - Cimetières de France et d'ailleurs". Retrieved 8 May 2019.
  5. Rosenstiel, Léonie. 1978. The Life and Works of Lili Boulanger. Associated UPs.
  6. (1893-1918), Lili Boulanger (1 January 1911). "Les sirènes - Lili Boulanger (1893-1918) - Work - Resources from the BnF". Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  7. Kelly, Barbara (2013). Music and Ultra-modernism in France: A Fragile Consensus, 1913-1939. Boydell Press. pp. 50–53. ISBN 978-1843838104.
  8. Fauser, Annegret; Orledge, Robert (12 March 2016). "Boulanger, Lili". Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  9. "Lili Boulanger, Psalm 24". Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  10. Lili Boulanger, 'Faust et Hélène, D'un matin de printemps, D'un soir triste, Psaume 130, Psaume 24', [CD], cond. Yan Pascal Tortelier, BBC Philharmonic, City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus (1999) Chandos CHAN9745.
  11. "Boulanger, Lili, Musical score". Repertoire Explorer. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  12. "Lili Boulanger, Psalm 129". Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  13. "Boulanger, Lili, Musical score". Repertoire Explorer. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  14. Lili Boulanger: Psalm 130 (Du fond de l'abîme), Psalms 24 & 129, Vieille Priere bouddhique; Igor Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms; London Symphony Orchestra, The Monteverdi Choir, Sally Bruce-Payne (mezzo soprano), Julian Podger (baritone), cond. John Eliot Gardiner; Deutsche Grammophon CD B000068PHA (2002).
  15. Ristow, Gregory Carylton. (2011) "Contextualizing Lili Boulanger's Psalm 130: Du fond de l'abîme: Music, War and Politics with a re-orchestration for performance in halls without organ." DMA diss., University of Rochester.
  16. Léonie Rosenstiel, The Life and Works of Lili Boulanger (Cranbury, NJ: Associated UPs 1978), 200.
  17. "BOULANGER, Lili and Nadia: In Memoriam Lili Boulanger". Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  18. Mattis, Olivia, 1993. "Lili Boulanger - Polytoniste." In Lili Boulanger-Tage 1993. Bremen zum 100. Geburtstag der Komponisten : Konzerte und Veranstaltungen, edited by Kathrin Mosler, 48-51. Callas/Zeichen und Spuren.
  19. "Boulanger, Lili, Musical score". Repertoire Explorer. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  20. Gregory Carylton Ristow, ""Contextualizing Lili Boulanger's Psalm 130: Du fond de l'abîme: Music, War and Politics with a re-orchestration for performance in halls without organ" (DMA diss., University of Rochester, 2011), 55.
  21. "Vieille prière bouddhique (Boulanger, Lili) - IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library: Free Public Domain Sheet Music". Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  22. "Vieille Prière Bouddhique". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  23. Briscoe, James (2004). New Historical Anthology of Music by Women, Volume 1. Indiana University Press. p. 278. ISBN 978-0253216830.
  24. orchestrationonline. "Lili Boulanger in Her Own Right". Orchestration Online. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  25. "D'un matin de printemps". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  26. "The Lili Boulanger Memorial Fund: International Music Competition". University of Massachusetts. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  27. "The Lili Boulanger Memorial Fund: Past Winners". University of Massachusetts. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  28. "International Centre". Centre international Nadia et Lili Boulanger. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  29. Spycket, Jérôme (8 May 2019). "À la recherche de Lili Boulanger: essai biographique". Fayard. Retrieved 8 May 2019 via Google Books.
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