Lili Boulanger

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Lili Boulanger

Lili Boulanger (born August 21, 1893 in Paris as Marie-Juliette Olga Boulanger ; † March 15, 1918 in Mézy-sur-Seine ( Yvelines department ) near Paris) was a French composer .

She came from a traditional family of musicians. Her mother Raissa Myschezkaja (1858–1935) was a singer, her father Ernest (1815–1900) a composer and her older sister Nadia a composer, conductor and music teacher.

Live and act

Childhood and youth

Place Lili Boulanger, Paris, France.JPG
Place Lili Boulanger, rue Ballu 36, Paris, France.JPG

Former residence of the composers Nadia and Lili Boulanger, Paris

The Boulangers had a good reputation in the city of Paris as an excellent family of musicians since the late 18th century . In their open house, the children had the opportunity from an early age to be surrounded by actors, musicians, poets, writers and visual artists. Close friends of the family included u. a. Charles Gounod , Jules Massenet and Camille Saint-Saëns .

Despite a chronic bronchial pneumonia and Crohn's disease , Lili Boulanger received organ lessons from Louis Vierne , piano , cello , violin and harp at an early age . She was not a registered student, but sporadically accompanied her sister Nadia - if her health permitted - to the Conservatoire de Paris . At around the age of seven she tried out what she heard there on the piano at home and thus began to teach herself a lot. The musical conversations with her parents were also formative. On April 14, 1900, Ernest Boulanger died unexpectedly while talking to Nadia - a shock for the whole family. In order to deal with this stroke of fate, Lili composed the song La Lettre de Mort for soprano solo at the age of eleven , which, however, has not survived. She later self-critically destroyed other works from this early phase.

Her first public appearance as a violinist took place on September 5, 1901. Around this time, Lili also attended Gabriel Fauré's composition lessons , and met Charles Koechlin , Florent Schmitt and Maurice Ravel in this environment . Thanks to her talent for languages, which she inherited from her mother, Lili also spoke and understood Russian, German and Italian. Since she could not go to school regularly, she put together a literature program herself. The Boulangers' wider circle of friends also included Raoul Pugno , who was so amazed at Lili's musical talent that he unconditionally supported her in her decision to become a composer. In 1904 the Boulangers moved to 36 Rue Ballu below Montmartre. One of the key characters at this time was the fictional character of Princesse Maleine from the play of the same name by the symbolist playwright Maurice Maeterlinck : Maleine - with whom Lili identified herself most - was a lonely princess whose kingdom had been destroyed and whose lover had to marry another princess . Little by little, Lili's only opera, La Princesse Maleine , developed from this story and remained unfinished.

At the age of sixteen, Lili made the decision to become a composer and, like her father Ernest, to win the Grand Prix de Rome . At first she dealt with religious music - because of the impressions in her environment - as she was also inspired by the work of her sister Nadia as a professional organ player. In 1904 Lili saw the world premiere of Psalm 47 by Florent Schmitt , which was also the compositional model for many of her later compositions for organ, orchestra and v. a. Choir became. Despite numerous illness-related interruptions, she pursued the goal of the “Rome Prize”, as did her further compositional studies. The vocal quartet Renouveau , composed in 1912, was received positively by the critics.

Grand Prix de Rome

Lili Boulanger tried to take part in the Grand Prix de Rome as early as 1912, but withdrew from the competition due to health problems. Since the musical quality of the fellow campaigners generally left a lot to be desired, the competition for this year was then completely canceled, as Lili's biographer Léonie Rosenstiel noted. There was almost nothing to stop Lili from composing. In mid-August 1912 she completed one of her most famous works, the Hymne au Soleil for mixed choir.

After only one year of intensive studies, Lili took part again in the 1913 competition for the “Rome Prize” and won the same as the first woman ever for her composition Faust et Hélène , a cantata for tenor , baritone , mezzo-soprano and orchestra . The award consisted of a stay at the Villa Medici in Rome and a scholarship . In addition, she signed a publishing contract with Ricordi , which secured her an annual salary in the future.

Lili Boulanger became an international celebrity almost overnight. Musica magazine wrote of their success:

“Several months ago I warned musicians at this point of an immanent 'pink danger': the facts did not take long to prove me right. Mlle Lili Boulanger triumphed over all of her male competitors in this year's Rome competition and won the First Rome Grand Prize straight away (for the first time in the final round), with sovereignty, speed and ease; which left the other candidates somewhat disturbed, as they have sweated blood and water for years in order to steadfastly approach the price. So that there is no mistake: Victory is hard earned. It wasn't that the jurors chivalrously gave her first place. On the contrary, they treated the 19-year-old girl even more strictly than with the other applicants. The jury's misogyny was well known. The entry of an Eve into the earthly paradise of the Villa Medici was feared by certain patriarchs as a total catastrophe. The precedent among the sculptors (Mlle Lucienne Heuvelmans, sculptor, won the Prix de Rome in 1911 and already lives in the Villa Medici) did nothing to ease their excitement. Consequently, the female cantata was listened to with merciless attention, which gave it the status of an impressive and threatening feminist presentation in this atmosphere. And it took the overwhelming and undeniable superiority of this work of a woman to triumph over the homework of the students in whose company she was. "

The Musical Leader announced Lili Boulanger in 1913:

“One woman, Lilli Boulanger, the 19-year-old daughter of a singing teacher at the Conservatory, won the Grand Prix de Rome, the first time in its 110-year history that a woman has received the coveted prize. The fact that such notable composers as Berlioz, Bizet, Gounod, Massenet, Debussy and Charpentier were among the winners of the Rome Prize shows its value. "

A few weeks after winning the Rome Prize, the cantata Faust et Hélène was performed for the first time in Paris. Le Monde Musical :

"Mlle Lili Boulanger already shows a happy predilection for transparent melodies, an amazing vein for the theater, an admirable naturalness in the expression of passionate feelings and a strong creative power that does not get lost in unimportant or incidental details, which would have immediately revealed that a woman composed music. (...) Age (...) and further work will bring the already undeniable talent to fruition, a talent that is paired with grace. The audience seemed to be of this opinion, clapping until the deeply moved Mlle Lili Boulanger appeared on stage together with her outstanding interpreters (...). "

While the composers were stormy and heated in the final round of the competition, Lili Boulanger brought her musicians - including Nadia Boulanger, who won the Second Grand Prix in 1908 - to top performances with her modest and clear demeanor, her calm demeanor without any forcing. that made the men's side look childish. Her appearance and her performance had caused a sensation, because from now on, female composers were also allowed to live and work in the Villa Medici. In 1913 Lili Boulanger not only won a working grant there, but also a grant from the Yvonne de Gouy d'Arsy Foundation and the Prix Lepaulle in Paris for her compositions Renouveau and Pour les Funérailles d'un Soldat .

Disease and last works

Grave of the Boulanger family, Montmartre , Paris, winter 2009

After many more concerts, however, Lili Boulanger's strength was quickly exhausted: in the winter of 1913 she contracted measles at Nadia Boulanger's place, she also fell ill with an earlier gastrointestinal disease and severe pneumonia. During this time she also realized how much her life hung by a thread - from then on she composed as if in a feverish hurry because she had the feeling that she was not getting old. Lili Boulanger was still able to start her scholarship in Rome, but could not continue her life there due to the fluctuations in health. With the mobilization on August 1, 1914 for the First World War , the crowd of students in Rome dispersed in October 1914.

With her best friend Miki Piré, who cared for the wounded at the Hôpital du Grand-Hôtel in Nice, Lili Boulanger worked on a charitable basis, in that she had lively correspondence with musical soldiers or corrected her works in the field. When she felt how much the soldiers needed this attention and help, she founded the Comité Franco-Americain du Conservatoire together with her sister Nadia Boulanger and also revised her older works for printing. In 1916 Lili Boulanger learned from her doctor that her illness was very advanced and that she probably only had barely two years to live. Again and again they fell into great pain and attacks of fever; an appendix operation on July 31, 1917 was supposed to alleviate the symptoms, but the opposite was the case: during the operation, the doctors discovered that her bowel was already too destroyed.

From her correspondence with Miki Piré, a number of letters have been received expressing Lili Boulanger's love, gratitude and brave demeanor:

"27. September 1917. My dear little Miki, for the first time since my operation I am coming back to writing - and my very first lines should be for you, should tell you how empty it is here without you and how big your place is in my heart. (...) And then you should know again, my dear little Miki, how deeply your trust moved me - how everything that you revealed to me filled and touched me with pain. My heart is more loyal to you than ever and it even seems to me that life itself - even more than the heartfelt feelings I have always felt for you - leads me to you. I have, as it were, the certainty that I have clearly seen your fate and that the hour of your happiness, which is still to come, will come - and I wish that you will keep all your innocence until then and also the joy that you are now missing has come. So I ask you with all your might not to give up, but to fight - and in the sad hours to draw a little courage from our love for you - be hugged LB "

It was only with the greatest effort that she was able to keep herself upright. During this time she completed one of her greatest and most important works, the Pie Jesu - her own requiem, as it were - for soprano, string quartet, harp, organ and orchestra, her favorite instruments. Boulanger had become so physically weak that she could only dictate the last lines to her sister Nadia. This is how D'un soir dreary and small parts of La Princesse Maleine were created . Since Paris was under heavy artillery fire in the north and east at that time, the Boulangers decided to take Lili to Mézy-sur-Seine, where she was cared for by Miki Piré and Nadia Boulanger.

According to Nadia, Lili Boulanger died peacefully and relaxed on March 15, 1918. On March 19, she was buried in the Montmartre cemetery. For her funeral, Nadia wrote the work Lux aeterna for soprano, string instruments, harp and organ, which she had performed on every anniversary of her death. Nadia Boulanger worked tirelessly for a performance of her sister's works, but it was not until the 1960s that Lili Boulanger's works became public again with the help of recordings. Marc Blitzstein, author of Saturday Review , said on May 28, 1960 about the first recordings of some of Lili Boulanger's works:

“When can we finally hear the works of Lili Boulanger regularly in our concert halls? (…) A sales success for recordings of this kind will of course only be achieved if the music is played over and over again in the concert hall and there is a large group of fans (to which I definitely add myself). (…) A composer of our century who nobody knows, who is no longer alive, how good can she be? Good is not an expression at all. She is extraordinary. No ifs or buts, she is a very special talent (...) her music is masculine in its pronouncedly powerful character and extremely feminine in its purity and lyrical sensitivity. Honegger, Poulenc, Roussel, to name just three who survived, owe her a lot (...) We want to hear more from her. We want to know what has escaped us. "


Nadia Boulanger performed her sister's works in 1962 with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra , which she had already conducted in 1939 as the first woman ever. In 1965 the association Les Amis de Lili Boulanger was founded with the task of making their works known and awarding scholarships to young composers. On August 16, 1971, the foundation, to whose honorary members a. a. Queen Elisabeth of Belgium , George Auric , Marc Chagall , Marcel Dupré , Yehudi Menuhin , Olivier Messiaen , Darius Milhaud , Arthur Rubinstein and Igor Stravinsky were among the official recognition of the French government. Yehudi Menuhin and Clifford Curzon also recorded Lilis Nocturne , Cortège and D'un Matin de Printemps for the first time . In 1968 the Freundeskreis organized an exhibition and several concerts in the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris, which also includes Lili Boulanger's artistic estate and some personal items. On October 15, 1970, the intersection of Rue Ballu with Rue Vintimille Place Lili-Boulanger was named. Two years earlier, on October 17, 1968, a plaque was placed on the Boulangers residence, where Nadia Boulanger lived, taught and died on October 22, 1979. Lili Boulanger is now considered the most performed composer and one of the main figures of French Impressionism.

The asteroid (1181) Lilith was named in 1927 by its discoverer Benjamin de Jekhowsky in honor of Lili Boulanger.

Works (selection)

Vocal music

  • Renouveau (T: Armand Silvestre) for choir and piano / orchestra (1911)
  • Les Sirènes (T: Ch.Grandmougin ) for mezzo-soprano, choir and piano / orchestra (1911)
  • Reflets (T: Maurice Maeterlinck) for voice and piano (1911)
  • Sous-bois (T: Ph. Gilles) for choir and piano / orchestra (1911)
  • Frédégonde (T: Ch. Morel), cantata for 3 voices and piano (1911)
  • Attente (T: Maurice Maeterlinck) for voice and piano (1912)
  • Hymne au soleil (T: Casimir Delavigne) for alto, choir and piano (1912), reconstruction of the orchestral version by Oliver Korte (2003)
  • Pendant la tempête (T: Th. Gautier) for male choir and piano (1912)
  • Le Retour (T: G. Delaquys) for voice and piano (1912)
  • La Source (T: Charles-Marie-René Leconte de Lisle) for choir and piano / orchestra (1912)
  • Pour les funérailles d'un soldat (T: A. de Musset) for baritone, choir and piano / orchestra (1912)
  • Soir sur la plaine (T: Albert Samain) for soprano, tenor, baritone, choir and piano (1913)
  • Faust et Hélène (D: Eugène Adenis), cantata for tenor, baritone, mezzo-soprano and orchestra (1913)
  • Clairières dans le ciel (T: Francis Jammes) for voice and piano (1914)
  • Psalm 24 for choir, organ and orchestra (1916)
  • Psalm 129 for choir (or baritone) and orchestra (1916)
  • Dans l'immense tristesse (T: B. Galeron de Calone) for voice and piano (1916)
  • Psaume 130 Du fond de l'abîme for alto and tenor solo, choir, organ and orchestra (1917)
  • Vieille Prière bouddhique for tenor, choir and orchestra (1917)
  • Pie Jesu for voice, string quartet, harp, organ and orchestra (1918)

Instrumental music

  • Nocturne for violin or flute and piano (1911)
  • Fugue (1912)
  • Fugue (1913)
  • D'un jardin clair for piano (1914), arrangement for orchestra by Oliver Korte (1999)
  • D'un vieux jardin for piano (1914), arrangement for orchestra by Oliver Korte (1999)
  • Cortège for violin or flute and piano (1914), arrangement for orchestra by Oliver Korte (1999)
  • Thème et variations for piano (1915)
  • D'un matin de printemps for violin or flute and piano or for orchestra, Nocturne (1918)
  • D'un soir triste for violoncello and piano, for trio or orchestra (1918)


  • Lili Boulanger on her 100th birthday. Catalog of the Lili Boulanger Days in Bremen, 19. – 22. August 1993. ISBN 3-924588-24-4 .
  • Léonie Rosenstiel: Lili Boulanger, life and work. Edited, revised and with an afterword by Kathrin Mosler, from the English by Sabine Gabriel and Rolf Wolle. Signs and traces, Bremen / Worpswede 1995, ISBN 3-924588-22-8 .
  • Nicole Capgras: Lili Boulanger. In: The music in past and present , general encyclopedia of music, factual part and personal part in 28 volumes, personal part: Bj – Cal. Edited by Ludwig Finscher. Bärenreiter and JB Metzler, Kassel / Stuttgart 2000, Sp. 527ff.
  • Eva Weissweiler : Composers from 500 Years - A History of Culture and Impact in Biographies and Work Examples. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1981, ISBN 3-596-23714-9 .
  • Jérôme Spycket: à la recherche de Lili Boulanger. Fayard, Paris 2004.
  • Nadia Boulanger and Lili Boulanger. Témoignages and études. Published by Alexandra Laederich. Symétrie, Paris 2007.
  • Susanne Wosnitzka: The unfinished princess. Lili Boulanger on her 120th birthday. In: Archiv Frau und Musik Frankfurt / Main (Ed.): VivaVoce , No. 96 (Summer 2013), p. 2f.

Recordings (selection)

  • Clairières , songs by Nadia & Lili Boulanger. Nicholas Phan (tenor), Nora Huang (piano). Avie Recor (Harmonia Mundi)
  • Lili & Nadia Boulanger. Mélodies . Cyrille Dubois (tenor), Tristan Raës (piano). Aparte (Harmonia Mundi)
  • Clairières dans le ciel (Text: Francis Jammes ) songs. Soprano: Karin Ott , piano: Jean Lemaire , 1991, Studio RSI, Lugano, released on CD 1993.
  • Pie of Jesus . For voice, string quartet, harp and organ. Soprano: Karin Ott, recording 1991, Studio RSI, Lugano, released on CD 1993.
  • Lili Boulanger. 3 Psaumes . Timpani (grade 1).
  • In Memoriam Lili Boulanger , et al. a. with Cortège , Nocturne and Lux aeterna , played a. a. by Emile Naoumoff , student of Nadia Boulanger. Marco Polo (Naxos Germany).
  • Lili Boulanger . Faust et Hélène , D'un soir triste u. a. Chandos Records.


2018: female composers , ( Kyra Steckeweh and Tim van Beveren )

Web links

Commons : Lili Boulanger  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. Le Monde Musical (March 30, 1912, p. 99): “Full house with Madame Boulanger! Madame Bathori gave a concert with works by Debussy and Ravel. Mademoiselle Nadia Boulanger played pieces by Saint-Saëns, Nicolaieff and the Little Suite by Debussy (really quite small) with Raoul Pugno. The organ spoke in the person of Franck loftily and dignified. But they were particularly excited about the special event of the evening - the 'little sister' Lili made her debut as a composer. Her siren choir is already demonstrating a solid technique, and the Renouveau vocal quartet is of extraordinarily fresh inspiration. ”Léonie Rosenstiel: Lili Boulanger. Life and work . In: Signs and Traces , 1995, p. 66.
  2. Le Menestral (May 18, 1912, No. 20, p. 158): “The jurors of the Prix de Rome met on Tuesday at the Conservatory to decide on the preliminary round. Despite the exceptionally high number of participants (...) the results were so poor that the examiners only allowed four participants to the final round. ”Léonie Rosenstiel, p. 70.
  3. ↑ At that time, this was still an absolute exception, as women in the professional composer branch hardly had a lobby. Susanne Wosnitzka: The unfinished princess. Lili Boulanger on her 120th birthday . In: Archiv Frau und Musik Frankfurt / Main (Ed.): VivaVoce , No. 96 (Summer 2013), p. 2f.
  4. ^ The Musical Leader , July 31, 1913
  5. Léonie Rosenstiel, p. 90.
  6. Léonie Rosenstiel, p. 81.
  7. Léonie Rosenstiel, p. 129.
  8. South-west corner of Section 33, near the intersection of Cemetery Street Avenue Saint-Charles and Chemin Billaud.
  9. Léonie Rosenstiel, p. 231.
  10. ^ Lutz D. Schmadel: Dictionary of Minor Planet Names . Springer Science & Business Media, 2012, ISBN 978-3-642-29718-2 , p. 98 .
  11. Süddeutsche Zeitung: Nightmarishly gifted. Retrieved July 5, 2020 .
  12. The film shows, among other things, stations from Boulanger's biography, and Steckeweh plays excerpts from her Thème et Variations.