Lili Boulanger

Over the course of the 2018–2019 season, OSSCS presents a retrospective of the music of Lili Boulanger, performing five of her works for chorus and orchestra. Lili came from a musical family: her father, Ernest Boulanger, was also a composer, and her grandfather had been a cellist. Lili’s sister Nadia began a career (quite a successful one at that) as a composer, but later turned towards teaching composition and theory. Nadia’s students included Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Astor Piazzolla, Phillip Glass and Easley Blackwood (who would later become the teacher of our music director, William White).

Lili Boulanger

Lili spent her childhood in tow with her father at the Paris Conservatory, where she listened to his classes as well as those of Gabriel Fauré and Louis Vierne. At the age of 19, she became the first woman to win the Prix de Rome, France’s highest honor in composition, allowing her to secure a major publishing contract. Her career seemed poised for a trajectory unlike that of any female composer who had preceded her, as she poured out an astonishing array of masterpieces in quick succession.

Tragically, in 1918 her life was cut short at age 24. Lili had suffered from ill health her entire life and was eventually felled by what is now believed to have been Crohn’s disease. In her work, she primarily explores spiritual themes, stemming from her deeply felt Catholic belief (most of her major works are settings of the psalms) as well as Eastern thought (the Vieille prière bouddhique, for example). In her development as a composer, listeners can hear her incorporating the major styles of the early 20th century, from Russian exoticism to Viennese Modernism to French Impressionism. It is a testament to her art that in every case, she threads them into the fabric of her own personal compositional voice.

OSSCS will present the following works by Lili Boulanger this season:

Further reading and listening