BOULANGER Lili, D’un soir triste, d’un matin de printemps

The phenomenal gifts of Lili Boulanger were recognised when she was in her teens, and in 1913 she became the first woman to win the Prix de Rome for composition with her cantata Faust et Hélène. She was nineteen at the time, but her musical language was already distinctive. D’un soir triste (‘Of a sad evening’) was one of her last compositions, finished in 1918 and it demonstrates the more harmonically adventurous and austere style that Boulanger had developed in works such as her Psalm settings made in 1914–17. D’un soir triste exists in an orchestral version, but the original scoring for violin, cello and piano is the only one for which an autograph manuscript survives (the orchestral version is in the hand of Lili’s sister Nadia). Subtitled ‘pièces en trio’, the opening melody (first on cello, then violin) unfurls over solemn piano chords and the harmonies darken as the musical argument becomes more complex and works towards an intense climax and an anguished central section. Though the later part of the work seems to be seeking some kind of repose, it never really comes until settling on the final open fifths. Lili Boulanger died on 15 March 1918 at the age of twenty-four: a brilliant musician whose surviving works are all the more poignant for their hints of what might have been. 

© Nigel Simeone

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