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Composed: 1917–1918

Length: c. 5 minutes

About this Piece

The bronchial pneumonia that struck Lili Boulanger at the age of 2 resulted in constant ill health and a life that lasted less than 25 years. Her parents, and her famous and widely respected sister, the teacher and conductor Nadia, were trained and active musicians. She too displayed phenomenal musical talent, which her devoted family did everything to encourage. When she won the prestigious Prix de Rome at 19she was the first woman to win it for musicit made international headlines. Her physical condition severely restricted her ability to answer the growing demand for her music. She created a small but consistently intriguing and attractive catalog of music that, to quote Claude Debussy, “undulates with grace.” It includes songs and choral works, piano and chamber pieces, and a handful of orchestral compositions. 

She composed the companion works D’un soir triste (On a Melancholy Evening) and D’un matin de printemps (On a Spring Morning) in 1917 and 1918. Shortly after composing the small-ensemble original versions, she transcribed them for orchestra. They were, alas, the final pieces she wrote with her own hand. The manuscripts, with their tiny notes, betray the increasing severity of her illness. 

A vast emotional gulf lies between them. D’un soir triste is almost funereal in its mood and its dark palette of colors, and it swells up to several harsh climaxes. It may reflect Boulanger’s awareness that death was imminent. The sharply contrasting and much briefer D’un matin de printemps is sweet, playful, and transparently scored. —Don Anderson ©2019