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. 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. The cantata had many performances during her lifetime. 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 Fauré—the 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. 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.
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