Lili Boulanger – the first woman to make history and win the famous Prix de Rome competition.
This Parisian born woman was a clear star in the making from an exceptionally young age. It was another famous composer, Gabriel Fauré, who discovered at only two years old that Boulanger had perfect pitch.
Lili Boulanger was from a family of musicians. We’re talking parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles in the Boulanger family who worked in the industry, so Lili herself was surrounded by supportive encouragement as she grew. In fact, you may or may know her father, Ernest Boulanger, who himself was a Paris Conservatoire teacher and won the Prix de Rome competition in 1835! Musical talent certainly ran in the family.
It was before long that another Boulanger sister, Nadia, was headed to the Paris Conservatoire aged 10, and little Lili (aged only 5!) would go along with her. Soaking up the environment around her, from music theory classes to organ lessons, Lili Boulanger began singing and learning a multitude of instruments!
By 1912, Lili was ready to take on the Prix de Rome, following in her fathers’ footsteps. Her ill health meant that she actually collapsed during her performance that year, but she was back raring to go in 1913. This was the year that she would become the first ever winner of the prize for her cantata “Faust et Hélène”, which would be performed for many more years.
After suffering a chronic illness for all her life, Lili Boulanger tragically died at the age of 24. However, her legacy will be remembered for years to come. Her works are beautiful and many feature themes of grief and loss after losing her father (he was 77 when she was born). Aspects of the work of Fauré and Debussy can be heard throughout her pieces too.
It’s impossible to think of how many more incredible works that Lili Boulanger may have composed had she lived to an older age. Most of her final years were dedicated to writing an opera called “La princesse Maleine”, which unfortunately she wasn’t able to finish before her death.
At RSL, we’re committed to keeping the Boulanger flame alive, and to continue celebrating this fantastic female composer. We’ve included a few of her pieces in the higher grades of the RSL Classical Violin syllabus, including:
In Violin Grade 6, you will find her “Nocturne”, written in 1911 for violin and piano.
Violin Grade 7 brings a 1914 piece, also for violin and piano, called “Cortège”, which is simply beautiful.
And at Grade 8, you can learn the one of the last pieces she managed to complete, the stunning “D’un Matin de Printemps”.
If you enjoyed learning about this wonderful composer, then you should definitely check out some of the others that you’ll find on the RSL Classical Violin syllabus. Lili Boulanger is in good company with the likes of Black Violin, Vivaldi, Sibelius and Clean Bandit.