Sheet Music Review: ‘Lili Boulanger: Complete Violin Works’ Showcases Her Enchanting Compositions

Despite her short career, she found her own voice in music, exemplified in these four short, expressive works

By Mary Nemet | From the September-October 2023 issue of Strings Magazine

Lili’s older sister Nadia Boulanger is a towering figure in 20th-century music—revered as a composer, conductor, and teacher of illustrious musicians including Elliott Carter, Jean Francaix, Roy Harris, Walter Piston, Virgil Thomson, Aaron Copland, and Leonard Bernstein, among many others. Her first pupil was Lili, who sadly died at age 24, long before her full potential was realized.


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Lili Boulanger: Complete Violin Works Schott, €13.99
Lili Boulanger: Complete Violin Works, Schott, €13.99

At 19, Lili Boulanger became the first woman to win France’s Prix de Rome with her cantata Faust et Hélène, an outstanding work that won her recognition in her lifetime. Despite her short career, she advanced the impressionism of her era and influenced both Ravel and Debussy. However, she also found her own voice in music, exemplified in these four short, expressive violin works: D’un matin de printemps (1917–18); Nocturne. Pièce courte (1911); Introduction—Cortège (1914); and Pièce (1910).

Lili Boulanger, D’un matin de printemps, Cristian Măcelaru and Seattle Symphony

Lili not only wrote prolifically, but also sang, played piano by the age of three, and later studied violin, cello, harp, and organ. The eminent musician Igor Markevitch called her “the greatest female composer in the history of music.” Her four short pieces for violin and piano have survived, thanks to her sister Nadia’s efforts to preserve her music, and are brought together in this book. In three of the works, editors Elisabeth Weinzierl and Edmund Wächter based this new Schott edition on the first editions. However, original manuscript scores, copies dictated to and handwritten by sister Nadia, and alternative versions were also consulted for editorial clarification. For example, the Pièce of 1910 only survived as an original manuscript and has been reproduced here as faithfully as possible. 

These four enchanting violin pieces, also intended for flute, can be performed together as a suite or separately, making a charming and nostalgic addition to a recital.