In his lifetime composer, violinist, and conductor Georges Boulanger enjoyed a good measure of success. His music became especially well known around the time of his death and in the years immediately following. But while his name rode atop a huge tide for more than 15 minutes of fame, in the end it fell into obscurity. Boulanger had a chart-topping hit in 1958, My Prayer (originally titled Avant de mourir), which was the number one song for 21 weeks in the U.S. Over the years there would be versions of it by Chet Atkins, Pat Boone, Glen Campbell, Ray Conniff, Jimmy Dorsey, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, Engelbert Humperdinck, and scores of others. Today, Boulanger is largely forgotten, especially as a violinist. In his day, he was regarded by many as nearly at the level of Heifetz, Milstein, and the other leading violin virtuosos from the first half of the twentieth century. Boulanger's music is worth revival: it is generally light in mood and catchy, blending Gypsy elements with Viennese waltz and Balkan folk styles. On recordings today, it is typically found in collections of salon or ethnic music.
Born Gheorghe Pantazi on April 18, 1893, in Tulcea, Romania, Boulanger took violin lessons as a child from his Greek father (his mother was Bulgarian). From the age of 12, Boulanger studied music at the Bucharest Conservatory. At 15 he began lessons with violin virtuoso Leopold Auer in Dresden. Two years later (1910) he finished his studies with Auer and then through him secured an appointment as first violinist in the Café Chantant orchestra in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Many of Boulanger's compositions became popular among Russian aristocrats, and following the war Boulanger settled in Germany where many of the wealthy Russians had relocated. Boulanger lived in Germany from the early '20s until 1948. During this period he often performed on radio and appeared in a few movies with his own ensemble, like the 1943 film Der Ewige Klange.
Boulanger wrote most of his 250 or so compositions during this time, and many, like Beside the Lake, Budapest Party, and Romanian Legend, became hits. Typically, these pieces were short -- lasting about five minutes -- and quite adaptable to vocal and other instrumental versions. Boulanger immigrated to South America in 1948, eventually settling in Buenos Aires, where he died on June 3, 1958, the year My Prayer gave his career a meteoric boost.