Lili Boulanger

Nocturne for violin (or flute) & piano

    Description by Sylvia Typaldos

    Lili Boulanger, the younger sister of French composer and tutor, Nadia Boulanger, was born in 1893. Her extreme musical talent, which she inherited from her mother, a singer, and her father, an instructor of composition at the Paris Conservatory, was evident at an early age. By the time she was six years old, she was sight-singing songs with composer Gabriel Fauré at the piano. She also studied with her older sister, Nadia.

    It is not surprising then, that in September 1911, before Lili had even begun her formal studies in composition, she wrote one of her most popular works, Nocturne for Flute or Violin. On the original manuscript, written in Lili's own hand, is the notation, "Composed September 24th and 25th, 1911." Lili was also working in preparation to enter the coveted Prix de Rome competition. She took a couple days off from her studies to write the nocturne. So a fledgling composer, who happened to be a very young woman, completed the work in two days. This in itself is amazing, but to listen to the piece and hear its beauty is quite extraordinary.

    The nocturne is composed in the Impressionistic style. It is unclear whether a teacher influenced Lili to write this piece for either solo flute or violin; however, it seems to fit each instrument equally. The flute soars above the piano, and brings a singing quality to the melody. The violin blends in more with the accompaniment, but still shines beautifully within its own melodic line. The piece was first written for flute or violin and piano, but had been orchestrated in another version that included strings, plus harp and clarinet. (Impressionistic composers tended to favor the woodwinds and the harp to bring a lilting quality to their works.) Unfortunately, the orchestral transcription was never published and has been lost.

    Lili Boulanger was greatly influenced by Impressionist Claude Debussy and also German composer Richard Wagner. What is interesting is that within the nocturne are allusions to works by both of these composers. Lili definitely took the first few notes of Debussy's Prelude a l'après-midi d'un faune, and inserted them into her own composition. She also took short phrases from Wagner's Tristan and employed them into her piece. The few familiar notes, however, work well within the nocturne, and make one sit up and listen, wondering if there are more allusions to come. Whether Lili wrote these phrases consciously or subconsciously is not known. What is known is that the nocturne is a brilliant composition by young composer who had yet to fulfill her destiny.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2019 Opus 3 28001
    2019 Hyperion CDA 68204
    2018 ABC Classics 4817469
    2018 Coviello Classics COV 91730
    2018 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 17080
    2017 ABC Classics
    2015 Classic FM 4811876
    2015 Skarbo DSK 4150A
    2013 Doron Music 5041
    2011 Decca 478 225-6
    2011 Thorofon / Zebralution
    2011 Cybele 351.101
    2010 Decca 15249
    2010 Centaur Entertainment / Centaur Records 3009
    2010 Song Digital / Zebralution
    2010 ABC Classics 4764027
    2009 Deux-Elles 1125
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099926413
    2008 Divine Art 25063
    2007 Feminae in Musica 6849
    2006 Musical Heritage Society 5169160
    2005 Cascavelle 3081
    2001 Idis 288
    2000 RCA 63711
    1999 Malibran Music 115
    1999 IDIS 288/9
    1998 Capriccio Records 10748
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 697082
    1996 ASV 2101
    1995 Gega 162
    1994 Marco Polo 223636
    1992 Vox 5029
    Collins Records 1173
    Meridian Records 84314
    Walsingham 8018
    MusicMasters 67069
    RCA Victor Red Seal / RCA RCD 14810
    Rachel Kolly d'Alba
    BMG 50942
    BMG 61732
    Collins Records 11732