Obscure Music Monday: Boulanger's Les Sirènes
Marie-Juliette Olga "Lili" Boulanger (Aug. 21, 1893 - March 15, 1918) was a French composer, and the younger sister of the famed composition teacher/composer Nadia Boulanger. Born in Paris, Lili Boulanger was a child prodigy; at the age of two, it was discovered that she had perfect pitch. Her parents, both musicians, encouraged her musical education, and she accompanied her sister Nadia to classes at the Paris Conservatory, studying music theory and organ. Her sister Nadia was one of her teachers, and later on studied with Paul Vidal, George Caussade, and Gabriel Faure, who was particularly impressed by her abilities. Lili would go on to win the Prix de Rome at the age of 19; she was the first woman to ever win the composition prize. Tragically, she died only five years later.
Just a couple years before she won the Prix de Rome, she composed Les Sirenes for mezzo-soprano soloist, choir, and piano. She was influenced by Debussy's piece of the same name, and there are commonalities between the two: close key signatures and similar harmonic progressions. Like her other compositions, her chord structures and harmonies are unique, advanced, and absolutely brilliant, which you'll hear particularly in the choir part. A short work, coming in at around five minutes, it's evocative and creates a wonderfully magical atmosphere. The words are as such:
"We are the beauty which charms the strongest men.
Trembling flowers of foam
our fleeing kisses are the dream of the dead!
Amidst our blond tresses
the water gleams like tears of silver.
Our shimmering glances
are blue and green as waves.
With a noise like the
without having wings.
We seek tender victors.
We are the immortal sisters
offered up to the desires of your earthly hearts."
Here's a recording of this lovely work for you to enjoy!