French Composers’ Names – Nadia and Lili Boulanger

After a brief Facebook/Twitter survey, Nadia Boulanger emerged as a good candidate for this French Composers’ Names series. It felt quite natural to add her sister, Lili, to the same post.

Does Nadia Boulanger need an introduction? Aaron Copland wrote in Harpers Magazine (1960): “there are few musicians anywhere who would not concede her to be the most famous of living composition teachers.” Lili, her younger sister (by 6 years) was an accomplished composer—the first woman to ever win the Premier Grand Prix de Rome, you know the one Ravel never got—who died way too young at age 24.

A lot could be said about her method, her role in the rediscovery of Monteverdi, etc. but this is unfortunately beyond the scope of this post. Bruno Monsaingeon wrote a great book about her (out of print) and also directed a documentary available on DVD.

Their last name is not too hard to pronounce. The -an nasal  is anchored in one’s throat and resonates in one’s nose. The -ger ending is a soft G sound, a bit like in Jay but without the attack.

Here is Nadia:


Link to MP3 – ICIYL – Nadia Boulanger

and here is Lili:


Link to MP3 – ICIYL – Lili Boulanger | Get Lili Boulanger sheet music!

Nadia was a composer but according to her: “the music I have written is useless, not even badly done, useless!” I’m pretty sure it wasn’t but Lili’s music is more easily available. The video I picked is a recording of Lili’s Pie Jesu, that she dictated from her bed to her sister the year of her death (1918). It is a haunting piece for soprano (sometimes boy soprano—creepier), harp, organ and string quartet (no image in the video except for the credits at the end):

Sorry for the downer. On a lighter note, did you know that Burt Bacharach and Quincy Jones studied with Nadia Boulanger too?

Check out more French Composers’ Names or suggest one on Twitter:@icareifulisten.