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Songs

Songs

Attente (1910)

Attente

Mon âme a joint ses mains étranges
À l'horizon de mes regards ;
Exaucez mes rêves épars
Entre les lèvres de vos anges!
En attendant sous mes yeux las,
Et sa bouche ouverte aux prières
Éteintes entre mes paupières
Et dont les lys n'éclosent pas ;
Elle apaise au fond de mes songes,
Ses seins effeuillés sous mes cils,
Et ses yeux clignent aux périls
Éveillés au fil des mensonges.

Expectation

My soul has folded its strange hands
On the horizon of my gaze;
Satisfy my scattered dreams
Between the lips of your angels!
Waiting beneath my weary eyes,
Mouth open in prayers
Extinguished behind my eyelids
Whose lilies never open;
My soul brings peace to the depths of my dreams,
Its breasts bared beneath my lashes
And its eyes blink at the perils
Awoken through the thread of lies.
Translation © Richard Stokes, author of A French Song Companion (Oxford, 2000)

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Composer

Lili Boulanger (1893-1918) is often described as one of the most gifted composers of the twentieth century, however, her promise was cut short by early death. She achieved a degree of posthumous renown which is exceptional among women composers.

Together with her older sister Nadia, she was born into a musical family, showed early talent and received an outstanding musical education. She received lessons in organ, piano accompaniment and harmony and played the violin, cello, harp and piano.

Despite an early diagnosis of bronchial pneumonia and constant illness, she was the first woman to win the coveted Prix de Rome aged 19. Her visit to the city was soon interrupted by World War I. She returned for a few months in 1916 but was often bedridden by illness. After an operation that brought only a temporary reprieve, Boulanger focused on completing what she could before her death aged 24. 24 of 64 surviving works were published, and much of what remains is incomplete, in sketch form or lost. Religious music was especially important to her.

Boulanger left a significant contribution to song in Clairières dans le ciel, a cycle of thirteen settings of deeply reflective texts by her contemporary Francis Jammes. The poems are steeped in nostalgia and yearning, and replete with evocative natural symbols such as flowers and birds. The resultant avant-garde, luminous musical style is very distant from the salon world many contemporaries favoured. Her performance direction was that the melodies should be sung 'with the feeling of evoking a past that has remained fresh’. 

One biographer has argued that she identified with the subject of the poems, a young girl who is tenderly recalled by the poet. In addition, Creole influences can be discerned in the text, such as the mention of a black Virgin; Jammes (according to his close friend Darius Milhaud) had ancestors from the West Indies. The cycle was dedicated to Gabriel Fauré and eight of the songs were orchestrated by her. It is approximately 35 minutes long.

Alongside much choral music and an incomplete opera, Boulanger also wrote the song ‘Le Retour’ for mezzo-soprano and piano, which she also arranged for SATB choir; and ‘Dans l‘immense tristesse’ for alto and piano to a text by Bertha Galeron de Calone, a poet who lost her sight and hearing. Both songs were republished in 1979.

© Natasha Loges, 2022


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Poet

Maurice Polydore Marie Bernard Maeterlinck was a Belgian playwright, poet, and essayist who was a Fleming, but wrote in French. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911 "in appreciation of his many-sided literary activities, and especially of his dramatic works, which are distinguished by a wealth of imagination and by a poetic fancy, which reveals, sometimes in the guise of a fairy tale, a deep inspiration, while in a mysterious way they appeal to the readers' own feelings and stimulate their imaginations". The main themes in his work are death and the meaning of life. His plays form an important part of the Symbolist movement.

Taken from Wikipedia. To view the full article, please click here.


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