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Songs

Songs

Demain fera un an (1914)


Part of a series or song cycle:

Clairières dans le ciel


Demain fera un an

Demain fera un an qu’à Audaux je cueillais
les fleurs dont j’ai parlé, de la prairie mouillée.
C’est aujourd’hui le plus beau jour des jours de Pâques.
Je me suis enfoncé dans l’azur des campagnes,
à travers bois, à travers prés, à travers champs.
Comment, mon cœur, n’es-tu pas mort depuis un an?
Mon cœur, je t’ai donné encore ce calvaire
de revoir ce village où j’avais tant souffert,
ces roses qui saignaient devant le presbytère,
ces lilas qui me tuent dans les tristes parterres.
Je me suis souvenu de ma détresse ancienne,
et je ne sais comment je ne suis pas tombé
sur l’ocre du sentier, le front dans la poussière.
Plus rien. Je n’ai plus rien, plus rien qui me soutienne.
Plus rien. Pourquoi fait-il si beau et pourquoi suis-je né?
J’aurais voulu poser sur vos calmes genoux
la fatigue qui rompt mon âme qui se couche
ainsi qu’une pauvresse au fossé de la route.
Dormir. Pouvoir dormir. Dormir à tout jamais
sous les averses bleues, sous les tonnerres frais.
Ne plus sentir. Ne plus savoir votre existence.
Ne plus voir cet azur engloutir ces coteaux
dans ce vertige bleu qui mêle l’air à l’eau,
ni ce vide où je cherche en vain votre présence.
Il me semble sentir pleurer au fond de moi,
d’un lourd sanglot muet, quelqu’un qui n’est pas là.
J’écris. Et la campagne est sonore de joie.
«Elle était descendue au bas de la prairie,
et comme la prairie était toute fleurie.»
Plus rien. Je n’ai plus rien, plus rien qui me soutienne.

It will be a year tomorrow

It will be a year tomorrow since at Audaux I picked
those flowers I mentioned from the damp meadow.
Today is the most beautiful of Easter days.
I plunged deep into the blue countryside,
across woods, across meadows, across fields.
How is it, O heart, you did not die a year ago?
O heart, once more I’ve caused you this Calvary
of seeing again this village where I suffered so,
the roses which bled before the vicarage,
the lilacs that kill me in their melancholy beds.
I recalled my old anguish
and do not know why I did not fall
headlong in the dust on the ochre path.
Nothing more. I have nothing more, nothing to sustain me.
Nothing more. Why is the weather so fair and why was I born?
I would have wished to place on your quiet lap
the fatigue which breaks my soul as it lies
like a poor woman by the roadside ditch.
To sleep. To be able to sleep. To sleep for ever more
beneath blue showers, beneath fresh thunder.
To no longer feel. Be no longer aware that you exist.
To no longer see this blue sky swallow up these hills
in this reeling blue which mingles air and water,
nor this void where I search for you in vain.
I seem to feel a weeping within me,
a heavy, silent sobbing, someone who is not there.
I write. And the countryside is loud with joy.
‘She had reached the low-lying meadow,
and like the meadow was all a-blossom.’
Nothing more. I have nothing more, nothing to sustain me.

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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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