“War was still ripping through Europe in the summer of 1918, when the conductor Walter Damrosch traveled from New York to Paris to alleviate the continent’s misery with music,” writes Justin Davidson in Tuesday’s (4/30) New York magazine. “He brought back news: ‘I think that Lili Boulanger is the greatest woman composer the world has ever seen,’ he declared [packing] hyperbole and condescension into a single phrase.’ … The 24-year-old Lili Boulanger had died [that] March, of Crohn’s disease… [Her] Faust et Hélène [was] a piece of such unsettling originality that it made her instantly famous…. Boulanger became the first woman to win the Rome Prize …. The fact that her music is expensive and challenging to perform has provided a handy excuse not to do so…. Even a hypertalented composer is just getting started at 24, and evolves by listening. Just think what Lili Boulanger might have wrought if … absorbed the shocks of modernism, jazz, Broadway, electronics, and the luminous mysticism of Messiaen. Instead … we have the consoling Psalm 130, in which the massed singers take up the composer’s plea to be heard—a plea that posterity has only half-heartedly honored.” Lili Boulanger was the younger sister of Nadia Boulanger, “guru to generations of American composers.”

Posted May 3, 2019