Instrumentation: Full Orchestra
3 (2flu, pic) 3 (2ob, EH) 3 (2cl, Bass-Cl) 3 (2bn, sarrusophone or contra bassoon), 4331, 2perc, hp, celeste, strings
Duration: 6 min
D’un matin de printemps had a complicated history. Lili Boulanger began work on it in the spring of 1917 as a piece for violin and piano (or optionally flute and piano), then made another setting for piano trio, and finally created the version for orchestra performed in this concert. The various versions do not align exactly. Lili did not intend for any of these settings to supersede the others; instead, she viewed them as parallel, slightly different takes on the same basic conception. All of the surviving manuscripts are in the hand of Nadia, who effected some refinements particularly on the orchestral version, which seems to have been completed in January 1918.
This does not sound at all like a deathbed piece. The piece is a work of vibrant energy and surpassing delicacy, strikingly in mode of the French “Impressionist” composers—or, at places, of Spanish composers (like Falla) who were similarly inspired by them. Boulanger makes colorful use of her wind sections, typically a strength of French composers. It captures the listener from the very outset, where the good-spirited principal theme is introduced by solo flute playing in its low register against lightly rustling strings and shimmering touches of triangle and celesta. The theme is passed around from instrument to instrument, as is the accompanying figure, and the music soon sinks to the orchestra’s lower reaches, losing its propulsive energy and taking on a gauzy quality, almost as if it were underwater. From there, the music again rises in a crescendo for the full orchestra. Suddenly the texture thins to chamber-like combinations—a passage not unreminiscent of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, a work with which Nadia was familiar, and probably Lili along with her. The work’s ending is stunning: a buildup of volume and energy, a precipitously descending harp glissando, and a final pop from the orchestra. —James M. Keller