Darmstadt Lili Boulanger wrote her work in a race against death. Struggled from an early age by chronic pneumonia and Crohn’s disease, the composer (1893 –1918) died at the age of only 24. Her father Ernest Boulanger (1815 –1900) had received the Rome Prize as a composer at the age of 19. She wanted that too and managed to do it, also at the age of 19 as the first woman ever: Her older sister Nadia (1887 to 1979), who later became one of the most influential musicians and teachers in France, had the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1908 only awarded the second. After the Staatstheater Darmstadt recently performed Lili Boulanger’s award-winning work, the cantata “Faust et Hélène”, it dedicated a recital to her in the foyer, which was extremely popular. The newer film about her life that was previously shown can also be found on the Internet, but it says little of substance about her more than 50 works. In order to really appreciate it, one would have to have heard it as often as, for example, Schubert’s “Winterreise”: it didn’t immediately find its way into the world’s concert programs either.
That’s exactly what it’s all about now: “What’s missing” is the motto of the Darmstadt season. Opera director Kirsten Uttendorf and music dramaturge Isabelle Becker show what is missing – female composers. Their share in the programs of German orchestras and opera houses is well under ten percent. The series “Unheard” now provides some relief: song recitals with works only by women. Uttendorf and Becker presented them to the ensemble with the request, so to speak, to see who one felt a soul mate with. Juliana Zara, accompanied by Neil Valenta on the piano, presented the song cycle “Clairières dans le ciel” (1914) on the first evening. Lili Boulanger herself selected the texts from the collection of poems “Tristesses” by Francis Jammes (1868 to 1938). The verses are touching because they express a primal human longing to be accepted and understood, to be absorbed in one another without resistance.