Pie Jesu, originally scored for voice, string quartet, harp, and organ, was later published in a version for organ and voice.  Boulanger’s compositional style for this piece focuses on color and shape.  The writing is highly chromatic, full of non-functional harmonies and juxtapositions of parallel and contrary motion.  The accompaniment is constructed almost entirely of two-bar phrases, while the vocal line is freer, crossing over these groupings to create longer phrase structures.  The opening g-minor chord and concluding G-Major chord (with an added 6th) form the outer edges of a tonal arch structure, while the midpoint of the piece is the section of greatest harmonic instability, with multiple interlocking tritones.  This arch shape is present on a smaller scale in the rising and falling chromatic motion of the organ part, which characterizes the first 25 measures of the piece.  The Pie Jesu was Boulanger’s final composition, which she dictated to her sister Nadia from her death bed.

Lili Boulanger (1893-1918)

Pie Jesu, 1918

Rebecca Kellermen Petretta, soprano

Recorded on the Lively-Fulcher at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Washington, D.C.
26 April 2016
 

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