About this Piece
When Claire Bodin [artistic director of the Présences Féminines festival] asked me to write a piece in tribute to a woman composer of the past, I chose to pay tribute to Lili Boulanger (1893–1918). An outstanding composer and orchestrator, she was also a very beautiful woman, generous, and courageous, working behind the front lines for the benefit of civilians and soldiers mobilized during the First World War—all the while battling illness and continuing to compose.
The first woman composer to win the Grand Prix de Rome in 1913, she opened a previously unknown path for women. Her success sheds light on the presence of women in a field hitherto “reserved” exclusively for men. To pay tribute to Lili Boulanger is not only to pay tribute to the incredible woman and musician that she was, but also to this path that she opened to women composers of future generations.
I chose to write a piece inspired by Hindu mythology, in homage to her Vieille Prière Bouddhique (Old Buddhist Prayer), a work she completed in March 1917. Indra was premiered in March 2017—one hundred years after the genesis of Lili Boulanger’s composition!
Indra is the god of war and storm. Its attributes are lightning and rainbow. Endowed with magical powers, Indra confronts the snake Vrtra that holds back the celestial waters, thus making the world suffer from a great drought. Indra enters into a combat with the snake and delivers water from the sky by piercing the clouds. This is the myth that was my source of inspiration.
I wanted to write a piece that was rhythmic, forceful, and dynamic, to pay tribute to the strength and courage of Lili Boulanger as a woman artist. Paying tribute to her today without taking into account her status as a woman is a luxury that we cannot yet afford. What’s more, I found it quite natural to choose this vigorous theme for a work dedicated to the pianist Célia Oneto Bensaïd and the violinist Raphaëlle Moreau who gave its premiere.
The whole challenge of this work was to represent this power and determination: how to depict the vivacity and exaltation of the storm—of this combat—using only two instruments?
And so I structured the piece by alternating agitated and pulsating episodes—warrior-like—with lighter and dance-like episodes—lively, airy. I looked for martial sounds by thinking of the work in truly “orchestral” terms like horn calls or bass drum accents. A brief episode of flute-like colors against the twinkle of the harp—magical and incantatory—evokes Indra’s magical powers, before returning to the pulsing agitation of the opening.
—Camille Pépin (translated by Michail Sklansky)