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Úvodní stránka » ARCHIVE » David Lang — Death Speaks
David Lang — Death Speaks (2013)


David Lang — Death Speaks
¶  He was named Musical America's 2013 Composer of the Year.
¶  He was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize * for Music for The Little Match Girl Passion.
Born in Los Angeles, CA, on January 8, 1957
Genres: Avant-Garde / Classical
Styles: Experimental Electronic, Process-Generated, Modern Composition, Chamber Music, Post-Minimalism
Location: New York City
Album release: April 30, 2013
Record Label: Cantaloupe
Duration:     42:11
1 You Will Return       4:25 
2 I Hear You        3:46 
3 Mist is Rising        5:03 
4 Pain Changes        6:19 
5 I Am Walking        4:25 
6 Depart        18:13
¶  Text Note by David Lang
¶  soprano, violin, electric guitar, piano — all amplified
¶  Shara Worden (vocals), Bryce Dessner (guitar), Owen Pallett (violin), Nico Muhly (piano)
Adam Armstrong  Engineer
Brian Arnold  Photography
Eve Beglarian  Editing, Engineer, Mixing, Producer
Maya Beiser  Cello
Denise Burt  Design
Bryce Dessner  Guitar, Producer
Elizabeth Farnum  Vocals
Katie Geissinger  Vocals
Michael Gordon  Executive Producer
David Lang  Composer, Executive Producer, Lyricist, Quotation Author
Nick Lloyd  Editing, Mastering, Mixing, Remastering
Alexandra Montano  Vocals
Nico Muhly  Piano
Bill Murphy  Label Manager
Owen Pallett  Violin, Vocals
Kenny Savelson  Executive Producer
Alex Sweeton  Vocals
Julia Wolfe  Executive Producer
Shara Worden  Drums (Bass), Vocals
Website: http://davidlangmusic.com/music/death-speaks
death speaks was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and Stanford Lively Arts, specifically to go on a program with the little match girl passion. The opportunity came without many other parameters, so there were a lot of questions I had to answer. Would the new piece be for an existing ensemble or some group I would assemble for these performances only? Would it relate to little match girl, musically or emotionally, or would it start from its own place?
Something that has always interested me about the little match girl story is that the place where we are left emotionally at the end is so far away from where the match girl is. We are all weeping at the end and yet she is happily transfigured, in the welcoming arms of her grandmother in heaven. The original story switches starkly back and forth at the end, between her state and ours, perhaps in order to show us just how far away from redemption we are; it is Andersen's way of making us feel left behind.
This reminded me of certain other stark comparisons between the living and the dead. I remembered the structure of Schubert's beautiful song "Death and the Maiden" in which the text is divided in half; the first half of the song is in the voice of the young girl, begging Death to pass her by, and the second half of the song is Death's calming answer. This seemed to be the same division as in the Andersen story — the fear of the living opposed against the restfulness of death.
What makes the Schubert interesting is that Death is personified. It isn't a state of being or a place or a metaphor, but a person, a character in a drama who can tell us in our own language what to expect in the World to Come. Schubert has a lot of songs with texts like these — I wondered if I assembled all of the instances of Death speaking directly to us then maybe a fuller portrait of his character might emerge. Most of these texts are melodramatic, hyper-romantic and over-emotional; one of the knocks on Schubert is that he often saved his best music for the worst poetry. Nevertheless, I felt that taking these overwrought comments by Death at face value just might lead me someplace worth going.
I went alphabetically in the German through every single Schubert song text (thank you, internet!) and compiled every instance of when the dead send a message to the living. Some of these are obvious and some are more speculative — Death is a named character in "Der Erlkönig," the brook at the end of Die Schöne Müllerin speaks in Death's name when it talks the miller into killing himself, the hurdy gurdy player at the end of Winterreise has long been interpreted as a stand-in for Death. All told, I have used excerpts from 32 songs, translating them very roughly and trimming them, in the same way that I adjusted the Bach texts in the little match girl passion.
Art songs have been moving out of classical music in the last many years — indie rock seems to be the place where Schubert's sensibilities now lie, a better match for direct storytelling and intimate emotionality.
I started thinking that many of the most interesting musicians in that scene made the same journey themselves, beginning as classical musicians and drifting over to indie rock when they bumped up against the limits of where classical music was most comfortable. What would it be like to put together an ensemble of successful indie composer-performers and invite them back into classical music, the world from which they sprang?
I asked rock musicians Bryce Dessner, Owen Pallett, and Shara Worden to join me, and we added Nico Muhly, who, although not someone who left classical music, is certainly known and welcome in many musical environments. All of these musicians are composers who can write all the music they need themselves, so it is a tremendous honor for me to ask them to spend some of their musicality on my music.
First listen on NPR: by Tom Huizenga; April 21, 201310:30 PM
Although we all eventually face death, it's a topic most avoid — except perhaps for philosophers, who explain it to our heads, and artists, who present it to our hearts.
Composer David Lang offers something for both head and heart — and goes one step further in his new song cycle, Death Speaks. Here, death is less a lofty concept than a personality.
"It isn't a state of being or a place or a metaphor, but a person, a character in a drama who can tell us in our own language what to expect in the World to Come," Lang wrote for the Carnegie Hall debut of the piece last year. The new album comes out April 30.
Inspired by Franz Schubert, Lang studied the composer's 600 songs, noting which ones disclosed a message from death personified. Lang plucked excerpts, translated their texts and recast them with his own music, creating a set of five portraits in song.
Particularly struck by Schubert's "Death and the Maiden," in which a young girl's fear of death contrasts with death's own comforting response ("You shall sleep gently in my arms"), Lang weaves a thread throughout the cycle that explores a duality of fear in life and comfort in death.
Playing the role of death in Lang's cycle is Shara Worden (the voice behind the band My Brightest Diamond), whose otherworldly, quivering delivery makes for a beautifully expressive, slightly disturbing protagonist. She's joined by violinist Owen Pallett, prolific composer-pianist Nico Muhly and guitarist Bryce Dessner of The National.
Lang's songs are as delicate as lullabies, but don't let them fool you. "You Will Return," a music box of plucked notes smoothly interlaced, ends with an eerie intonation: "In my arms only you will find rest, gentle rest." More menacing is "I Hear You," punctuated by Worden's pounding bass drum and an offering of protection from dreams. And "Pain Changes," with its lonely guitar notes and raspy violin, sets a stark, funereal tone, promising a pain-free place of healing six feet under "in the cool, dark night."
If all this sounds just too exquisitely morbid, you can think of the second half of the album as either a tranquilizing chaser or the gorgeous "white light" of the afterlife.
Depart is scored for the multi-tracked cello of Maya Beiser and four wordless voices. It takes a page, lovingly, from the feather-light vocals in Brian Eno's Music for Airports and the gentle rocking motion of Morton Feldman's Piano and String Quartet.
Like Emily Dickinson, no one wishes to "stop for Death." But Death Speaks "kindly stops for us," offering a chance to engage with our fate as we fight it off. (Fortaken: http://www.npr.org/)
By Jayson Greene; May 8, 2013  (Editor rating: 8.0)
In his youth, David Lang‘s music glowed with heat; in 2007, around his 50th birthday, he began the slow, mournful process of freezing it. A stiffening breeze ran through his music, and his works assumed the spare urgency of a life form forced to reorder its priorities to survive. His Pulitzer Prize-winning 2008 masterwork, The Little Match Girl Passion, scored for just four voices and some hand bells, huddled around a handful of close-together pitches like a body trapping heat; the highlight, “Have Mercy My God,” wound slowly around just five notes, all within one octave, sending the same questioning note into the air repeatedly. Something profound had spooked Lang into a consideration of primal questions.
On his new album, Death Speaks, Lang stops dancing around the subject and invites the implied muse behind his late-period transformation to center stage. As its title makes plain, the five love songs on Speaks are in the voice of Death; the words put in Death’s mouth, meanwhile, are Schubert’s. “Something that has always attracted me to the songs of Franz Schubert is how present death is,” Lang writes in the liner notes. “It isn’t a state of being or a place or a metaphor, but a person, a character in a drama who can tell us in our own language what to expect in the World to Come.”  The second the music starts playing, though, this framework disappears. When Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, who performs the title role, opens her mouth, you are not thinking about Schubert. You are thinking about death.
Like The Little Match Girl Passion, the instrumental forces are simple: Bryce Dessner of the National on guitar, Nico Muhly on piano, and Owen Pallett on violin and occasional backup vocals. If The Little Match Girl Passion resembled a frozen, minimalist recasting of the English madrigal, Death Speaks sounds like the stem cells of Schubert songs, attempting repeatedly to assemble themselves into form. “you will return” is set for a piano and electric guitar, played in a high register, blending together to fool the ear into hearing one harp. At the song’s edges, however, the piano throws in compelling “off” notes, pricking the surface with the sound of modern, anxious thought. “I am your pale companion,” Worden sings haltingly, longing palpable in her voice, on “you will return,” while the music hesitates its way forward, one tangled figure at a time.
This probing reiteration of a single phrase, one that restates itself in a thousand different ways, is a trademark touch of Lang’s. There is a philosophical tenor to this technique, as if the “correct” phrasing of this figure is just one more try away, and the changes, when they happen, ripple across the music more than they announce themselves. “I am walking” consists of a two-note guitar figure, with small throat-clearing interjections from the piano, while Worden and guest vocalist Pallett’s vocal lines cross over each other. The final piece on the album, “Depart”, a piece for cello and wordless vocals, hangs like smoke, darkening by imperceptible shades. In the pervading unease of Lang’s new world, only the smallest tendrils of harmonic motion are allowed to advance the music forward.
This frozen wood is the place from which Lang’s music reaches us now, and Worden’s voice has maybe been never better used than as its human embodiment. Her rounded, glowing tone remains creamy even as it ascends into its highest register, and she brings an overwhelming sadness to Worden’s Death, whose loneliness as she vainly pursues her charges, or even, in “mist is rising”, begs them to escape– “I love you/I love you/I love all of you/Your face/I love your face/Your form/I love your form … Please don’t make me make you follow me”– is heartbreaking. Her Death is not just human, but humane, burdened by her task and full of compassion for those she visits. She is beautiful, but troubled, and her voice, like these pieces, rings out into a stillness, harmonic and spiritual, that feels both haunted and becalmed.
Fortaken: http://pitchfork.com/
Biography by Robert Cummings
David Lang has often been categorized as a post-minimalist, but his style is deeper and more complex than that term might suggest: though he has broadened minimalist techniques like other post-minimalists, he has employed a variety of disparate elements in his compositions, including rock and Bachian compositional forms. Lang won a Pulizter Prize for his choral composition The Little Match Stick Girl Passion (2007), a work formally modeled on Bach's St. Matthew Passion but containing music so highly individual that some critics expressed astonishment at how to categorize or describe its imaginative character. Lang's music can seem harmonically and rhythmically static, with seemingly little going on, as in How to Pray (2002) and Men (2001), both pieces being part of a visual/musical work called Elevated. Yet his admirers will assert there is much profundity beneath the surface of his music, and many critics will agree. Lang has also collaborated with other composers on large works, as he did with Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon on The Carbon Copy Building (1999), a so-called comic-strip opera, which was awarded the Village Voice OBIE Award in 2000. Lang's works have been issued on a variety of labels, including BMG, Cantaloupe, Chandos, Decca, Harmonia Mundi, Naxos, Sony Classical, and others.
Lang was born in Los Angeles, CA, on January 8, 1957. He studied music at Stanford, University of Iowa, and Yale. His list of teachers is impressive: Jacob Druckman, Hans Werner Henze, and Martin Bresnick are just three of the most prominent. In 1980 and 1981 Lang received student composer awards from the BMI Foundation. He relocated to New York and gradually gained recognition. In 1987 he co-founded, with Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon, Bang On A Can, an organization promoting new and eclectic music, often presented in marathon concerts.
In 1999 Lang drew notice for his opera The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, a work whose libretto was inspired by an Ambrose Bierce short story. The piece was scored for and premiered by the Kronos Quartet, with vocal soloists. Lang continued drawing notice in the new century with works like Fur (2004), for piano and orchestra. Most of his larger works came as the result of important commissions, including The Little Match Stick Girl Passion, which was a co-commission from the Carnegie Corporation and the Perth Theater and Concert Hall. Since 2008 Lang has been teaching composition at Yale University Music School.
Are You Experienced (1989)
The Passing Measures (2001)
Child (2003)
Elevated (2005)
Pierced (2008)
The Little Match Girl Passion (2009)
(Untitled) Music from the Film (2009)
This Was Written By Hand (2011)
The Woodmans - Music from the Film (2011)
Death Speaks (2013)
David Lang story from NPR, April 7, 2008
Pulitzer Prize winning composition: "The Little Match Girl Passion"
Départs Salles des Départs BBC story about a memorial chapel and Lang's piece
New York Composers: Searching for a New Music (1997). Directed by Michael Blackwood. Produced by Michael Blackwood Productions, in association with Westdeutscher Rundfunk. New York, New York: Michael Blackwood Productions
(Untitled) (2009)
Plainspoken, choreographed by Benjamin Millepied

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Note *:
The Pulitzer Prize for Music was first awarded in 1943. Joseph Pulitzer did not call for such a prize in his will, but had arranged for a music scholarship to be awarded each year. This was eventually converted into a full-fledged prize: "For a distinguished musical composition of significant dimension by an American that has had its first performance in the United States during the year.” Because of the requirement that the composition had its world premiere during the year of its award, the winning work had rarely been recorded and sometimes had received only one performance. In 2004 the terms were modified to read: “For a distinguished musical composition by an American that has had its first performance or recording in the United States during the year.”

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