David Lang (composer)

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David Lang at le poisson rouge

David Lang (born January 8, 1957) is an American composer living in New York City. He was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Music for The Little Match Girl Passion, which went on to win a 2010 Grammy Award for Best Small Ensemble Performance.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Lang was born in Los Angeles, California. After completing his undergraduate degree at Stanford University, he went to the University of Iowa; he says, "There was a teacher in composition at the University of Iowa named Martin Jenni, and he had come to Stanford as a leave replacement to teach for a semester. And I just thought he was amazing. He knew a lot of stuff that I’d never heard of before. So when I thought about grad school, I went to Iowa. I was happy I did. It was really a kind of golden age. I really loved it."[2] Lang went on to earn a DMA at Yale University in 1989. In addition to Jenni, his teachers have included Henri Lazarof, Lou Harrison, Richard Hervig, Jacob Druckman, Hans Werner Henze, and Martin Bresnick. Together with Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon, Lang co-founded Bang on a Can in 1987.[3] In 2008 he joined the Yale School of Music composition faculty.[3]




Lang's music is informed by modernism, minimalism, and rock - and can perhaps be best described as post-minimalist or totalist. His music can be in turn comic, abrasive, and soothing, and it usually retains elements of conceptualism. He sometimes gives his concert pieces strange and even iconoclastic titles such as Eating Living Monkeys (1985) and Bonehead (1990).

He is well known for his work with choreographers Pam Tanowitz, Annie-B Parson, Twyla Tharp, Shen Wei, Benjamin Millepied, Susan Marshall and Édouard Lock / La La La Human Steps.

Collaborative works[edit]

In 1999 he collaborated with composers Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon and librettist/illustrator Ben Katchor on the composition of the "comic strip opera" The Carbon Copy Building. The production won an Obie Award for Best New American Production. Lang, Wolfe and Gordon subsequently collaborated on the 'oratorio' Lost Objects, the recording of which was released in summer 2001 (Teldec New Line). Their next collaborative project was Shelter, a multi-media work with librettist Deborah Artman, for the Scandinavian vocal group Trio Mediaeval and the German ensemble musikFabrik, which was performed in Germany and the U.S. in 2005.

The Difficulty of Crossing a Field[edit]

Also in 1999, Lang and playwright Mac Wellman based their opera The Difficulty of Crossing a Field on a short story by Ambrose Bierce, about an Alabama planter named Williamson who purportedly vanished while walking across a field in 1854.[5](Bierce's story reoccurs in urban-legend form, in which, coincidentally, the vanished man is often given the name David Lang.)

battle hymns[edit]

A piece with multiple choruses and dance, battle hymns was first performed in Philadelphia in 2009 by the Mendelssohn Club and the Leah Stein Dance Company. Its U.S. west coast premiere was directed by Robert Geary and performed by the San Francisco Choral Society, Volti, the Piedmont Children's Choir, and the Leah Stein Dance Company in April 2013 at the Kezar Pavilion. In May 2014, the Collegiate Chorale and the Manhattan Girls Chorus performed battle hymns at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.[6] In 2015, the Shenandoah Chorus (Shenandoah University) performed 'battle hymns' at an on-campus concert.

the little match girl passion[edit]

Lang was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in music for his piece The Little Match Girl Passion, composed in 2007.[7] The piece, based on Hans Christian Andersen's fable "The Little Match Girl" and inspired by Bach's St. Matthew Passion, was co-commissioned by the Carnegie Hall Corporation and The Perth Theater and Concert Hall and premiered on October 25, 2007 in Zankel Hall in New York City. Tim Page of the Washington Post wrote that "I don't think that I've ever been so moved by a new...composition as I was by David Lang's The Little Match Girl Passion, which is unlike any music I know."[8]

The recording of The Little Match Girl Passion on Harmonia Mundi received a 2010 Grammy Award for Best Small Ensemble Performance.

death speaks[edit]

Lang composed this song cycle - a commission from Carnegie Hall and Stanford Lively Arts, premiered at both in late January, 2012[9] - as a companion piece to the little match girl passion. In that work, death was an implied character; in this follow-up song cycle, death is personified.For the texts sung by the character "Death," Lang turned to the songs of Franz Schubert, from which he made his own translations into English. The part of Death was sung by Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond; the instrumentalists included Bryce Dessner of The National (band) on guitar, Nico Muhly on piano, and Owen Pallett on violin and voice.[10] National Public Radio chose the commercial recording as one of its ten favorite classical albums of 2013.[11]

the whisper opera[edit]

Lang wrote the libretto by typing short, personal phrases into a search engine and writing down the results. The opera includes these anonymous confessions, which are whispered by soprano Tony Arnold, while four instrumentalists from the International Contemporary Ensemble never play above a hush. No audience member can hear the entire opera and it cannot be recorded, so it can only be experienced live.[12]

Crowd Out[edit]

Inspired by the powerful singing he heard from the crowd at an Arsenal F.C. football match, Lang came up with the idea of composing a song for over 1,000 people to sing. The first performance was 9 June 2014 at Birmingham's Millennium Point. Singers were split into groups arranged on the steps of the atrium, each one with a leader with a megaphone. The conductor was Simon Halsey, and a second performance is planned for 21 June. The lyrics came from Lang doing internet searches for the phrase "When I am in a crowd I …" Lang then organised the results into thematic groups.[13]

the national anthems[edit]

The composer surveyed all of the national anthems of the world, drew ideas and phrases from them, and translated them into English. Musically, it is very similar to The Little Match Girl Passion made up primarily of short, arpeggiated phrases. It is scored for chorus and string quartet. It was premiered on June 7, 2014 at Walt Disney Concert Hall by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and the recording of the world premiere comes out on Cantaloupe Music in the spring of 2016.[14] The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, where Lang is Composer-in-Residence in 2015-16, will perform the Canadian premiere of the national anthems, Trinity Choir Wall Street performs the New York premiere as part of their Twelfth Night Festival, and the London Symphony Chorus performs the UK premiere.

Film music[edit]

He wrote the arrangements for the Kronos Quartet in Requiem for a Dream, scored the documentary The Woodmans, and wrote the soundtrack for (Untitled). In (Untitled), Lang wrote the score and the music for the main character, a classical composer played by Adam Goldberg. In Lang's most recent film score, Youth for Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, he also provided the music for the protagonist, a composer and conductor played by Michael Caine. "Simple Song #3", an original song from Youth, was nominated for the 2016 Academy Award,[15] Golden Globe Award[16] and Critics Choice Award[17] for best original song.[18]

Recorded works[edit]

Lang's music has been released on the Argo/Decca, BMG, Cantaloupe Music, Chandos, CRI, Naxos Records, Point Music, and Sony Classical labels. His solo albums for Cantaloupe include "The Passing Measures" (2001) with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, "Child" (2003) played by Sentieri Selvaggi, and "Elevated" (2005) featuring performances by Audrey Riley, A Change of Light, and Lisa Moore. His music has also been represented on recordings by Icebreaker, So Percussion, Bang on a Can All-Stars and Evan Ziporyn. A version of "Wed" (1996) for string quartet is featured on ETHEL's 2012 album Heavy.[19] His scores are published by Red Poppy Music (available from G. Schirmer, Inc.)


  • 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)
  • Love Fail (2014)
  • The Difficulty of Crossing a Field (2015)





  1. ^ The Pulitzer Prize winners for music: composer biographies, ... - Page 270 Heinz Dietrich Fischer - 2010 2008 Award THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL PASSION BY David Lang David Lang (born on January 8, 1957, in Los Angeles, Ca.) holds degrees from Stanford University and the University of Iowa, receiving his doctorate from the Yale School of Music in ...
  2. ^ Steve Parrott,"A UI homecoming for prize-winning composer," Iowa Now, October 4, 2012, | URL=http://now.uiowa.edu/2012/10/ui-homecoming-prize-winning-composer
  3. ^ a b "David Lang". Yale School of Music. Retrieved 18 March 2010. 
  4. ^ Composer Official Biography, URL=http://davidlangmusic.com/about/bio
  5. ^ Review of The difficulty of Crossing a field in Andante magazine
  6. ^ Corina da Fonseca-Wollheimmay, Within a Ship’s Walls, Songs of War in High Voices, New York Times, 16 May 2014.
  7. ^ Pulitzer Prizes in New York Times, 7 April 2008[dead link]
  8. ^ "David Lang". G. Schirmer Inc. Retrieved 14 January 2011. 
  9. ^ http://davidlangmusic.com/music/death-speaks
  10. ^ Jayson Greene, review of death speaks, Pitchfork Media, May 8, 2013, URL=http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/18023-david-lang-death-speaks/
  11. ^ NPR Classical's 10 Favorite Albums Of 2013, Dec. 26, 2013, URL=http://www.npr.org/sections/bestmusic2013/2013/12/13/249751178/npr-classicals-10-favorite-albums-of-2013
  12. ^ Robin, William (2 August 2013). "Secrets Found Online, Shared Softly: David Lang’s ‘whisper opera’ Mines Truths From the Web". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 August 2015. 
  13. ^ Andrew Clements, Crowd Out review – David Lang's song for 1,000 voices comes together, The Guardian, 9 June 2014.
  14. ^ Swed, Mark (9 June 2014). "L.A. Master Chorale caps its 50th season with three new works". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 20 August 2015. 
  15. ^ Newman, Melinda (January 14, 2016). "David Lang on His Best Original Song Oscar Nom: 'I Spilled Coffee All Over Myself'". Billboard. Retrieved January 14, 2016. 
  16. ^ "Golden Globes 2016: Complete list of nominees". Los Angeles Times. 10 December 2015. Retrieved 10 December 2015. 
  17. ^ "Critics' Choice Movie Awards". Critics' Choice Awards. Retrieved 15 December 2015. 
  18. ^ Tapley, Kristopher (24 August 2015). "2015-2016 Oscar Predictions". Variety. Retrieved 3 December 2015. 
  19. ^ http://innova.mu/albums/ethel/heavy
  20. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2358891/soundtrack

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