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Ausrine Stundyte as Cio-Cio-San, Elizabeth Janes as Butterfly’s child and Sarah Larsen as Suzuki in Seattle Opera's production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Photo by Elise Bakketun.
North American Works Directory Listing
The Little Match Girl Passion
David Lang
Musical America's 2013 Composer of the Year and recipient of Carnegie Hall's Debs Composer's Chair for 2013-2014, David Lang was commissioned by Carnegie Hall to write "the little match girl passion" for Paul Hillier's vocal ensemble Theater of Voice. The piece was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for music. His recent works include "love fail" for the early music vocal ensemble Anonymous 4, with libretto and staging by Lang, at the Kennedy Center, UCLA and the Next Wave Festival at BAM; "reason to believe", for Trio Mediaeval and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra; "death speaks", for Shara Worden, Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, and Owen Pallett, at Carnegie Hall; "concerto (world to come)" for cellist Maya Beiser and the Norrlands Operans Symhoniorkester; "writing on water" for the London Sinfonietta, with libretto and visuals by English filmmaker Peter Greenaway; and "the difficulty of crossing a field", a fully staged opera with the Kronos Quartet. Audiences around the globe are hearing more and more of Lang's work, in performances by such organizations as Santa Fe Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the Netherlands Chamber Choir, the Boston Symphony, the Munich Chamber Orchestra, and the Kronos Quartet; at Tanglewood, the BBC Proms, The Munich Biennale, the Settembre Musica Festival, the Sidney 2000 Olympic Arts Festival and the Almeida, Holland, Berlin, and Strasbourg Festivals; in theater productions in New York, San Francisco and London; alongside the choreography of Twyla Tharp, La La La Human Steps, The Netherlands Dance Theater and the Paris Opera Ballet; and at Lincoln Center, the Southbank Centre, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Barbican Centre, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Lang is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, Musical America's Composer of the Year, Carnegie Hall's Debs Composer's Chair, the Rome Prize, the BMW Music-Theater Prize (Munich), and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1999, he received a Bessie Award for his music in choreographer Susan Marshall's The Most Dangerous Room in the House, performed live by the Bang on a Can All-Stars at the Next Wave Festival of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The Carbon Copy Building won the 2000 Village Voice OBIE Award for Best New American Work. The recording of the passing measures on Cantaloupe Records was named one of the best CDs of 2001 by The New Yorker. The recording of the little match girl passion released on Harmonia Mundi, received the 2010 Grammy Award for Best Small Ensemble Performance. Lang is co-founder and co-artistic director of New York's legendary music collective Bang on a Can. His work has been recorded on the Sony Classical, Harmonia Mundi, Teldec, BMG, Point, Chandos, Argo/Decca, and Cantaloupe labels, among others. His music is published by Red Poppy Music (ASCAP) and is distributed worldwide by G. Schirmer, Inc.
David Lang
Paul Hillier (Conductor)
October 25, 2007
Theatre of Voices
"I wanted to tell a story. A particular story — in fact, the story of The Little Match Girl by the Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. The original is ostensibly for children, and it has that shocking combination of danger and morality that many famous children's stories do. A poor young girl, whose father beats her, tries unsuccessfully to sell matches on the street, is ignored, and freezes to death. Through it all she somehow retains her Christian purity of spirit, but it is not a pretty story.

What drew me to The Little Match Girl is that the strength of the story lies not in its plot but in the fact that all its parts — the horror and the beauty — are constantly suffused with their opposites. The girl's bitter present is locked together with the sweetness of her past memories; her poverty is always suffused with her hopefulness. There is a kind of naive equilibrium between suffering and hope.

There are many ways to tell this story. One could convincingly tell it as a story about faith or as an allegory about poverty. What has always interested me, however, is that Andersen tells this story as a kind of parable, drawing a religious and moral equivalency between the suffering of the poor girl and the suffering of Jesus. The girl suffers, is scorned by the crowd, dies, and is transfigured. I started wondering what secrets could be unlocked from this story if one took its Christian nature to its conclusion and unfolded it, as Christian composers have traditionally done in musical settings of the Passion of Jesus.

The most interesting thing about how the Passion story is told is that it can include texts other than the story itself. These texts are the reactions of the crowd, penitential thoughts, statements of general sorrow, shock, or remorse. These are devotional guideposts, the markers for our own responses to the story, and they have the effect of making the audience more than spectators to the sorrowful events onstage. These responses can have a huge range — in Bach's Saint Matthew Passion, these extra texts range from famous chorales that his congregation was expected to sing along with to completely invented characters, such as the "Daughter of Zion" and the "Chorus of Believers." The Passion format — the telling of a story while simultaneously commenting upon it — has the effect of placing us in the middle of the action, and it gives the narrative a powerful inevitability.

My piece is called The Little Match Girl Passion and it sets Hans Christian Andersen's story The Little Match Girl in the format of Bach's Saint Matthew Passion, interspersing Andersen's narrative with my versions of the crowd and character responses from Bach's Passion. The text is by me, after texts by Han Christian Andersen, H. P. Paulli (the first translator of the story into English, in 1872), Picander (the nom de plume of Christian Friedrich Henrici, the librettist of Bach's Saint Matthew Passion), and the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. The word "passion" comes from the Latin word for suffering. There is no Bach in my piece and there is no Jesus — rather the suffering of the Little Match Girl has been substituted for Jesus's, elevating (I hope) her sorrow to a higher plane.

— David Lang
Sounds Heard: David Lang—the little match girl passion - New Music Box 6/8/2009
2008 Pulitzer Prize in Music
00:35
Not Available
Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass (all playing percussion)
G. Schirmer, Inc.
257 Park Avenue South, 20th Floor
New York, NY 10010
pm@schirmer.com
212-254-2100
http://davidlangmusic.com
http://www.schirmer.com
Schedule of Performances Listings
the little match girl passion (Lang)
Saturday, July 20, 2013 - Glimmerglass Festival

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