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David Lang

Publisher: G. Schirmer

love fail (for four solo voices) (2012)
Text Writer
stories by Lydia Davis and words by David Lang
Red Poppy
Solo Voice(s) and up to 6 players
Year Composed
55 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
SSAA also playing percusssion
Programme Note
David Lang love fail (for four solo voices) (2012)
Related works:
   love fail (for four solo voices)
   love fail (for women's chorus or eight solo voices)
   the wood and the vine

The singers also play simple percussion:
soprano 1 – also plays suspended sizzle cymbal
soprano 2 – also plays glockenspiel
alto 1 – also plays ratchet and woodblock
alto 2 – also plays conch shell and concert bass drum

1. he was and she was
2. dureth
3. a different man
4. the wood and the vine
5. right and wrong
6. you will love me
7. forbidden subjects
8. as love grows stronger
9. the outing
10. i live in pain
11. head, heart
12. mild, light

Composer note:
Why is it that people still like the story of Tristan and Isolde? It has been told repeatedly for almost 1000 years, in many different versions, with all manner of strange details added or changed. "The greatest love story ever!" But why? Of course, there is excitement, drama, love, lust, shame, death, dragons. I think the real reason why is because the love of Tristan and Isolde begins by accident — they drink a love potion. They didnʼt mean to drink it, and they didnʼt mean to fall in love. They drink and — BAM! — it starts. It is almost a laboratory experiment into what love might be like without any of the complications of how real love begins or works — without the excitement, embarrassment, frustration, guilt or competition present in the courtships of ordinary people.

I thought I might learn something about love if I could explore this in a piece, putting details abstracted from many different retellings of Tristan and Isolde next to texts that are more modern, more recognizable to us, more real. First I scoured the literature and took my favorite weird incidents from the originals; for example, in Marie de Franceʼs version Tristan carves his name on a stick for Isolde to find, she sees it and immediately knows what message Tristan means to convey, and that message — incredibly — is many many pages long. Another example: Tristan and Isolde drink the potion, thinking it is wine, and Gottfried von Strassburg writes, dramatically, that it isnʼt wine they are drinking, but a cup of their never-ending sorrow. (This, near the chapter in which Gottfried lists all the other Germanic poets working in the 12th century, and then tells you how he rates among them.) I compiled the oddest incidents from these versions of their romance, took out all the names or technological information that would make the texts seem ancient, and put them next to stories by the contemporary author Lydia Davis. These stories are oddly similar to the Tristan stories — they are also about love, honor and respect between two people, but they are much more recognizable to us.

I based my words on scraps of the text I found on the internet — thank you Google Translate! I do want to acknowledge the translations of Robert W. Hanning & Joan Ferrante, A. T. Hatto, and Alan S. Fedrick, whose versions of these texts I consulted more than once.

—David Lang

  • Ensemble
    Anonymous 4
    Cantaloupe Music:
Lang's latest major work, "love fail," a Postmodern take on the Tristan and Isolde legend written for the forever popular Anonymous 4, reached Royce Hall on Saturday night, UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance having helped commission it. There is, if not perhaps a name, at least a commonplace description for this uncommon music: sublime beauty... Words and music do an excellent job of casting a spell...Lang's look at love is mature and slightly detached yet full of feeling. His exquisite vocal writing is homophonic and uses open harmonies that are somewhat reminiscent of Arvo Pärt's spiritual Minimalism. He exalts in the purity of tone that is the angelic trademark of Anonymous 4. But there is also a typical underlying Langian subversion to "love fail." The sources are wide, even including a touch of wisdom from the Yom Kippur liturgy. The new texts, and especially those by Davis, are musically aphoristic, and float gracefully on Lang's languidly long melodic lines.
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times,02/12/2012
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