Repertoire Search

David Lang

Publisher: G. Schirmer

the national anthems (2014)
Text Writer
David Lang
Red Poppy
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
20 Minutes
Programme Note
David Lang the national anthems (2014)
June 8, 2014
LA Master Chorale, Calder Quartet
Disney Hall, Los Angeles, CA

Composer note:
Every country has a history – how it came to be, how its wars were won or lost, how strong its people are, or how proud, or how sad. We group ourselves into nations, but it has never really been clear to me what that means, or what we get out of it. Are we grouped together because we believe something together and are proud of associating with others who believe the same way? Or are we grouped together because our ancestors found themselves pushed onto a piece of land by people who didn’t want them on theirs? It seems that all nations have some bright periods and some dark periods in their past. Building a national myth out of our bright memories probably creates a different character than if we build one out of the dark.

I had the idea that if I looked carefully at every national anthem I might be able to identify something that everyone in the world could agree on. If I could take just one hopeful sentence from the national anthem of every nation in the world I might be able to make a kind of meta-anthem of the things that we all share. I started combing through the anthems, pulling out from each the sentence that seemed to me the most committed. What I found, to my shock and surprise, was that within almost every anthem is a bloody, war-like, tragic core, in which we cover up our deep fears of losing our freedoms with waves of aggression and bravado.

At first I didn’t know what to do with this text. I didn’t want to make a piece that was aggressive, or angry, or ironic. Instead, I read and re-read the meta-anthem I had made until another thought became clear to me. Hiding in every national anthem is the recognition that we are insecure about our freedoms, that freedom is fragile, and delicate, and easy to lose. Maybe an anthem is a memory informing a kind of prayer, a heartfelt plea:

There was a time when we were forced to live in chains.
Please don’t make us live in chains again.

— David Lang


  • Ensemble
    Los Angeles Master Chorale
    Grant Gershon
    Cantaloupe Music:
  • 18 JUN 2018
    Merkin Hall, New York, NY
    Yale Choral Artists
    Jeffrey Douma, conductor
  • 15 MAR 2018
    University United Methodist Church, Baton Rouge, LA
    Louisiana State University
    Performing select mvts only; Justin Langford, conductor
  • 02 FEB 2018
    the national anthems Country Premiere
    Helsinki, Finland
    Sibelius Academy Choir
  • 10 NOV 2017
    Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ
    The Crossing
    Donald Nally, conductor

    Other Dates:
    11 November - Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ
    12 November - National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
    13 November - Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, PA
  • 05 NOV 2017
    Grace Church on-the-Hill, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
    Orpheus Choir of Toronto
    Robert Cooper, conductor
  • 27 OCT 2017
    University Presbyterian Church, Austin, TX
    Craig Hella Johnson, conductor
  • 13 OCT 2017
    the national anthems Country Premiere
    Port Fairy Spring Music Festival
    Port Fairy, Victoria, Australia
    Hallelujah Junction
    Jonathan Grieves-Smith, conductor
  • 02 JUN 2017
    Alix Goolden Performance Hall, Victoria, British Columbia Canada
    Vox Humana Chamber Choir
    Nora Fischer
  • 23 JAN 2016
    the national anthems Country Premiere
    Winnipeg New Music Festival
    Winnipeg, Canada
    Winnipeg Symphony
  • 06 JAN 2016
    Trinity Wall Street, New York, New York
    The Calder Quartet
    Julian Wachner, conductor
  • 01 NOV 2015
    Milton Court, London
    London Symphony Chorus
    Simon Halsey, conductor
  • 01 NOV 2015
    Milton Court, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London
    London Symphony Orchestra
  • 30 MAY 2015
    Berlin, Germany
    Rundfunkchor Berlin, Schnitzler Quartett
  • 08 JUN 2014
    the national anthems World Premiere
    Los Angeles, CA
    Los Angeles Master Chorale
    Grant Gershon, conductor

Close X

Newsletter Signup

Enter your email address to keep up to date with the latest news and special offers from Music Sales Classical.
Your data is secure and you can unsubscribe at any time. Read our Privacy Policy

Click here to receive regular news
© Copyright 2018 Music Sales Classical. Part of the Music Sales Group.