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David Lang

Publisher: G. Schirmer

love fail (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)
Programme Note
David Lang love fail (2012)
Related works:
   love fail
   the wood and the vine

Additional notes on instrumentation
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

Movement Titles
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:
My piece love fail is a rewriting of several episodes from different medieval versions of the doomed courtly love story of Tristan and Isolde, interleafed with settings of my own texts, Richard Wagner’s libretto and stories by MacArthur Prize-winning author Lydia Davis. My original idea was to create a piece that would honor Anonymous 4’s longstanding commitment to medieval music, while at the same time feeling completely up to date. At the ensemble’s suggestion I looked at the lais of the medieval author Marie de France, and I was struck by how in her retelling of the Tristan and Isolde story Isolde is never named, even though she is clearly an equal in the narrative.

I started wondering what would happen if all the names were removed, along with all the events or objects or details that would locate the story within a particular time, or with a particular set of lovers. What remains is the skeleton of the story, the outline of a relationship that is spare enough to remind us of our own modern lives. To this I added other spare retellings of details from other medieval love stories, along with several emotionally acute stories by Lydia Davis, creating out of these little scraps a larger narrative that makes them feel as if they describe a single relationship, gone hopelessly wrong.

love fail will be presented in a simple theatrical setting with effective lighting, simple sound enhancement, and will also employ a range of small instruments for Anonymous 4 to play, including autoharps, whistles, bells and simple percussion.

—David Lang

  • Ensemble
    Anonymous 4
    Cantaloupe Music:
  • 29 JUL 2017
    The Joyce Theater, Vail, CO
    LA Dance Project
  • 13 JUN 2017
    Los Angeles, CA
    Dance Downtown LA

    Other Dates:
    29 July; 25,24,22,21,17,16 June - Los Angeles, CA
  • 31 MAR 2017
    Muziekgebouw Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 24 MAR 2017
    Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center (MPAC) Rockford, Illinois
    Quince Vocal Ensemble
  • 27 FEB 2017
    Bowling Green State University Bowling Green, Ohio
    Quince Vocal Ensemble
  • 26 FEB 2017
    Alia Music Chatham University Pittsburgh, PA
    Quince Vocal Ensemble
  • 25 FEB 2017
    Kent State University Kent, Ohio
    Quince Vocal Ensemble
  • 22 FEB 2017
    The Garden Theater Columbus, Ohio
    Quince Vocal Ensemble
  • 13 MAY 2016
    love fail Country Premiere
    Codes Festival
    Lublin, Poland
    Quince Contemporary Vocal Ensemble
  • 15 APR 2016
    Edmonton, AB, Canada
    Pro Coro Canada
    4/four dancers; Michael Zaugg, conductor

    Other Dates:
    16,17 April - Edmonton, AB, Canada
  • 10 JAN 2016
    Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
    Boston, Massachusetts, United States
    Lorelei Ensemble
  • 28 MAY 2015
    Muziekgebouw, Amsterdam
    Anonymous 4
  • 26 MAY 2015
    love fail Country Premiere
    Rotterdam, NL
    Anonymous 4, De Doelen
  • 29 JUN 2012
    love fail World Premiere
    International Festival of Arts and Ideas
    New Haven, CT
    Anonymous 4
  • 01 DEC 2011
    BAM, New York, New York
    Anonymous 4

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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