Gregor’s Bed – Death Speaks

Recent Discoveries from the Realm of the Experimental and the Avant Garde

Album: Death Speaks

Composer: David Lang

Artists: Shara Worden (vocals), Bryce Dessner (guitar), Owen Pallett (violin), Nico Muhly (piano)

?Art songs have been moving out of classical music in the last many years. Indie rock seems to be the place where Schubert’s sensibilities now lie, a better match for direct story telling and intimate emotionality.?

David Lang (from his official website)

?I walk in joy. I am kissed by angels.?

David Lang, from ?I am Walking?

Stop a While and Let the Angels Kiss You

It’s tempting to assume that the avant garde is synonymous with a cynical coldness, until we remember that when romanticism went mainstream in the 19th century, it was every bit as avant garde as you could want.

I’ve remarked a number of times in this column on the recent?and significant?shift toward romanticism in avant garde music. Surprising as it was when I first met it, in retrospect I should have seen it coming, if only because romanticism in general has had such a long period of exile. For so long the object of dismissal, contempt, or even ridicule, romanticism is finding its place in the postmodern world, bringing all of its longings and obsessions back into the cultural mainstream.

David Lang is a professor of composition at Yale and won a Pulitzer in 2008 for his Little Match Girl Passion, a work whose fairytale subject and preoccupation with beauty, innocence, suffering, and death form the quintessence of romanticism.

The above quote is in part an explanation for why Lang chose to write this collection of Schubert-style art songs for classically trained musicians who’ve grown famous within the indie rock world; he assumed that these artists would be better suited to interpreting the thoughts and feeling discussed in Death Speaks and to lending an urgency to the kind of narrative that unfolds there.

He couldn’t have been more right. The accompaniment is profoundly sensitive to the libretto, but what’s truly jaw-dropping is the beauty of Sharon Worden’s vocals. She makes this very difficult score seem like an excess of grief whittled and crafted into a poignant masterpiece.

Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.