David Lang's The Little Match Girl Passion

by Sam Kjellberg, Minnesota Public Radio
May 28, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. — So often musicians and artists speak about inspiration; how it plays out in their daily lives and in the desired experience for their audience. To be inspired is the intangible, immeasurable yet crucial component of an uplifted and spiritual life.

Some musicians become inspired by performing music of the past - peering into the foundations of the classical music structure and studying the historical works of the great composers. Others, including myself, become inspired by facing a POSSIBLE historical piece, seeing something in its youth, from the beginning, that sets it apart. One such work is David Lang's The Little Match Girl Passion.

This piece won a 2009 Pulitzer Prize, and was written for the impeccable ensemble Theatre of Voices lead by Paul Hillier. This full setting of the Hans Christian Anderson story by the same title also uses a similar formal and contextual structure of the Bach Saint Matthew Passion, in regards to choruses responding to the story being told in recit-like format. It is scored for 4 voices (SATB) with each vocalist playing minor percussion parts (including crotales, chimes, glockenspiel, sleigh bells, bass drum, and brake drum). The piece is compassionate, minimalist, and captivating.

To be inspired. We all know the feeling. It's motivational, and tear evoking from the ground-up. It uplifts and suspends us and does so through its scarcity and uniqueness. It couldn't happen every day for that becomes normal, the commonplace. Though The Little Match Girl Passion may deal with normal features and commonplace experiences, the work itself is neither of those things but rather elevates them. Lang's work is a humble glimpse into the soul of childhood innocence and the desire to not be alone.

I was able to catch David Lang over the phone a few weeks ago to get some personal insight about his compositional journey with this piece. Listen here for that interview intertwined with musical examples of the piece.

Also, be sure to mark your calendars: The Little Match Girl Passion will be performed this Friday, May 31 at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Minnesota, School of Architecture, in the Ralph Rapson Hall main atrium . A vocal octet of some of the top professional choral singers in the Twin Cities will perform this stunning work! Please, go experience this rare gem.

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