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Celtic Coincidence

The third concert in David Lang's collected stories series, love/loss explores love songs, but not the kind that end well. Quite the opposite, love/loss explores the emotional impact and intensity of intoxicating love, envy, betrayal, and devastating loss. Read a portion of David's program note for love/loss in which he discusses a compositional coincidence of Celtic character.

Explore the rest of David Lang's collected stories here.

Totally by coincidence, two New York composers—Julia Wolfe and Nico Muhly—used variants of the same folk song as inspiration to make a piece of concert music: “The Two Sisters.” It is an old Celtic song about two sisters who are in love with the same man. One drowns the other in the sea; when her skeleton washes up on shore, her bones are made into musical instruments whose sounds keep the memory of the murdered sister alive. Clearly this is not one of the happy love stories. But you can understand why it would appeal to a musician: the love, yearning, and pain in the story all need music to remember them.

Julia’s Cruel Sister is a kind of tone painting of the action of the story. There are no words, but you hear the conflict, the drowning, the transformation of the bones into a harp. Julia uses the music to dramatize the story, as if the music is the chilling soundtrack to a drama playing out within each listener’s mind.

Nico’s piece, The Only Tune, tells the story in a completely different way. He asks that the original folk song be sung complete, and his music surrounds it with other kinds of musical activity. The music he adds works as a kind of Talmudic commentary on the original, questioning it, dissecting it, pulling it apart, and extending it in several painful directions at once.

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