Magazine article The New Yorker

New-Time Religion

Magazine article The New Yorker

New-Time Religion

Article excerpt

Until the crisis of modernism blew up the bridge that connected classical music and middle-class taste, a composer was expected to have a modicum of religious music in his catalogue; even the agnostic Brahms had his motets and Serious Songs. In contemporary America, most religious music--competent, predictable--is produced by the masters of the "choral market." But recent recordings from two composers offer wondrous examples of another aesthetic--a deeply personal subjectivity brought to hallowed musical forms.

Both composers are former enfants terribles of the downtown scene, now in middle age. David Lang has previously collaborated with his fellow Bang on a Can composers Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe in music exploring their common Jewish heritage. But in "The Little Match Girl Passion" (reverently performed by Paul Hillier's Theatre of Voices, on Harmonia Mundi), which won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2008, he uses Bach's St. Matthew Passion as a model in musicalizing Hans Christian Andersen's parable of a poor girl who freezes to death on a city street on New Year's Eve. The work embraces its poverty of means: the four singers make occasional contributions on drums and bells, and the little chapters of the tale are intoned in tiny sequences of upward-moving scales. …

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