mystery sonatas

Composer: David Lang (b. 1957)
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Composer: David Lang (b. 1957)

Performance date: 02/07/2022

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 2014

Duration: 00:44:44

Recording Engineer: Simon Cullen, Ergodos

Instrumentation: vn

Instrumentation Category:Solo

Artists: Mairead Hickey - [violin]

David Lang [b.1957]

mystery sonatas
1. joy

2. after joy
3. before sorrow
4. sorrow
5. after sorrow
6. before glory
7. glory

The Mystery Sonatas most music lovers know are Biber’s fifteen tortuous, exciting, eccentric solo violin sonatas, crafted in the 1670s as musical versions of the Catholic Church’s chain of prayers on the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Orthodox religion is abandoned in David Lang’s modern off-shoot, but certainly not spirituality. The seven sonatas, labelled like the prayers under the headings of joy, sorrow, and glory, take us on an intimate journey through the American composer’s private thoughts. Exposed, alone, often on high, clinging close to the violin’s bridge, any artist performing this music has no place to hide.

The end result may not have quite the hypnotic spell of Lang’s 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winner, The Little Match Girl Passion, but the piece’s supple, generally contemplative melodic line, lightly varied with skipping rhythms, agitated arpeggios, and a little double-stopping, still proves nourishing in an age so dominated by hustle and bustle. You’d never guess from this graceful work, premiered by Augustin Hadelich in 2014 in New York, that Lang co-founded the often raucous contemporary music collective Bang on a Can. But that’s another mystery, I guess.

Lang based his mystery sonatas on the famous pieces by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber, but with a modern twist. I decided to make my own virtuosic pieces about my most intimate, most spiritual thoughts, [but] mine are not about Jesus, and the violin is not retuned between movements. I did keep one of Biber’s distinctions. He divides Jesus’s life into three phases — the joyous, the sorrowful, and the glorious. The central pieces of my mystery sonatas are called ‘joy,’ ‘sorrow,’ and ‘glory,’ but these are all quiet, internal, reflective states of being.
– Francis Humphrys