CD Review: David Lang: this was written by hand

Composer David Lang returns with a new recording of two separate works for solo piano: the title piece and a cycle of memorial works written for his friends titled memory pieces, both performed by Andrew Zolinsky.

this was written by hand was a piece Lang had written after realizing he had not physically hand-written a piece since purchasing a home computer in 1993. Lang had said in his liner notes that he wondered if “the means of writing had any effect on the writing itself”, and to these ears, it did indeed. The piece’s stark but colorful passages sound as if they are created with a more ragged, handwritten craftsmanship than a piece that one would expect to be put through any level of a new technology. Very high-ended, mostly childlike phrases are continued until the 7-minute mark when they are intervened by low-end chords that bring the piece to a much darker place and leave it there.

The sequencing and contrasts of the movements of memory pieces invoke those of Carnival of the Animals (Very slow, followed by fast, followed by thudding, etc.), but in the presentation of something far more dramatic than that work, starting with “Cage” (written for John Cage).

The concept of the cycle, which was suggested by one of its dedicatees, pianist Yvar Mikhashoff, is a series of snapshots of each friend embodied in musical thoughts. The movements convey very brilliantly an aspect of each person’s character through Lang’s eyes.

From “Spartan Arcs” (Mikhashoff’s tribute that invokes Philip Glass) to “Grind” (Jacob Druckman’s tribute) to “Wed”, written for installation artist Kate Ericson, the pieces are all a segment of these people that Lang has always had with him and has now forever made them public with this cycle of works.

The combination of the stark but sonorous recording and Zolinsky’s brilliant technique and familiar identity with the pieces provides a very humble and beautiful set of music. Without compromising his contemporary style, Lang has definitely made a great gesture towards rekindling a classical sensibility with this recording, and has simultaneously made a fitting set of memorials for fellow artists that left some wonderful impressions on him.

Click to purchase this was written by hand on Amazon


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