David Lang's love fail

Innova Recordings


love fail (2012) is a 50-60-minute meditation created by Pulitzer-Prize-winning post-minimalist Americancomposer David Lang about the timelessness of love that weaves together details from medieval retellings of the story of Tristan and Isolde with stories from more modern sources. The music and libretto pull together narratives of love from such sources as Lydia Davis, Marie de France, Gottfried von Strassburg, Béroul, Thomas of Britain and Richard Wagner. The text is by David Lang (after Lydia  Davis, Marie de France, Gottfried von Strassburg, Béroul, Thomas of Britain and Richard Wagner).




For complete texts, please visit https://www.quince-ensemble.com/single-post/2020/01/13/David-Langs-love-fail---texts


Program Note from Composer:

Why is it that people still like the story of Tristan und Isolde? It has been told repeatedly for almost 1000 years, and in many different versions, with all manner of strange details added or changed. “The greatest love story ever!” But why? Of course, there is excitement, drama, love, lust, shame, death, dragons. I think the real reason why is because the love of Tristan und Isolde begins by accident - they drink a love potion. They didn’t mean to drink it, and they didn’t mean to fall in love. They drink and - BAM! - it starts. It is almost a laboratory experiment into what love might be like without any of the complications of how real love begins or works-without the excitement, embarrassment, frustration, guilt, or competition present in the courtships of ordinary people.


I thought I might learn something about love if I could explore this in a piece, putting details abstracted from many different retellings of Tristan und Isolde next to texts that are more modern, more recognizableto us, more real. First I scoured the literature and took my favorite weird incidents from the originals; for example, in Marie de France’s version Tristan carves his name on a stick for Isolde to find, she sees it and immediately knows what message Tristan means to convey, and that message – incredibly - is many pages long. Another example: Tristan and Isolde drink the potion, thinking it is wine, and Gottfried von Strassburg writes, dramatically, that it isn’t wine they are drinking, but a cup of their never-ending sorrow. (This, near the chapter in which Gottfried lists all the other Germanic poets working in the 12th century, and then tells you how he rates among them.) I compiled the oddest incidents from these versions of their romance, took out all the names or technological information that would make the texts seem ancient, and put them next to stories by the contemporary author Lydia Davis. These stories are oddly similar to the Tristan stories - they are also about love, honor, and respect between two people, but they are much more recognizable to us.


I based my words on scraps of the text I found on the internet – thank you google translate! I do want to acknowledge the translations of Robert W. Hanning and Joan Ferrante, A. T. Hatto, and Alan S. Fedrick, whose versions of these texts I consulted more than once.


– David Lang




Performed by Quince Ensemble

Amanda DeBoer Bartlett, soprano, glockenspiel

Kayleigh Butcher, mezzo soprano, conch shell, concert bass drum

Liz Pearse, soprano, ratchet, woodblock

Carrie Henneman Shaw, soprano, sizzle cymbal


Recorded at Wild Sound Studio, Minneapolis, MN, June/July 2019

Sound Engineering, Editing, Mixing, Mastering: Steve Kaul

Album Producer: Fredrick Gifford


Innova Director: Philip Blackburn

Operations Director: Chris Campbell

Publicist: Tim Igel

Innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.



Artwork by Carrie Henneman Shaw

Design by Amanda DeBoer Bartlett