By Tom Huizenga
David Lang, a New York-based composer, has won the Pulitzer Prize for music with his piece, The Little Match Girl Passion, based on the children’s story by Hans Christian Andersen.
Lang’s music makes a big impact with small forces. The piece is scored for only four voices and a few percussion instruments, played by the singers. They sing the sad story of a little girl who freezes to death selling matches on the street during a cold winter’s night
In notes Lang wrote to accompany the Carnegie Hall premiere last October, he says he was drawn to Andersen’s story because of how opposite aspects of the plot played off each other.
”The girl’s bitter present is locked together with the sweetness of her past memories,” Lang says. ”Her poverty is always suffused with her hopefulness. There’s a kind of naïve equilibrium between suffering and hope.”
Lang was also intrigued by the religious allegory he saw beneath the surface of the story, and he found inspiration in the music of his favorite composer, J.S. Bach.
”Andersen tells this story as a kind of parable,” Lang says, ”drawing on a religious and moral equivalency between the suffering of the poor girl and the suffering of Jesus. I thought maybe I could take the story of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and take Jesus out, and plug this little girl’s suffering in.” (…)