Composed by David Lang, love fail is a meditation on the timelessness of love that weaves together elements from the story of Tristan and Isolde with more modern sources. The recording also spotlights the singular and magical sound of the vocal quartet Anonymous 4, whose longstanding commitment to medieval music and historical scholarship has been acclaimed worldwide.
The music and libretto pull together narratives of love from such sources as MacArthur fellow Lydia Davis (who contributes to five songs on the recording), Marie de France, Gottfried von Strassburg, Béroul, Thomas of Britain and Richard Wagner. love fail was commissioned by The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s 2012 Next Wave Festival, The International Festival of Arts & Ideas, The John F. Kennedy Center Abe Fortas Memorial Fund, The Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, The Wake Forest University/Secrest Artists Series, and Hancher Performances at the University of Iowa.
Reviewing the BAM performance for the New York Times, Anthony Tommasini writes: “It was Mr. Lang’s music, and the ethereal, pure-toned singing of Anonymous 4, that claimed me in the first section of the piece, which begins with the line ‘he was a blessed man.’”
In his liner notes, David Lang poses the question: “It’s ‘the greatest love story ever!’ But why? Of course, there is excitement, drama, love, lust, shame, death, dragons. I think the real reason is because the love of Tristan and 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’s 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.”