Bernhard Lang was born on 24 February 1957 in Linz, where he began his musical studies at the Bruckner Conservatory. From 1975 he studied in Graz: composition, piano, jazz theory and harmony at the University of the Arts; philosophy and German philology at Karl-Franzens University. His engagements as composer-in-residence include the Basle Theatre (2007-08) and “Capell Composer” of the Dresden Staatskapelle (2008-09).
Early in his career he became involved with electronic music and computer technology. At Graz’s Institute of Electronic Music and Acoustics, he developed the software CADMUS in C++ for computer-based composition. As one of the most renowned contemporary composers of his generation, Lang has written numerous scores in virtually every genre – ranging from varied large-scale chamber, ensemble, choral and orchestral works to digital, electronic and computer-generated compositions, remixes, sound installations, jazz, rock, punk, and techno as well as film music, radio plays, stage music, dance and music-theatre pieces. Bernhard Lang’s creative drive and wealth of invention are unlimited and indefatigable.
Lang first achieved prominence through his examination of the phenomenon of “repetition”. His cycle Differenz/Wiederholung (“Difference/Repetition”), now numbering 39 works, is based on the philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s magnum opus, which Lang illuminates musically with such DJ techniques as loops and scratching. He also examines socio-cultural issues and social criticism (Das Theater der Wiederholungen/“The Theatre of Repetitions”, 2003) as well as problems inherent in music-making and musical culture (I Hate Mozart, 2006).
Another focus of his activities is the “recycling” of earlier works from music history, which in Lang’s cycle of Monadologies (49 individual titles) undergo filtering and mutation by means of computer-generated procedures.
Along with classical European instruments, he employs their amplified and electrified versions (e.g., electric viola) as well as clashing microtonally tuned ensembles. Lang deploys analogue and digital synthesizer, keyboards and rock instruments (electric guitar, electric bass, drum set) as well as gramophones (as pioneering devices of the culture of sound reproduction), rap, vocals from Arabic-speaking regions, spoken text and live electronics (primarily using his own programmed “loop generators”).
“My musical technique of differential minimalism, utilizing loops and cut-ups as well as electronics and references to popular music genres, is rooted in the new music of the present day and shares a close affinity with textual structures” (Bernhard Lang).
Music theatre is a particular passion of Bernhard Lang, whose oeuvre in those genres currently comprises 16 works. To cite two representative examples: ParZeFool, der Thumbe Tor, based on Wagner’s Parsifal and staged by Jonathan Meese, was composed in 2017 to a commission by the Vienna Festival (with performances at the Theater an der Wien and the Berlin Festival); Der Reigen (La Ronde), with a libretto by the Viennese writer-director Michael Sturminger based on the notorious play by Austrian dramatist Arthur Schnitzler, was commissioned by the southwest German Schwetzingen Festival, where it had its premiere in 2014. But audiences in Austria had to wait five years to experience this quintessentially “Austrian” work on stage – at the 2019 Wien Modern festival as a co-production of Neue Oper Wien and the Bregenz Festival, with performances in Vienna’s MuseumQuartier.
The composer enjoys close collaborations with Ensemble Intercontemporain, Ensemble Recherche, Klangforum Wien, Musikfabrik Köln and Ensemble Mosaik as well as with the singers Sarah Maria Sun and Salome Kammer, the violinist Ilya Gringolts, the clarinettist Gareth Davis and the double bassist Uli Fussenegger.
Bernhard Lang’s awards and honours include the Music Prize of the City of Vienna in 2008, the “Outstanding Artist Award” in the category of music (composition) from the Austrian Federal Ministry of Art and Culture in 2014, and the Austrian Art Prize for Music in 2019.
In 2003 Lang was appointed Professor of Composition at the University of the Arts in Graz, a post he held until his retirement in 2022. In 2013-14 he was a guest lecturer in composition in Lucerne. Since 2000 he has also given numerous lectures in Europe and abroad, including at the Darmstadt Summer Course, Ostrava Days, Impuls Graz, Berlin’s University of the Arts, Vienna’s University of Music and Performing Arts and the Vienna Conservatory, as well as holding guest lectureships in, among other cities, Munich, Zurich, Basle, Oslo, Madrid, London and New York.
In 2023, the Municipal Theatre of Klagenfurt produces the world premiere of HIOB for voices, chorus, orchestra and jazz trio, on Michael Sturminger’s libretto after the novel by Joseph Roth. The world premiere of Lang’s Cheap Opera #3 “May”, focusing on the socially neglected subject of Parkinson’s Disease, is given at the 2022 Donaueschingen Festival. (08/2022)
Photo: Harald Hoffmann