Doctor of Musical Arts Dissertations


The Solo Piano Music of David Lang

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)


Contemporary Music

First Advisor

Laura Melton (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Kenneth Thompson (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Marcus Zagorski (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Beatrice Guenther (Committee Member)


Since the inception of Bang On a Can in 1987, David Lang has become one of the most successful American composers of his generation. Along with fellow Bang On a Can founders Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe, Lang has built a strong career composing minimalist influenced music in a postminimalist world. His resultant style features music that, like early minimalist works, is highly repetitive and limited in musical means. However, Lang's work lacks an emphasis on transparency in process and compositional method, an imperative quality in early minimalist music.

David Lang's compositional output has been substantial in many areas; he is particularly well known for his works for percussion, various chamber groups, and vocal works. While these compositions are often played and highly regarded, his piano works have not been given the same attention. Beginning with 1983's While Nailing at Random up until 2012's Hard Hit, Lang has published seven single movement piano works as well as Memory Pieces, a set of seven pieces completed in 1992.

David Lang's solo piano oeuvre is among the most substantial in the minimalist catalogue. This study was first to explore Lang's solo piano repertoire as a whole, both comparing it to other minimalist solo piano works as well as to one another in order to better understand Lang's development as a composer. This information was gathered through an analytical study of David Lang's solo piano music, an interview with the composer, and a study of the solo piano genre within the minimalist music movement as a whole.

Upon completing an interview with David Lang, an analysis of his works for solo piano, and an overview of minimalist solo piano music, it is clear that David Lang, while influenced by the music of earlier minimalists, has developed his own compositional voice. While Lang consistently uses process in his music, his application of process is meant to limit his access to musical material rather than place an emphasis on observable patterns. Unlike earlier minimalists who strove for transparency of process in their compositions, Lang keeps his processes hidden beneath the surface of the music.