O Earth, O Stars is a double concerto for flute and cello. The music can stand on its own without any programmatic references, but I am strongly drawn to certain images and depths that are touched when the music relates to these images. Over the years I have been especially concerned with music that has grown out of the old Chorale melodies. The connections made between image or idea and music are complex. They resonate deeply and are not confined to a single set of interpretations. The six movements of this concerto, with chorales on either end, and one in the middle, give the impression of a Baroque cantata. The story being told is one you find for yourself.
Chorale – The chorale melody, taken from the 371 Four-part Chorales by J. S. Bach, is “Jesu, meine Freude,” meaning “Jesus my joy,” or “Jesus my pleasure.” It is one of my favorite tunes which I have also used in Recitation Book for saxophone quartet, and Symphony No. 8.
You are the image of the unending world – This line comes from The Red Book of Carl Jung. It relates in my mind to the Buddhist image of the “Pure Land,” which is about a returning of the earth to its original pristine balance. “You are the image of the unending world…” It is through each of us that the Pure Land is reborn.
Sanctus – This movement grows out of the Chorale melody “Heilig, Heilig,” meaning “Holy, Holy,” which is the opening of the Sanctus from the Latin Mass: Sanctus Dominos Deus Sabbath: “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are filled with your glory. Hosanna in the highest.” Sanctus is a quiet, and sometimes whimsical, paean to the beauty and holiness of the living earth, and to all its creatures and plant life.
Dragons and Devils of the Heart – a quote and a poem:
Carl Jung: “It is wise to nourish the soul, otherwise you breed dragons and devils in your heart.”
Sometimes when the fights begin,
I think I’ll let the dragons win,
But then again perhaps I won’t,
Because they’re dragons, and I don’t.
The image of the dragon is fearful, and from the quote and the poem we have the feeling of a necessary struggle, and a requirement of victory over the dragon in order to be whole. But there are other images of the dragon: the protector of the priceless treasure; the guardian of the heart, which is the gateway of the Source. To “defeat” the dragon is to come into relationship with your own deepest power.
O Earth, O Stars – is the song before the Agnus Dei in my setting of the Latin Mass. The text is one poem of the set entitled Hymn to Sofia, Holy Wisdom written by Richard Beale for the Mass project.
O Earth, O Stars, who watch our pain and our joy,
Lift us up that we may see our Mother once again.
Together we live the only life there is.
Music flows from our union.
When the universe expands and contracts,
It is the love we have for each other.
It is one breath.
Mother of womanly embrace,
Wrap us in the womb
Of your unending love.
“Music flows from our union…” – the center of this concerto, and the center of life.
Chorale – The melody which I have borrowed is Aus tiefer Not schrei Ich zu dir – From Deepest Need I Cry to You – the piece revolves around the human condition, knocking on the door of the Source for help, and the ultimate transformation of the heart. — David Maslanka
Symphony No. 10: The River of Time
At the time of his death, my father had fully completed the first movement and half of the second. The remainder of the second movement and the whole of the fourth movement were sketched out. The third movement (“the hard node”) had an opening sketched, but the rest was in fragments. Dad asked me to finish the work if he were unable to complete it. I drew on my long experience working with Dad and his music to first understand the sketches and then to piece them together.
Dad titled the completed first movement after his wife and my mother: Alison. He was writing as my mother was dying of an immune disorder in the spring of 2017. This movement may be seen through that lens, with bitter rage at the coming loss and a beautiful song full of love.
I have named the subsequent movements. The second movement’s title, Mother and Boy Watching the River of Time, comes from my father’s final pencil sketch of the same name. It depicts two small figures sitting on a river bank in front of a forest and mountain foothills. The music is largely a transcription of the second movement of the euphonium sonata he wrote for me, Song Lines.
The third movement, David, posed a special challenge. The movement was both at the emotional center of the symphony and the least finished. One tune, marked “The Song at the Heart of it All” in the sketch, became the heart of the work and of the symphony. The full statement of the theme may be found at bar 174, with a quiet restatement in the solo euphonium at bar 217. It is a pure expression of love: my love for my father, his love for me, my mother, sister, and brother, and by extension, love for humanity. The restatement of the opening material, though at first comforting, becomes jarring and unsettled, rising to a dissonant roar. The euphonium soloist is left to scream, “why?!” at a world that seems content to keep spinning.
The third movement became my response to the deaths of my mother and father. It is not what Dad would have written; rather, it is a synthesis of his mind and mine, colored by extraordinary pain and loss. I have named the movement after my father.
The fourth movement, One Breath in Peace, is the acceptance and ability to move forward after loss. The long solo lines for oboe reflect and extend the bookending chorale, “Jesu, der du meine Seele.” Dad’s customary morning practice was to play one chorale from the Bach 371 Chorales. He would sing each line as he played along on the piano. In this way, he came to deeply understand these miniature jewels of western music. I have closed the symphony with the last statement of the chorale, with the pianist singing the tenor line. I hope you will hear his voice in it. — Matthew Maslanka
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