Music for Band
* A Child's Garden of Dreams
* In Memoriam
* Symphony No. 4
Dallas Wind Symphony/Jerry Junkin.
Reference Recordings RR-108 Total time: 77:45
Summary for the Busy Executive: Church band.
A student of American composer Joseph Wood, Daniel Maslanka has made his
name primarily in music for wind ensemble. He has, I must say, a literary
turn of mind, in that his reading often inspires him and his music tends
to unconventional narrative shapes. He definitely wants to communicate.
Most of his work has a spiritual program behind it. His musical iconography
in large part comes from hymns and chorales, although the "spirituality"
rarely becomes explicitly doctrinal. For reasons you'll find below, he
seems to tap into the power of the Jungian spiritual world, rather than
a specific church.
For example, A Child's Garden of Dreams as a title may mislead many
listeners. Maslanka acknowledges the inspiration of Jung's Man and His
Symbols, in particular some of a girl patient's dreams which seemed to
prefigure her death. It interests me that in classical times, dreams
carried omens and fates and were *sent* to the sleeper. Dreams then
became primarily a literary device, powerful but without the sanction
of necessary truth. Freud turned dreams around. They originated in
the psyche's conflicts. They didn't show fate as much as inner truth.
Jung, on the other hand, took us halfway back to the classical. Dreams,
although generated by the psyche, had a truth outside the individual
life. Maslanka's Garden takes for the basis of each of its five movements
a dream of this little girl, as recorded by Jung. They are not particularly
"nice" dreams. All of them have to do with pain, death, and resurrection,
rather than with butterflies, princesses, and unicorns. The main problem
with the piece comes down to the fact that you need the titles, in effect
the program, for most of the movements to make musical sense. The two
shining exceptions are the slow second -- a fantasia on "Black is the
color of my true love's hair" -- and the jazzy scherzo third. There's
really no musical argument as such. The musical scenario is that of the
dream's plot. In addition, there's an awful lot of filler, or at least
stuff that doesn't come off. I might lay the blame at the frequent
resort to ostinatos, but not, strictly speaking, minimalist ones, although
the effect is strikingly similar to the long, dull patches in Philip
In Memoriam, written to commission, succeeds the best of all the works
here. It's the same kind of piece as Vaughan Williams's 5 Variants on
"Dives and Lazarus" although the idioms differ (and, of course, the
Vaughan Williams beats it hollow), in that it's a set of riffs, rather
than strict variations, on the chorale tune "Wer nur den lieben Gott
lasst walten" (whoever lets only God guide him). The tune, from its
coding in the opening brass fanfares, turns up in many surprising ways.
The surprises lead you on through the piece. It comes across not as
deeply felt, but as well-made. The title of the chorale tune more than
its treatment leads you to meditate on the life remembered.
The Symphony No. 4, in several sections played without pause, makes
even greater use of chorale. This time, Maslanka plays with three:
"Wer Gott vertraut, hat wohl gebaut" (whoever trusts God, has built
well), the Old Hundred ("praise God, from whom all blessings flow"),
and "Christus, der uns selig macht" (Christ, who makes us holy). The
composer picks the tunes apart and recombines the pieces throughout.
As in A Child's Garden, the music belongs to true fantasia, rather than
classic symphonic movement, but here Maslanka, without the dangerous
crutch of a literary plot, manages to hold the music together. Maslanka
probably did compose to some sort of spiritual program, but one less
definite yet more concerned with dramatic shape. Those who know the
chorale texts may wonder what it all means, but fortunately the symphony
doesn't depend on finding an answer.
Maslanka orchestrates with imagination and an ear for richness. These
pieces would likely make many bands sound their best. Junkin and the
Dallas Wind Symphony, one of the technically superb ensembles of the
world, do them up brown, and the recorded sound matches the performances.
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