Project Description

Wind Ensemble with Narrator. (2011) 75′

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David Maslanka: Symphony No. 9 (2012)


David Maslanka: Symphony No. 9 (2012)


Illinois State University Wind Symphony, Stephen K. Steele, cond., John Koch, narr.


Narrator Picc Fl-2 Ob-2 EbCl BbCl-3 BCl CbCl Bsn-3(3»Cbsn) SSx ASx-2 TSx BSx | Hn-4 Tpt-3 Tbn-2 BTbn Euph Tuba DB | Hp Pno Timp Perc-6
Instrumentation Details

Advanced College/Professional Band.
Most sections have exposed solo and chamber playing. The Soprano and Alto Saxophone, Clarinet Choir, and Piano are especially prominent. Requires advanced mallet percussion.

Commissioned by a consortium lead by Stephen K. Steele, Illinois State University.
Consortium members

30 September 2011, Missoula, Montana

11 November 2011 by the Illinois State University Wind Ensemble, Stephen K. Steele, cond., at the Illinois State University Center for the Performing Arts, Bloomington-Normal, IL

“…what an extraordinary creation he has here…”

—Zan Furtwangler, Audiophile Audition

This work was commissioned by Dr. Stephen K. Steele of Illinois State University who gathered a consortium of over 40 conductors, ensembles, and individuals, here and abroad, to support the work. It is in four movements, with a duration of about 75 minutes. The symphony opens with a reading of the poem “Secrets” by W. S. Merwin, which is paralleled in the fourth movement by a reading of my brief Whale Story. Symphony No. 9 can be described as a large collection of instrumental songs which create a continuously moving tapestry of thoughts and images relating to the nature of memory, the life giving creative force of water, and compassion, forgiveness, and rest. The flow of the entire Symphony is toward the Chorale melody O Sacred Head Now Wounded at the end of the fourth movement. While the Symphony is of extended length it is not physically fatiguing to perform. Its high demand is for patience in pacing, and continuous attention by all ensemble members to each moment of musical sound.

I. Preface: “Secrets” by W.S. Merwin
II. Shall We Gather at the River
III. Now All Lies Under Thee
IV. Fantasia on I Thank You God
V. Fantasia on O Sacred Head Now Wounded
     Shall We Gather at the River
     Watch the Night With Me
     Soul, How Have You Become So Unhappy
     Whale Story (O Sacred Head Now Wounded)
     O Sacred Head Now Wounded 

Program Note
Symphony No. 9 is a large collection of instrumental songs. There are many influences and underlying elements, but most of them cannot be explained in words. Rather than try, I will simply list some of the things at work:
Time: memory, passing of time, “We flew through the years hearing them rush under us” —W.S Merwin
Water: cleansing and life–giving power, Shall We Gather at the River, Whale Story
Nature: our ground, river, ocean, chickadees
Grace: compassion, forgiveness, rest
The Symphony begins with a reading of the poem “Secrets”* by W.S. Merwin.

  • Time unseen time our continuing fiction
  • however we tell it eludes our dear hope and our reason
  • that is a pure condition of the story
  • and wherever our parents came from is another century
  • an age which they themselves could barely remember
  • but carried with them as their own year after year
  • hidden away hardly looked at until the secret
  • without their noticing had faded all the details white
  • for my mother it came to be the lace veil covering
  • the front of the baby carriage where she was being
  • wheeled through the Garden of the Gods when her parents were
  • still alive as she told about it later
  • and for my father it was the glare bleaching the surface
  • of the river as he sat under the white blaze
  • of summer in the rowboat tied above the waterline
  • where he was allowed to hold the oars and imagine
  • leaving did he see any farther when he was
  • dying in summer after midnight and before the solstice
  • coughing saying he was not afraid and was the veil still there
  • when my mother turned from her own garden one evening that same year
  • telling a friend on the telephone that she was going
  • to get a little rest now at her glasses were lying
  • apart from her on the floor not more than an hour
  • later when a neighbor pushed the door open and found her

Each movement embodies one or more chorale melodies or other songs. In the fourth movement, There is a reading of my own Whale Story (O Sacred Head Now Wounded).

I. Shall We Gather at the River
     I Thank You God for All Your Good Works
II. Now All Lies Under Thee
III. Fantasia on I Thank You God…
IV. Fantasia on O Sacred Head Now Wounded
     Shall We Gather at the River
     Watch the Night With Me (fl., tpt, harp, pno.)
     Soul, How Have You Become So Unhappy † (fl., tpt, sax., harp, pno.)
     Whale Story (O Sacred Head Now Wounded)

Why should God have incarnated only in human form? (A brief story about whales)

In the sixty million years or so the great whales have had, both on land and in the oceans, there have been numerous, and in fact, innumerable great beings among them. In fact, it turns out that all the great whales are either highly developed bodhisattvas or Buddhas. And in fact, it turns out that the Earth’s oceans are a Buddha Pure Land, and when you pass from this existence it is to be hoped for rebirth as a god or a great whale. In fact, it turns out that the Pure Land oceans of the Earth are a training ground for Buddhas across all space and time. We are loved by the great whales, and they, serenely riding the waves of birth and death, will die for us so that we may come to our enlightenment.

The end.

     O Sacred Head Now Wounded † (cl., sax., harp, pno., perc.)

Program notes by David Maslanka.

*”Secrets” is used by kind permission of Copper Canyon Press
†Chorale melodies are from the 371 Four-part Chorales by J.S. Bach

Further Reading

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