Maslanka Weekly: Best of the Web – No. 39, Dreams & Meditations

Maslanka Weekly highlights excellent performances of David Maslanka’s music from around the web.

David Maslanka spoke frequently about his practice of meditation. In the last year of his life he gave the following insights:

I have been asked more than a few times if my practice is lucid dreaming. As I understand it, lucid dreaming is the capacity to control or direct the movement of a sleep dream. My work with inner travel and dreaming is not like this. It is not controlling but allowing.

It is being fully present with an inner experience – a feeling, thought, musical idea, meditation image, dream memory, etc. – allowing, following, accepting but not controlling or judging. This is not loss of control but rather partnership. The heart of music appears on its own terms and in its own time. There is what I think I want the music to do and there is what the music wants to do. The heart cannot be commanded, cannot be arrived at purely by intellectual choice. This is not passive waiting for inspiration; quite the contrary. The work is regular and purposeful.

Although David used this process before every composition session, there are several works that specifically mention “dreaming” or “meditation” in the title. This week, we feature three of these compositions: A Child’s Garden of Dreams, Movement I, Sea Dreams: Concerto for Two Horns and Wind Ensemble Movement III, and Recitation Book, Movement I, “Broken Heart: Meditation on the chorale melody Der du bist drei in einigkeit.

A Child’s Garden of Dreams, Movement I

From David’s Program Note:

A Child’s Garden of Dreams was commissioned by John and Marietta Paynter for the Northwestern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble. It was composed in the summer of 1981 and premiered by Northwestern in 1982.

The following material is from Man and His Symbols by Carl Jung:

A very important case came to me from a man who was himself a psychiatrist. One day he brought me a handwritten booklet he had received as a Christmas present from his ten-year-old daughter. It contained a whole series of dreams she had had when she was eight. They made up the weirdest series of dreams I had ever seen, and I could well understand why her father was more than just puzzled by them. Though childlike, they were uncanny, and contained images whose origin was wholly incomprehensible to the father….

In the unabridged German original, each dream begins with the words of the old fairy tale: “Once upon a time….” By these words the little dreamer suggests that she felt each dream were a sort of fairy tale, which she wants to tell her father as a Christmas present. The father tried to explain the dreams in terms of their context. But he could not do so because there appeared to be no personal associations with them….

[The little girl] died of an infectious disease about a year after that Christmas….”[The dreams were a preparation for death, expressed through short stories, like the tales told at primitive initiations.]

The little girl was approaching puberty and at the same time, the end of her life. Little or nothing in the symbolism of her dreams points to the beginning of a normal adult life…. When I first read her dreams, I had the uncanny feeling that they suggested impending disaster….

These dreams open up a new and rather terrifying aspect of life and death. One would expect to find such images in an aging person who looks back upon life, rather than to be given them by a child…. Their atmosphere recalls the old Roman saying, “Life is a short dream,” rather than the joy and exuberance of its springtime…. Experience shows that the unknown approach of death casts an adumbratio (an anticipatory shadow) over the life and dreams of the victim. Even the altar in Christian churches represents, on the one hand, a tomb, and on the other, a place of resurrection – the transformation of death into eternal life.”

I have selected five of the twelve dreams as motifs for the movements of this composition:

  1. There is a desert on the moon where the dreamer sinks so deeply into the ground that she reaches hell.
  2. A drunken woman falls into the water and comes out renewed and sober.
  3. A horde of small animals frightens the dreamer. The animals increase to a tremendous size, and one of them devours the little girl.
  4. A drop of water is seen as it appears when looked at through a microscope. The girl sees that the drop is full of tree branches. This portrays the origin of the world.
  5. An ascent into heaven where pagan dances are being celebrated; and a descent into hell where angels are doing good deeds.

Watch below as Geir Holm leads the Greåker Musikkorps in a thrilling performance of Movement I.

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Sea Dreams: Concerto for Two Horns and Wind Ensemble, Movement III

From David’s Program Note:

I was born and raised in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the whaling port of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The sea has been a part of me forever. I was riveted by Moby Dick when I first read it at age fifteen. The mundane aspects of the book – the pictures of the varying ocean moods, the minute descriptions of the ship and of whaling gear – sprang to life for me as powerfully as the titanic struggles with the white whale. Since my youth, other stories of Melville, and among other things the paintings of Winslow Homer, and the sea imagery in the poetry of Pablo Neruda have opened me in the same way.

In my meditation life, sea imagery has played a central role for years. The sea is the dream image of the unconscious; the seashore the connecting point to conscious mind. I have grown up through the images of my inner sea.

As I began to think deeply about the concerto for two horns, powerful images of the sea began to rise one more time. From my meditation journal I have made a selection of images which moved me in the writing of this piece. They are not a story or an explanation; rather, a mosaic of moods and feelings that directly underlie the composition of this music.

I come to the sea shore. At the base of the cliff next to the sea is the long grey canoe of death. The ocean is grey, still, misty. The canoe is narrow with square ends. Two shrouded figures stand in it.

A huge boulder knocks me into the ocean. I sink with it. On the bottom it opens and life rises from it. Out in the air the life takes the form of a large diamond through which streams brilliant light.

I am at the seashore with the overturned wreckage of a whaler’s harpoon boat. There are dead bodies. One is my friend. He is young, with dark curly hair, well-formed, nice looking – and dead. I cry for him. There is a lot of death to cry for. Then I release him as part of the cycle of life and death. I think of Neruda and The Captain’s Verses ocean poems, and I ache for the sea. I sense that there is still in me much to cry for concerning the ocean. I sense an ocean flow that wants to be expressed in music.

Two people set out in a small slender boat on an ocean journey. It is dark. They are wearing long black robes. The ocean ahead is choppy. The night sea journey begins with apprehension.

My mind opens suddenly to the great ocean storm. I see first the ship’s mast with flying pennant at the top. There are great heaving seas. The ship capsize.s but first rises and slants so sharply that everything and everyone on deck is dumped into the ocean. I see the huge wave depression opening in front of me and experience the terror and panic of going into the icy sea water. This is death.

The Concerto is in three movements. The first is a double movement with a very serious and intense opening, and a released and joyous conclusion. The opening depicts the great ocean storm and the conclusion joy in deliverance.

At the beginning of the second movement, I have written in the score the words “moonlight on the quiet sea.” It is a time to reflect upon and absorb the fierce emotions of the first movement. It is personal thought and the opening of oneself to another. There is the understanding that in this life we are for the other.

The third movement parallels the structure of the first. The opening, like its counterpart, is serious and intense – a message from the heart. Its conclusion is a rousing dance music.

Throughout the Concerto there is the sense of transformation at work: the movement through terror, loss and death to an exhilarated joy in life.

Watch below as Stephen K. Steele leads Nancy O’Neill (Horn), Saul Garland (Horn), and the Illinois State University Wind Symphony in a rousing performance of Movement III.

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Recitation Book, Movement I

I have loved Italian madrigals since my student days. Recitation Book for saxophone quartet feels something like a madrigal collection, but with a grand finale. My approach to composing is vocal, and the singing quality of saxophones is one of their fine strengths. The movements in this piece are relatively brief and intimate songs.

Much of my recent music draws its inspiration from the distant past. An old melody pushes open a door in my mind and a parallel world or dream makes its way out. Each piece in this set found its inspiration in that way.

The title, “Recitation Book,” implies a set of lessons. I don’t want to say explicitly what each “lesson” means, but the titles of the pieces circle around the theme of death, which for me implies the passing of the old, and the coming of the new.

I have not only quoted a number of old melodies in Recitation Book, but two whole brief pieces as well. This first is J.S. Bach’s four-part chorale Jesu, meine Freude, and the second is an arrangement for the four saxophones of the five-voiced madrigal Ecco, morirò dunque by Gesualdo di Venosa.

Watch below as the Amethyst Quartet gives a beautiful performance of Movement I.

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