Kate Sutton’s Master’s thesis is a study on David’s Third, Fourth, and Ninth Symphonies with special emphasis on their themes on nature. She explores the influence that moving to Missoula, Montana had on David for Symphony No. 3, his connection to the “powerful voice of the Earth” in Symphony No. 4, and the themes of nature and water in Symphony No. 9.
The music of American composer David Maslanka (b. 1943) is informed by his deep connection to the natural world. This connection permeates his music and results in powerful works imbued with a wealth of spiritual and environmental meaning, including three of his symphonies for wind ensemble (Nos. 3, 4, and 9). Many of these natural connections emerge from Maslanka’s meditation process; his ability to consciously explore dream images allows him to embrace an understanding of the Earth and his environment. In Symphony No. 3, Maslanka combines impressions of the mountains, skies, and prairies of his new Missoula, Montana environment with dream images of both animal and American Indian spirits. Symphony No. 4 was inspired by the same western Montana landscape, stemming from Maslanka’s perception of a “voice of the Earth.” This piece also reveals connections to nature through the recurring use of the hymn tune “Old Hundred.” Maslanka identifies four concepts that guide Symphony No. 9 (nature, water, time, and grace); he also incorporates birdcalls, a story about whales, and settings of four chorales by J. S. Bach, strengthening the sense of the natural world in this piece, as well as the idea of universal spirituality.
Maslanka’s connection to nature and the American landscape as revealed in his music places him in a greater tradition of American composers, including Amy Beach, Charles Ives, and Virgil Thomson. His use of borrowed melodies, especially American hymns and the chorale melodies of J. S. Bach, further roots his music in this tradition. Unlike many of these other composers, however, Maslanka’s musical manifestations of the relationship between nature and the divine grow from his meditative connection with the land and his perception of its energies. Symphonies 3, 4, and 9 offer a sounding pathway into Maslanka’s way of thinking, as well as the ways the natural world can influence composers.