In 1975 I had the idea to compose a Mass using the texts of the Latin Ordinary. It took nearly 20 years of personal and musical development to feel ready to do this, and the Mass was composed in 1994-95. I am not a Catholic, nor even a practicing Christian, yet the Mass text was like a beacon, forecasting a long working-out process that would allow me to be clear enough to actually write the piece. From my current perspective it appears that much of my work prior to 1994 was a prelude to the Mass, and the pieces since, largely a reflection on the Mass.
Symphony No. 5 is no exception. It has been composed around three well-known Chorale melodies: “Durch Adams Fall” (Through Adam’s Fall) in the first movement, “O Lamm Gottes, Unshuldig” (O Lamb of God, Without Blame) in the second, and “Christ Lag in Todesbanden” (Christ Lay in the Bonds of Death) in the third and fourth. The third is a meditation on the theme of “Christ entombed”, and the fourth is a full-blown fantasia on the “Christ Lag” melody. Much of the music of this Symphony is urgent and insistent. Have used the words “aggravated”, “angry”, and “overwhelming” by way of description. But for all its blunt and assertive force, the Symphony is not tragic. It is filled with a bright and hopeful energy. The music does not try to illustrate the story of the Mass, but rather continually speaks to the theme of transformation – the transformation of tears into power, and the victory of life over death.
Program Note by David Maslanka