Crown of Thorns


The following passage is an excerpt taken from a letter David Maslanka sent to Dr. Richard Gipson dated August 23rd, 1991.  In his letter Maslanka provides a wealth of information regarding Crown of Thorns:

The title "Crown of Thorns" has been with me for many years-in fact since shortly after [Richard Gipson] asked me to write a piece and I began thinking on it.  The idea came first from a flowering plant called "Crown of Thorns".  It is a thorny desert plant that can grow long snaking branches.  It has beautiful red flowers and dark green small leaves.  I saw it first at the NY Botanical Gardens, and then we had a nice one at home.  The way the branches spread and intertwined suggested a musical structure to me. 

The other obvious reference is to Christ, the making of the Crown of Thorns being apart of his absolute degradation before his death. 

Well, the music is neither a mockery nor does it share in the spirit of lament at the death of Christ.  I have come to perceive Christ as a figure of world life and continuous growth- the rampant and ever renewing life of the earth, and ongoing spiritual revolution.  The Crucifixion and the Crown of Thorns are symbols of the loving sacrifice and service that make new life possible.  These are symbols of transition. 

In my own imagining as I wrote this piece I saw Christ removing the crown of thorns and flinging it like a Frisbee!  An act of great joy and liberation. 

Another complementary element enters in with the vision description on page two of the score:

a darkening sky

seven stars are visible

the seven starred halo

the golden light

the hands of blessing

This is an image that came to me as I sat in the Philadelphia airport following the PASIC convention.  The halo now seems to me an analogue for the crown of thorns:  its spiritual equivalent.  The golden light and the hands of blessing are symbols of the renewing power of life.

The foregoing is a rather terse condensation of thoughts and perceptions arising out of these very powerful symbols.  This thinking is the spiritual backdrop of the music and I offer it simply as a starting point for your own thinking on the music. 

The music has a moody and misty introduction and coda, but is for the most part bright, exuberant, energetic.  It is a fantasia of sorts (which says precious little) with elements of sonata form as its basis- I have been partial to sonata form in the past because it has offered me a flexible framework for the evolution of melody.  My thematic elements in this piece evolve from one another and are not [highly] contrasted.  The piece is sectional but with strong elements of continuity. 

I'll give you a brief structural analysis:

intro= motives, thematic elements

m. 47= first bold thematic statement

m. 65= 2nd "theme" - an evolution of the first.

m. 87= 3rd "theme" - an evolution of the second

m. 107= concluding area of "exposition"

m. 144= soft interlude-variation of theme 1.

m. 163 start of "development"

m. 211 "recap" of sorts- the biggest, broadest statement of that theme.

m. 248- reference to slow intro.

m. 257- reference to m. 87 (3rd theme element) recap of all this material

m. 308 to end - coda

Tempo structure is critical and must be laid out with great care.  The driving quality, forceful accents, especially consistency of accents in repeated passages, are very important- there is a very strong "Romantic quality"-i.e. an emotional fullness which must be allowed to blossom. 

After nine years [from the original commission date] it took two weeks to write this piece (and 3 to score it) -the moment had to be right for this music to come out.