World-renowned composer David Maslanka died Sunday evening at his home in Missoula. During his career, Maslanka composed over 150 musical works, including 50 pieces for wind ensemble, eight symphonies and 17 concertos.
Maslanka was diagnosed with a severe form of colon cancer in June. He was 73 years old, and is survived by his three children.
Maxine Ramey, Director of the School of Music at the University of Montana, says she was shocked when she heard the news. “It was very sad. His illness just took him so quickly, and I don’t think anyone expected such a vibrant American composer who really was still in his prime as a composer to pass away so suddenly.”
Ramey says he was working on his tenth symphony when he died. “I think his most important works are for the symphonic wind ensemble. And as a leading American composer of that genre, one can’t find a more important composer.”
“His music had that Americana feel even though it might have been using new techniques," says Ramey. "It still sounded American. You could still hear familiar tunes, and familiar harmonies. And he just had that as part of his composition.”
David Maslanka was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1943. He attended the Oberlin College Conservatory where he studied composition with Joseph Wood. He spent a year at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, and did masters and doctoral study in composition at Michigan State University. Maslanka moved to Missoula with his family in 1990.
Ramey was part of a commissioning for one of Maslanka’s clarinet concertos, and performed the piece at the University of Montana. She says, “he certainly was a composer who inspired performers, much of the same way as other great composers in the world have done, Beethoven and Mozart and Stravinsky. They always challenged the composers to go to another place in their own performance. And he did that."
Maslanka didn’t teach formally at the university of Montana, but Ramey says he had a significant influence on the faculty and students. “He was very generous in working with our students and having our students perform his music and be right there to help them understand it. And so while he wasn’t a faculty member, he was part of our musical family in our school of music 100 percent. And I can also say in the public schools.”
Maslanka wrote numerous pieces of music for local middle schools and high schools. Ramey says “he was part of a musical family of all of Missoula.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Maslanka's age. He was 73 when when died. We regret the error.