RIP: David Diamond

Discussion in 'Orchestra / Solo / Chamber Music' started by robertwhite, Jun 15, 2005.

  1. robertwhite

    robertwhite Mezzo Piano User

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    Nov 11, 2003
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/15/arts/music/15diamond.html?

    By DANIEL J. WAKIN
    Published: June 15, 2005
    David Diamond, a major American composer whose early brilliance in the 1940's was eclipsed by the dominance of atonal music but who later experienced a renaissance, died on Monday evening. He was 89.

    The cause was congestive heart failure, said Samuel Elliott, a close friend who took care of his affairs. Mr. Diamond had lived at an assisted-living residence in his native Rochester since July 2003.

    Mr. Diamond could be prickly and dour, a sometimes troublesome character by his own admission, who knew many of the greatest composers and conductors of the 20th century. In a sense, his rise, obscurity and then resurgence mirrored the larger story of American classical music in the last 50 years, as it moved from domination by atonalism to a sometimes tonal, even Romantic idiom.

    As a composer, Mr. Diamond wrote music marked by a deep sense of structure - he was a master of fugues and sets of variations - and at times by tart harmonies and wiry melodies. His notes could convey an ascetic quality, but also a lush, intense lyricism.

    "I would say that it was beautiful music, in the sense he had a tremendous melodic gift," said Gerard Schwarz, the music director of the Seattle Symphony and a champion of the composer. "At times it was as elegant and expressive as music can be, and at times extremely driven." Mr. Diamond was an innovator, too, anticipating the Americana heard in the music of Aaron Copland, Mr. Schwarz said.

    Summing up his place in music, the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians said, "His meticulous craftsmanship and his musical sensibility have assured his position as a 20th-century Romantic classicist."

    Mr. Diamond was prolific in many forms, including ballets and film scores, but his greatest contributions were his 10 string quartets, a large output of songs and, chiefly, 11 symphonies.

    He was part of what some considered a forgotten generation of great American symphonists, including Howard Hanson, Roy Harris, William Schuman, Walter Piston and Peter Mennin. They had something of a comeback in the 1980's and 90's, promoted by conductors like Mr. Schwarz, who said that Mr. Diamond's Second Symphony was arguably the greatest American symphony of the 20th century.

    Mr. Diamond was born on July 9, 1915, in Rochester and attended the Eastman School of Music there. He went to New York to study with Roger Sessions and blossomed as a composer in Paris, where he went to study with Nadia Boulanger in 1936. In Paris he crossed paths with figures like James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Igor Stravinsky.

    Maurice Ravel was an admirer. "I think he was interested because of my purple turtleneck sweaters," Mr. Diamond said in a 1990 interview with The New York Times. "I had once seen him perform, and he wore a peculiar checkered suit, with yellow shoes, purple socks, a green shirt and a purple bow tie - all with this wonderful graying hair."

    Once he returned to the United States, his career had a blazing start. He received important commissions. Leonard Bernstein championed him, as did Serge Koussevitzky, Charles Munch and Dimitri Mitropoulos. The New York Philharmonic gave the premiere of his First Symphony in 1941.

    But in the 1950's Mr. Diamond and his fellow traditionalists began to fade from favor as atonal and serial music asserted itself on the forefront of new music. Some deemed Mr. Diamond's music too hidebound. "These guys were important, famous composers," Mr. Schwarz said. "Then the serialists took over."

    Another reason for the drift in his career may have been Mr. Diamond's difficult personality. "I had a reputation as a problem person," he said in the 1990 interview. "I was a highly emotional young man, very honest in my behavior, and I would say things in public that would cause a scene between me and, for instance, a conductor."

    Mr. Schwarz recounted that in 1943, when the New York Philharmonic was reading through the Second Symphony in Carnegie Hall with Bernstein conducting, the orchestra's music director, Artur Rodzinski, banished Mr. Diamond from the hall. Mr. Diamond repaired to the Russian Tea Room, got drunk and, when the two men came in, punched the taller Rodzinski in the nose. (It was daring, considering Rodzinski's reputation for carrying a revolver.)

    But the animosity did not last. Years later, Rodzinski helped arrange a commission for Mr. Diamond from a wealthy patron.

    Mr. Diamond also blamed anti-Semitism and attitudes toward his open homosexuality for the decline of his fortunes, and in 1951 he moved to Italy. He lived there for a dozen years before returning.

    Mr. Diamond had one sister, Sabina Cohen, who died in 1991. He is survived by a nephew, Noal Cohen of Montclair, N.J., Mr. Elliott said.

    The ascendancy of 12-tone composition to his detriment angered Mr. Diamond at the time. But in the 1990 interview, he said: "I don't look back in anger because I feel that I've won the battle. The others have disappeared."

    He also defended his style: "It's very simple: we're honest composers. We've composed music that we find beautiful, that we have loved. You have to write music that will be loved. Now if that's a sentimental concept of what being a composer is, then I'm very sorry."
     

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