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ClassicsOnline Home » DIAMOND: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 4
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The symphonies of David Diamond are highly accessible and yet very musically satisfying. They are warmly lyrical, aspiring and hopeful, but not without stress, darker moments and (especially in the later symphonies) more abrasive and dissonant writing. They have a wonderful momentum to them.
These are two early symphonies (Diamond wrote 11 in all). The second was written during the Second World War and has a program concerning the USA’s involvement in that conflict. Although this work served as a perfect, patriotic wartime symphony, it stands on its own feet post-war as a high quality work in its own right. The fourth is another beautiful work.
Diamond’s works generally are so good there isn’t really anything much that needs to be said about them, listen and enjoy!more....
By David Gutman
David Diamond (b. 1915): Symphonies Nos. 2 and 4
“It is my strong feeling that a romantically inspired
contemporary music, tempered by reinvigorated classical technical formulas, is
the way out of the present period of creativity chaos in music…To me, the
romantic spirit in music is important because it is timeless.”
These words by the Seattle Symphony Honorary Composer in
Residence David Diamond capture the essence not only of the composer himself,
but of an entire generation of American composers whose heartfelt music was
born during the Great Depression and World War II. Yet rather than merely
characterize a past era, the romantic spirit has been re-kindled during the
past quarter-century. For some thirty years following World War II, the
apostles of post-Webernian serialism and its offshoots determined the course of
contemporary classical music. Diamond, and other such neo-Romantic voices as
Roy Harris, Samuel Barber, Howard Hanson, William Schuman and Walter Piston, to
name only American composers of that persuasion, was dismissed with an
imperious wave of the academic hand and a curt “irrelevant” from the lips — or
pen — of the ideologically purist Pierre Boulez.
David Diamond lived in Italy during the 1950s, returning to
the United States for his fiftieth birthday in 1965. “I lived in Italy for
close to sixteen years,” he confided, “and the entire Italian musical
establishment was dominated by the advanced twelve-note avant-garde. Everywhere
I submitted music it was turned down because it was considered old-fashioned.”
While in no way demeaning the many fine works that have come
from Boulez and gifted composers who trod the chaste path of serialism, time
has proven them wrong in consigning Diamond and his gloriously unrepentant
Romantics to the trash bin of music history. In music, as in life itself, there
are many roads to truth, many different drums whose rhythms attract some and
repel others. One thing is very clear: Many composers and audiences have either
re-embraced the Romantic spirit or never left its enveloping warmth in the
Diamond’s patience and determination have served him well,
and it is a blessing that he has survived attack and neglect for many decades.
He is now considered, with ample reason, to be a national treasure whose music
taps into an American psyche hungering for a musical experience analogous or
equivalent to spiritual satisfaction.
Diamond composed his Symphony No. 2 in 1942-43, a period of
anxiety for the composer as an American whose country was at war and as an
artist in lacking a solid financial underpinning. Encouraged by conductor
Dimitri Mitropoulos, Diamond sent the score to the Boston Symphony conductor
Serge Koussevitzky, renowned for his ongoing support of contemporary music.
After a read-through of the symphony, that is to say, not a public performance,
the Boston musicians responded with an outpouring of spontaneous applause. The
actual première concert performance followed on 22nd October, 1944.
The first movement begins quietly, even sombrely, with
soft-spoken timpani and strings. As the dynamics gradually increase, the upper
strings present in unison a lovely and expansive first theme. More strings
enter, enriching the texture. An elegiac quality permeates the entire movement.
The prevailing textures recall the “American” sound of Copland, yet at times
evoke the spare-textured beauty of the Adagio finale of Mahler’s Ninth
Symphony. A poignant second theme emerges, played by a solo oboe over trilling
violas. Menacing timpani darken the atmosphere from an elegiac mood to one of
ominous anxiety. The two themes and material from the introductory measures are
developed and mutated, and the movement ends with a brief coda.
The composer says of the scherzo-like second movement, “the
basic material [is] a rhythmic figure mockingly tossed back and forth between
cellos and one bassoon.” As a unifying device, this figure derives from the
second theme of the first movement. The overall mood is one of almost unbridled
ferocity, at great remove from the inwardly grieving tenor of the opening
Adagio funebre. Having recovered from this energetic Allegro vivo, the composer
obliges with another slow movement marked Andante espressivo, quasi adagio,
that blends new thematic material with echoes from the first movement’s opening
motif. A solo clarinet tune emerges followed by a chorale-like paragraph for
strings. The clarinet theme returns as a fitting subject for a fugato passage
for horns and strings in unison, playing to the composer’s authentic gift for
contrapuntal writing. The elegiac nature of the first movement is countered by
the optimism of the concluding, lively rondo, which is based on a jaunty,
unmistakably “American” theme that binds the movement together.
In the final year of the war, 1945, Diamond composed
Symphonies 3 and 4. Once again, the Boston Symphony music director proved his
mettle by persuading the Koussevitzky Foundation to commission the Fourth
Symphony. Diamond graciously dedicated the new work to the conductor’s late
wife, Natalie Koussevitzky. The première took place 23rd January, 1948 with the
Boston Symphony, but under Leonard Bernstein, who replaced an indisposed
A compact but probing work, the Fourth Symphony was created in an atmosphere fraught
with thoughts of mortality on the part of the composer. Diamond reflected that
“the entire symphony was created with the idea of…[Gustav Theodor] Fechner’s
theories of life and death as, I – a continual sleep, II – the alternation
between sleeping and waking, and III – eternal waking, Birth being the passing
from I to II and Death transition from II to III.”
The opening Allegretto begins with swirling motion before a
modal theme emerges from the primordial nebula of sound. An engaging, pensive two-part
pastoral theme is given voice by muted strings, clarinet and bass clarinet
before yielding to a variant given by upper strings without mutes. A second
theme introduced by solo oboe promises a lighter mood. At a climactic moment,
the two themes merge in conversational counterpoint before a brief coda brings
the movement to a comparatively gentle close.
The Adagio—Andante second movement introduces itself through
a “chorale-like theme of religious and supplicating nature”. Rather stern in
its initial appearance, its demeanour is softened by restatement by strings. A
long-breathed second theme, modal and august in understated grandeur, unfolds
in two parts, the first entrusted to winds, the second to first and second
violins. A coda restores the initial chorale-like theme and the movement ends
delicately in the hands of the violins.
The brash and assertive finale, impelled by percussive
piano, barking brass, scurrying woods and hammering drums carries one along on
waves of manic exuberance. The music breathes the fresh air of the American
outdoors, be it of real or imagined geography.
© 2004 Seattle Symphony
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DIAMOND: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 4