Born on July 9, 1915, in Rochester, NY; died on June 13, 2005, in Rochester, NY. Education: Attended Cleveland Institute of Music; Eastman School of Music; New School, New York City; studied composition privately with Roger Sessions and with Nadia Boulanger.
The American composer and teacher David Diamond wrote in a wide variety of styles and in virtually every medium. The strength of his music lay in its imposing formal design and its serious expression, although it also embodied lyrical warmth and romanticism. Diamond was one of a group of composers who forged a distinctly American idiom of classical music in the middle of the twentieth century. He lived long enough to see his music fall out of favor due to the influence of the European-devised 12-tone system, and then to witness its revival during the more eclectic scene at the end of the twentieth century.
David Diamond was born on July 9, 1915, in Rochester, New York. He was the son of Austrian-Polish Jewish immigrants who could not afford to cultivate the musical aptitude that their son showed from about the age of six. Fortunately, the young boy's abilities also impressed others who were in a better position to help him. At a public school in Rochester, he received a violin and free lessons, and in 1927, when the family moved to Cleveland, André de Ribaupierre taught him violin and theory without remuneration at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
Upon returning to Rochester in 1929, Diamond entered the preparatory department of the Eastman School of Music on a scholarship, studying violin with Effie Knauss and composition with Bernard Rogers. He continued at Eastman as an undergraduate after finishing high school in 1933, but left after one year to move to New York. Again on a scholarship, he studied the Dalcroze method of Eurhythmics with Paul Boepple and composition with Roger Sessions at the New School from 1934 to 1936, and continued privately with Sessions until 1937.
Diamond made three trips to Paris in the mid-to-late 1930s (the last through funds from the first of three Guggenheim Fellowships), where he studied with the famous French teacher Nadia Boulanger and met many of the great artists then living in Paris, such as Albert Roussel, Igor Stravinsky, Maurice Ravel, André Gide, and Charles Munch. Important compositions from these Paris years include the first of his three violin concertos (1936, 1947, and 1967); Psalm for orchestra (1936), his first work to receive wide attention and also the Juilliard Publication Award in 1938; a cello concerto (1938); and Heroic Piece (1938) for small orchestra. He applied for a job teaching at Columbia University in 1938 but was turned down, and he recalled to Chris Pasles of the Los Angeles Times that he was told he should "stop wearing turtleneck sweaters," which he believed was an indication that he should keep his homosexuality in the closet.
Germany's declaration of war on France in 1939 brought Diamond back to the United States for most of the next 12 years. At first he had to scramble financially, working the night shift at a soda counter and then landing a spot as violinist in the orchestra of the weekly Hit Parade radio show. During this time he composed both chamber and orchestral works, and their performance attracted financial support from foundations and other funders. Among his chamber works of the period are the first three of his eleven string quartets; a piano quartet for which he won the Paderewsky Prize (1938); a concerto for two solo pianos (1942); a sonata for piano (1947); and a Chaconne for violin and piano (1948). Orchestral works of the period include the first four of his eight symphonies; The Dream of Audubon, a ballet (1941); music for Shakespeare's The Tempest for orchestra (1944); Rounds for string orchestra (1944); music for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet for orchestra (1947); and a piano concerto (1950).
Diamond lectured on American music in Salzburg during the summer of 1949, and two years later went to Italy on a Fulbright Fellowship. His motivations for leaving were complex. Diamond's brand of accessible orchestral music was being temporarily eclipsed by the difficult, rigorously intellectual 12-tone method. He also pointed to anti-Semitism and resistance to his open homosexuality as reasons for a decline in the performance of his works in the United States, and he was dismayed by a subpoena to appear before the U.S. House of Un-American Activities Committee. He stayed in Italy, first in Rome and then in Florence, for 14 years, returning to the United States on two occasions (1961 and 1963) to teach at the State University of New York at Buffalo as Slee Professor of Music. The years in Italy proved musically productive for Diamond, who composed works including The Midnight Meditation, a cycle for voice and piano (1951); a piano trio (1951); string quartets 4-8; symphonies 5-8; sonatas for solo violin (1954) and for cello (1956); Sinfonia Concertante (1954-1956); The World of Paul Klee for orchestra (1957); a woodwind quintet (1958); The Sacred Ground for baritone, chorus, children's chorus, and orchestra (1962); and Elegies for flute, English horn, and strings (1963).
Returning to the United States in 1965, Diamond became chair of the composition department at the Manhattan School of Music; he resigned in 1967. A position as composer-in-residence at the American Academy of Rome drew him back to Italy during 1971 and 1972. After 1973 he was professor of composition at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. Some of his better-known compositions from the years 1964 to 1984 were We Two (1964), Hebrew Melodies (1967), and The Fall (cycles for voice and piano, 1970); Music for Chamber Orchestra (1969); The Noblest Game, (an opera, 1971-1975); a piano quintet (1972); and Ode to the Morning of Christ's Nativity for a cappella chorus (1980).
Several writers have suggested that the early 1950s marked a rather abrupt change to a dissonant and nontonal style, some even stating that Diamond had taken up the 12-tone method. Diamond himself refuted this last statement in an article appearing in the New York Times, saying, "I am not now and never have been a 12-tone composer." He even commented to Matt Schudel of the Washington Post: "I hated all that avant-garde stuff. It was all wrong. They don't write out of love." While his music became gradually less tonal in later years, he always commanded a variety of styles, which he used according to the function of the music. The music for Broadway productions of Shakespeare plays, for instance, was quite lush and tonal, while the more absolute works, such as the fourth symphony, frequently involved a more complicated language (here polytonality). As the grip of the 12-tone system over American compositional life began to loosen, Diamond's works enjoyed a revival in popularity. He was championed by conductors such as Leonard Bernstein and by Seattle Symphony music director Gerard Schwarz.
The 1980s and 1990s saw works such as the ninth symphony in a series that Diamond had begun nearly 45 years earlier. The symphonies were introduced steadily from 1940 until 1965, but it was not until 1985 that Diamond finally unveiled the ninth. In 1996, the Juilliard Orchestra performed the world premiere of Diamond's Concerto For String Quartet and Orchestra, which the Juilliard School commissioned from Diamond in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Juilliard Quartet. The performance met high praise, notably from the Village Voice's Leighton Kerner, who wrote, "American music boasts no composer more brilliant or more melodically imaginative, and this new concerto bears out the fact." Even at 81 years of age, Diamond seemed to have boundless reservoirs of creativity and energy.
Modern rhythmic complexities energized his later compositions such as Warning for chorus and tubular bells (1973). While thus embracing some of the innovations of the twentieth century, Diamond rejected others, most emphatically the aleatoric or chance music of John Cage and his followers. Reflecting on his career, Diamond commented, "One hopes the future will bring my music to a larger audience, one not interested in Trends and The Now, but music for All Time, for all humanity." He remained active into old age, completing his Symphony No. 11 in 1991 in response to a commission from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra on the occasion of its 150th anniversary. Diamond died in Rochester on June 13, 2005.
David Diamond's Career
Worked night shift at soda counter, New York, 1939; played violin in Hit Parade radio orchestra, early 1940s; works widely performed by American symphony orchestras, 1940s; moved to Rome, 1951; taught at Rome University, early 1950s; lived in Florence, Italy, early 1950s-1965; taught at University of Buffalo, 1961, 1963; returned to U.S., taught at Manhattan School of Music, 1965-67; professor of composition, Julliard School, New York City, 1973-86.
David Diamond's Awards
Guggenheim Fellowship, 1938 (renewed, 1940s); New York Music Critics' Circle Award, for String Quartet No. 3, 1947; William Schuman Lifetime Achievement Award, 1986; American Academy of Arts and Letters, gold medal, 1991; National Medal of the Arts, 1995.
- Selected works
- Sinfonietta (for orchestra), 1935.
- TOM ballet, 1936.
- Elegy in Memory of Ravel for strings and percussion, 1937.
- Psalm for Orchestra 1937.
- Elegy in Memory of Maurice Ravel 1937.
- Symphony No. 1, 1941.
- Concerto for Two Solo Pianos, 1942.
- String Quartet No. 2, 1943.
- Symphony No. 2, 1943.
- Rounds (for string orchestra), 1944.
- Symphony No. 3, 1945.
- String Quartet No. 3, 1946.
- Sonata for Piano, 1947.
- Chaconne for Violin and Piano, 1948.
- String Quartet No. 4, 1951.
- Symphony No. 5, 1965.
- String Quartet No. 8, 1965.
- To Music (for orchestra and chorus), 1967.
- The Noblest Game (opera), 1975.
- Symphony No. 11, 1991.
- Contemporary Composers, St. James, 1992.
- Ewen, David, American Composers: A Biographical Dictionary, 1982.
- Kimberling, Victoria, David Diamond: A Bio-Bibliography, Scarecrow, 1987.
- Daily Telegraph (London, England), June 25, 2005.
- Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2005, p. B11.
- Music Journal, April 1964.
- New York Times, April 22, 1965; June 15, 2005, p. C20.
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel, June 24, 2005.
- Times (London, England), July 1, 2005, p. 70.
- Village Voice, October 22, 1996.
- Washington Post, June 16, 2005, p. B6.
- "David Diamond," Peer Music Classical, http://www.peermusicclassical.com/composer/Diamond.cfm (March 10, 2006).