David Diamond (b. 1915): Symphonies Nos. 2 and 4
\It is my strong feeling that a romantically inspiredcontemporary music, tempered by reinvigorated classical technical formulas, isthe way out of the present period of creativity chaos in music...To me, theromantic spirit in music is important because it is timeless."
These words by the Seattle Symphony Honorary Composer inResidence David Diamond capture the essence not only of the composer himself,but of an entire generation of American composers whose heartfelt music wasborn during the Great Depression and World War II. Yet rather than merelycharacterize a past era, the romantic spirit has been re-kindled during thepast quarter-century. For some thirty years following World War II, theapostles of post-Webernian serialism and its offshoots determined the course ofcontemporary classical music. Diamond, and other such neo-Romantic voices asRoy Harris, Samuel Barber, Howard Hanson, William Schuman and Walter Piston, toname only American composers of that persuasion, was dismissed with animperious wave of the academic hand and a curt "irrelevant" from the lips -- orpen -- of the ideologically purist Pierre Boulez.
David Diamond lived in Italy during the 1950s, returning tothe United States for his fiftieth birthday in 1965. "I lived in Italy forclose to sixteen years," he confided, "and the entire Italian musicalestablishment was dominated by the advanced twelve-note avant-garde. EverywhereI submitted music it was turned down because it was considered old-fashioned."
While in no way demeaning the many fine works that have comefrom Boulez and gifted composers who trod the chaste path of serialism, timehas proven them wrong in consigning Diamond and his gloriously unrepentantRomantics to the trash bin of music history. In music, as in life itself, thereare many roads to truth, many different drums whose rhythms attract some andrepel others. One thing is very clear: Many composers and audiences have eitherre-embraced the Romantic spirit or never left its enveloping warmth in thefirst place.
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 musictaps into an American psyche hungering for a musical experience analogous orequivalent to spiritual satisfaction.
Diamond composed his Symphony No. 2 in 1942-43, a period ofanxiety for the composer as an American whose country was at war and as anartist in lacking a solid financial underpinning. Encouraged by conductorDimitri Mitropoulos, Diamond sent the score to the Boston Symphony conductorSerge 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. Theactual premi?¿re concert performance followed on 22nd October, 1944.
The first movement begins quietly, even sombrely, withsoft-spoken timpani and strings. As the dynamics gradually increase, the upperstrings present in unison a lovely and expansive first theme. More stringsenter, enriching the texture. An elegiac quality permeates the entire movement.The prevailing textures recall the "American" sound of Copland, yet at timesevoke the spare-textured beauty of the Adagio finale of Mahler's NinthSymphony. A poignant second theme emerges, played by a solo oboe over trillingviolas. Menacing timpani darken the atmosphere from an elegiac mood to one ofominous anxiety. The two themes and material from the introductory measures aredeveloped and mutated, and the movement ends with a brief coda.
The composer says of the scherzo-like second movement, "thebasic material [is] a rhythmic figure mockingly tossed back and forth betweencellos and one bassoon." As a unifying device, this figure derives from thesecond theme of the first movement. The overall mood is one of almost unbridledferocity, at great remove from the inwardly grieving tenor of the openingAdagio funebre. Having recovered from this energetic Allegro vivo, the composerobliges with another slow movement marked Andante espressivo, quasi adagio,that blends new thematic material with echoes from the first movement's openingmotif. A solo clarinet tune emerges followed by a chorale-like paragraph forstrings. The clarinet theme returns as a fitting subject for a fugato passagefor horns and strings in unison, playing to the composer's authentic gift forcontrapuntal writing. The elegiac nature of the first movement is countered bythe 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 composedSymphonies 3 and 4. Once again, the Boston Symphony music director proved hismettle by persuading the Koussevitzky Foundation to commission the FourthSymphony. Diamond graciously dedicated the new work to the conductor's latewife, Natalie Koussevitzky. The premi?¿re took place 23rd January, 1948 with theBoston Symphony, but under Leonard Bernstein, who replaced an indisposedKoussevitzky.
A compact but probing work, the Fourth Symphony was created in an atmosphere fraughtwith thoughts of mortality on the part of the composer. Diamond reflected that"the entire symphony was created with the idea of...[Gustav Theodor] Fechner'stheories of life and death as, I - a continual sleep, II - the alternationbetween sleeping and waking, and III - eternal waking, Birth being the passingfrom I to II and Death transition from II to III."
The opening Allegretto begins with swirling motion before amodal theme emerges from the primordial nebula of sound. An engaging, pensive two-partpastoral theme is given voice by muted strings, clarinet and bass clarinetbefore yielding to a variant given by upper strings without mutes. A secondtheme introduced by solo oboe promises a lighter mood. At a climactic moment,the two themes merge in conversational counterpoint before a brief coda bringsthe movement to a comparatively gentle close.
The Adagio--Andante second movement introduces itself througha "chorale-like theme of religious and supplicating nature". Rather stern inits initial appearance, its demeanour is softened by restatement by strings. Along-breathed second theme, modal and august in understated grandeur, unfoldsin two parts, the first entrusted to winds, the second to first and secondviolins. A coda restores the initial chorale-like theme and the movement endsdelicately in the hands of the violins.
The brash and assertive finale, impelled by percussivepiano, barking brass, scurrying woods and hammering drums carries one along onwaves of manic exuberance. The music breathes the fresh air of the Americanoutdoors, be it of real or imagined geography.
?® 2004 Seattle Symphony