David Diamond (b. 1915): Symphony No. 1 Violin ConcertoNo. 2
\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 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 rekindled 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, were dismissed with animperious wave of the academic hand and a curt "irrelevant" from the lips - orpen - of the ideologically purist Pierre Boulez.
While in no way demeaning the many fine works that have comefrom Boulez and gifted composers who trod the chaste path of serialism, time hasproven 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.
Like Anton Bruckner (with whom he was favorably compared byno less than Arnold Schonberg), David Diamond's symphonic canon began beforehis first-numbered essay in that hallowed form. Two student symphonies "nowsleep very comfortably in the Free Library in Philadelphia," the composer oncewrote. "I don't allow performances!"
In 1939, as the Nazis were invading France, Diamond returnedto the United States after studies with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Motivated andconfident after spending two years with the legendary teacher, the composer waseager to get down to the business of writing his first "real" symphony, as heput it. Upon completion of the score, Diamond wired three conductors, hoping tosecure a performance. The first to respond was Dimitri Mitropoulos, whoconducted the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Society in the premi?¿re on 21stDecember, 1941.
The composer's note details the structure of the Symphony:
"I. Allegro moderato con energia (4/4): An E minorintroduction by the full orchestra exploits a rising three-note motif (B, D, E)that leads to the Exposition of the principal subject, a theme in D minor (pocomeno mosso) shared by the oboe and violins freely extended and accompanied bythe three-note motif in stretto. The first climax follows, which exhausts theprincipal theme for the moment. The subsidiary theme follows in B minor, anangular subject punctuated by staggered chords that the solo trumpet rounds outand the strings develop sostenuto. A short Development section based on the sub-themebecomes a transition to the Recapitulation of the principal subject withanother climax, then further development of the motif, the principal, andsubsidiary subjects. The introduction returns, modified as a coda, to close themovement.
"II. Andante maestoso (4/4): This long-breathed melodicmovement is cast in three-part song form by turns polyphonic and homophonic.Strings present the first section, with solo winds and brass adding intensityto peaks in the melodic line, which uses the three-note motif (it also has anaccompanying r??le in the contrapuntal sections). The middle part (in D) isintroduced by the English horn, and features winds and brass on a cushion ofstrings, after which the first section returns.
"III. Maestoso-Adagio-Allegro vivo (chiefly in 3/4 and 4/4):A magisterial opening crystallizes the three-note motif into a rounded melodicphrase, a kind of alleluia by unison brass. This is developed at length bystrings and woodwinds with a horn accompaniment based on a figure from theclimactic passages in I. An acceleration leads to the rhythmically vigorousallegro vivo with its descending scale of 16th notes. They unify sections ofthe movement, which is a kind of rondo in A-B-C-A-B-A form. A final brassstatement of the opening phrase in augmentation launches a two-part coda. Thisincorporates the Introduction from I and then a build up of the three-notemotif in brass, strings and percussion to end the work."
Diamond's Violin Concerto No. 2 dates from 1947, the resultof a commission (arranged through conductor Artur Rodzinski) by Arthur Percivalfor his wife, violinist Dorotha Powers. The composer's comments convey thechallenges attendant to the work's performance history. "The Concerto had itsfirst and only performance to date by Ms. Powers with the Vancouver SymphonyOrchestra, Jacques Singer conducting, on February 29, 1948. Difficulties withthe Percival estate prevented any further performances until Gerard Schwarzarranged for its United States premi?¿re [May 6, 1991]."
Diamond also provided an explication of the musical 'text':"The first movement (Allegro aperto) is an extended sonata-allegro, highlylyrical and expansive, with broad, singing lines. The Adagio affettuoso thatfollows is an even broader singing movement, by turns affectingly lyrical anddramatically plangent, in A-B-A form. The third movement (Allegro vivo) is themost virtuosic - rhythmically bouncy and syncopated, but with steadier pulsesfor contrast, and an Andante section, again lyrical in character, that bringsback material from the earlier movements in varied forms. The whole finale maybe considered a kind of Rondo, with a short cadenza as another resting point,before the high spirits return."
Dating from 1922, E.E. Cummings' first published book, TheEnormous Room, describes the author's incarceration in a French detention campduring World War I when his loyalty had been questioned while serving as anambulance driver in the French army. The title refers to theeighty-by-forty-foot room at La Ferte Mace, where the poet spent three monthsin the fall of 1918, along with some five dozen men of various nationalities.In 1948, Diamond, inspired by Cummings' words and deeds, composed thisinstrumental work in which he "tried to interpret literary ideas in musicallyprogrammatic terms," he wrote. "I have allowed a natural lyric flow to expressqualities in feeling that are spiritually kindred to Cummings' moving words."And, "It is a book about the human spirit, about the individual and his privategarden of Love."
The score quotes from E.E. Cummings' book: "The EnormousRoom is filled with a new and beautiful darkness, the darkness of snow outside,falling and falling and falling with the silent and actual gesture which hastouched the soundless country of my mind as a child touches a toy it loves..."
Diamond describes the work as "...a free fantasy form. In theunfol