DIAMOND: Symphony No. 3 / Psalm / Kaddish

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David Diamond (b. 1915)

Psalm • Kaddish for Cello and Orchestra • Symphony No. 3

Seattle Symphony Honorary Composer in Residence David Diamond was born on 9th July, 1915, in Rochester, N.Y. He clearly declared his principles in his own words: "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". This captures 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 first place.

David 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. 3 in 1945, though it had to wait another five years for its première with Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony. Initially, according to the composer, Artur Rodzinski and the Chicago Symphony had promised to perform it, "but things kept coming up, and it was never played." Several years later, Diamond, who had known Munch since 1936, ran into the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s conductor in Paris, showed him the score and explained the difficulties he had faced in trying to get it performed. "But this is ridiculous–we must have it performed. I will do it next season." Munch lived up to his promise.

Diamond provided notes for the Boston première of Symphony No. 3, writing "It consolidates a cyclic form by amalgamating all of the thematic material [presented] throughout. Apart from [the] principal…materials and their development in all [four] movements, two ‘motival’ themes [connect] the entire symphony cyclically, appearing [either] completely or in fragments A (a), or A (b) or combined with B."

Resolute in its tonal vocabulary, the first movement, Allegro deciso, is cast in traditional sonata form with an extensive development section. A flowing Andante follows, offering ample contrast to the vibrancy of the first movement, and enchanting the ear with such arresting sonorities as three unison flutes accompanied by harp and piano. The Scherzo that follows without pause is impelled by a strong rhythmic figure iterated by the snare drum. The work concludes with an essentially lyrical finale that opens and closes with an elegiac section flanking a quicker episode with solos for clarinet and oboe.

In 1987 Gerard Schwarz suggested to Diamond that he compose a work for Yo-Yo Ma. "You know," said the composer, "I’ve always wanted to write a Kaddish [the ancient Hebrew prayer for the dead]; in fact, I tried for years to write one for cello and piano, but the piano seemed too weak for the conception I had in mind. Maybe now I can write a Kaddish for cello and orchestra…"

Diamond refers to Kaddish as a "ritual" piece. Though the actual Hebrew prayer has traditional melodies associated with it, the composer created his own, based on his knowledge of cantorial singing practices. Diamond had this to say about the composition, which he completed in 1989: "Taking the rhythmic articulation of the opening words [of the Kaddish], "Yisgadal, v’yiskadash, sh’may raboh" ("Magnified and sanctified be His Great Name in the world which He hath created…"), and utilizing several ancient Biblical cantilations of synagogue music, I constructed two contrasting thematic ideas which are employed rhapsodically. The first is expansive, heard at the outset in the orchestra. The solo cello then enters with the second theme, meditative and reflective in spirit. It is the cello that takes the rôle of the Cantor, really, and the orchestra comments on his rôle."

In 1936, Diamond visited the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris to pay his respects at the graves of Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt, among other artistic notables interred there. The "encounter" inspired him to compose Psalm, which he dedicated to André Gide, whom he met that same year after he had already completed the composition. Diamond and Gide, in fact, played through a four-hand arrangement of Psalm before its orchestral première in Rochester at the 1937 Festival of American Music conducted by Howard Hanson. It won the Juilliard Publication Award that year and was taken up by orchestras and conductors throughout the country, including Pierre Monteux, Leopold Stokowski and several other luminaries in the pantheon of renowned directors.

Laid out in "song" form, i.e., A-B-A, Psalm was well received by audiences and critics alike. Alfred Frankenstein, for many years the doyen of San Francisco-based critics, referred to Psalm’s "…fine, granitic seriousness and…spare, telling use of the orchestra."

Steven Lowe

© 2002 Seattle Symphony

Item number 8559155
Barcode 636943915523
Release date 07/01/2004
Category 20th Century
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Starker, Janos
Starker, Janos
Composers Diamond, David
Diamond, David
Conductors Schwarz, Gerard
Schwarz, Gerard
Orchestras Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Producers Tucker, Lawrence E.
Tucker, Lawrence E.
Disc: 1
Symphony No. 3
1 Psalm
2 Kaddish for Cello and Orchestra
3 Allegro deciso
4 Andante
5 Allegro vivo
6 Adagio assai
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