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David Diamond and “Psalm”


David Leo Diamond (July 9, 1915 – June 13, 2005) was an American composer who was born was born on July 9, 1915, in Rochester, NY. By the age of seven he was playing a violin borrowed from a family friend and writing original tunes in his own system of musical notation. In 1927 the Diamond family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where David’s talent finally came to the attention of Andre de Ribaupierre, a Swiss musician teaching in Cleveland, who arranged for him to receive his first formal training at the Cleveland Institute of Music. In 1930 the family returned to Rochester where Diamond continued his studies at the Eastman School or Music with Bernard Rogers in composition and Effie Knauss in violin. In the fall of 1934 Diamond went to New York City on a scholarship from the New Music School and Dalcroze Institute, studying with Paul Boepple and Roger Sessions until the spring of 1936.

That summer, Diamond was commissioned to compose the music for a ballet entitled TOM, to a scenario by E.E. Cummings based on “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, to be choreographed by Leonide Massine. Massine was near Paris, and Diamond was sent there to be near the choreographer. Although, due to financial problems, the work was never performed, Diamond did establish contacts with Darius Milhaud, Albert Roussel, and the composer he revered above all others, Maurice Ravel. On Diamond’s second visit to Paris in 1937, he joined the class of Nadia Boulanger at Fontainebleau. He was introduced to Igor Stravinsky, who listened to a four-hand piano version of Diamond’s just-written Psalm for orchestra. With a few revisions based on Stravinsky’s appraisal, Psalm won the 1937 Juilliard Publication Award, and was among the compositions influencing his receipt of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1938. The San Francisco Symphony Orchestra performed the Psalm under Pierre Monteux.

In fact, Diamond won a number of awards including three Guggenheim Fellowships, and is considered one of the preeminent American composers of his generation. Many of his works are tonal or modestly modal. His early compositions are typically triadic, often with widely spaced harmonies, giving them a distinctly American tone, but some of his works are consciously French in style. His later style became more chromatic. Upon Ravel’s death in 1937, Diamond wrote an Elegy for brass, percussion and harps (later arranged for strings and percussion), dedicated to the memory of the composer who had been his ideal. Diamond spent 1938-39 in Paris on his Guggenheim Fellowship, returning to the U.S. at the start of the Second World War.

In the 1940s Diamonds received a second Guggenheim Fellowship, the Prix de Rome, a commission from Dimitri Mitropoulos, resulting in the popular Diamond’s most popular piece Rounds for String Orchestra (1944), a commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation for his Symphony No. 4, and a National Academy of Arts and Letters grant. Among his other works are eleven symphonies (the last in 1993), other orchestral works, several concertos including three for violin, eleven string quartets, music for wind ensemble, other chamber music, piano pieces and vocal music. The String Quartet No. 4 from 1951 was nominated for a Grammy award in 1965, as recorded on Epic Records by the Beaux Arts Quartet. Diamond also composed the musical theme heard on the CBS Radio Network broadcast “Hear It Now” (1950–51) and its TV successor, “See It Now” (1951–58), both featuring the noted broadcast journalist, Edward R. Murrow.

In 1951 Diamond returned to Europe as Fulbright Professor. Peermusic Classical signed him to an exclusive contract in 1952, which enabled him to remain in Europe, eventually settling in Florence, Italy. Except for brief visits to the United States, such as the occasion of his appointment as Slee Professor at the University of Buffalo in 1961 and again in 1963, he remained in Italy until 1965. On his return to the U.S., Diamond was greeted by a series of country-wide concerts commemorating his fiftieth birthday. The New York Philharmonic performed two of his major orchestral works, the Symphony No. 5, with Leonard Bernstein conducting, and the Piano Concerto, conducted by Mr. Diamond himself. From 1965 to 1967 Diamond taught at the Manhattan School of Music. During these two years he was the recipient of several awards, among them the Rheta Sosland Chamber Music prize for his String Quartet No. 8, the Stravinsky ASCAP award, and election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

Diamond enjoyed enormous success in the 1940s and early ’50s with champions that included Koussevitzky, Bernstein, Munch, Ormandy and Mitropoulos but, in the 1960s and ’70s, the serial and modernist schools pushed him into the shadows. He was part of what some considered a forgotten generation of great American symphonists, including Howard Hanson, Roy Harris, William Schuman, Walter Piston, and Peter Mennin, whose work was eclipsed by the dominance of atonal music. Diamond was named honorary composer-in-residence of the Seattle Symphony. He was a longtime member of the Juilliard School faculty for some 25 years, starting in 1973, and is credited with advising Glenn Gould on his mid-career work, most notably his String Quartet, Op. 1.

In 1986, Diamond received the William Schuman Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1991 he was awarded the Gold Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Edward MacDowell Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement. In 1995, Diamond was awarded the National Medal of Arts by the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington D.C. In 1998 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree by Julliard. Just three weeks before he died, Diamond was honored with the Juilliard Medal at the 100th commencement ceremony of The Juilliard School. In 2005, Diamond died at the age of 89 at his home at Brighton in Monroe County, NY, from heart failure.

My collection includes the following works by Diamond:

Kaddish for Cello and Orchestra (1987).
Psalm (1936).
Symphony No. 3 (1945).


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