July 9, 1915 - June 13, 2005
born in Rochester, NY, composed during the Contemporary period
One of the twentieth century's most venerated musicians, American composer David Diamond was born in Rochester, New York in 1915. He showed exceptional musical promise as a young boy, and at age 12 began studies at the newly formed Cleveland Institute of Music, returning to Rochester in 1930 to take lessons from Bernard Rogers at the Eastman School. A year of work with Roger Sessions (partly through the Dalcroze Institute in New York) in 1935 was followed by a two-year stay in Paris, during which time, in addition to formal studies with Nadia Boulanger, Diamond made the acquaintance of Stravinsky and Ravel (the latter having a particularly strong impact on the 21-year-old composer's musical outlook).
Recognition came early for Diamond, and by 1938 he had already been awarded the Juilliard Publication Award for his 1936 orchestral work Psalm and the first of three Guggenheim Fellowships. Major conductors took note of Diamond's colorful orchestral style and in 1941 his First Symphony was premiered by Dimitri Mitropoulos and the New York Philharmonic, launching Diamond's 60-year reign as one the country's pre-eminent symphonists. A study of Diamond's 11 symphonies is, in effect, the study of a constantly evolving compositional ethic.
Beyond his musical abilities, Diamond was especially talented at securing study and composition grants that allowed him to spend extended periods in Europe, but he was always short of the money needed to return home. [Songwriter-turned-movie producer Arthur Freed, aware of this odd quirk in Diamond's professional history, used the composer as one-half of the inspiration for the character played by Oscar Levant in the 1951 feature An American In Paris (the other half inspired by Levant himself)]. Appointed Fulbright Professor at the University of Rome in 1951, Diamond remained in Italy (especially Florence, a city he came to love) until 1965, when he returned to the U.S. to take over as head of the composition department at the Manhattan School of Music. In addition to serving as vice-president of the National Institute of the Arts, Diamond was an active member of ASCAP. Diamond became professor of composition at The Juilliard School in 1973, where he taught well into the 1990s. 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. Then, in 1995, he was a recipient of the National Medal of Arts in a ceremony at the White House.
Best known as a symphonist, Diamond emerged in the late 1930s as a basically diatonic composer with strong Romantic roots and a natural flair for effective structural drama. By the 1950s, however, an ever-increasing interest in chromaticism led to his adoption of some serial techniques, which he synthesized into a highly personalized musical language. Diamond's orchestral and chamber music, the backbone of his contribution to the repertory, displays a keen interest in counterpoint and a craftsmanlike command of melody that owes something to his abiding love of Ravel. During the last years of the twentieth century, the popular Adagio from the Symphony No.11 fueled something of a renewed public interest in Diamond and his music. ~ Blair Johnston, Rovi