Composer  David  Diamond
 
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie



diamond



The nationally-syndicated columnist for the Chicago Daily News, Sydney J. Harris, titled a recurring feature,
Things I Learned En Route to Looking Up Other Things.  The burgeoning internet provides everyone with this opportunity on a daily basis.  Use of any of the search engines brings up a long list of hits related to the parameters indicated.  Some are exactly on target; others are closely related, and eventually one contends with items of marginal interest. 

I bring this up because a search of my own name has brought surprising results.  I am pleased that my interviews have been quoted and cited in places large and small
— from The New York Times and Opera News to blogs and school reports — but nothing prepared me for a full interview in audio format showing up on YouTube! 

I try very hard to control the use of my material, and numerous requests for copies are mostly turned down.  I sometimes allow researchers to explore a specific guest, but even then I impose restrictions as to use and deny any further copying or distribution.  I have always, however, gladly made duplicates of the conversations upon request of the guest or their family.  This was the case with composer David Diamond.

We first spoke on the phone in 1986.  I subsequently used material from that interview on WNIB later that year and in mid-1990.  Then in the fall of 1990, Diamond was
in Chicago to attend performances of his Symphony #5 by the Chicago Symphony conducted by Michael Morgan.  He was most gracious to see me for an in-person conversation at his hotel during the visit.  We spoke for about forty-five minutes and after we were finished he asked to have a copy of the chat.  A few days later I duplicated the cassette and sent it off, just as I had done on numerous occasions with other guests.  Other than being pleased that he asked, I thought nothing more of it. 

I used some of the material from this fresh conversation twice on three different outlets
— WNIB, WNUR, and Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.  I had also planned to have it transcribed for inclusion in this website series, but before that happened, I made my discovery.  Fortunately, the presentation seems to be clear and intact, with no additions or alterations.  Full credit is given to me and its original purpose, so in the end I am pleased that it is there — perhaps like singers who find pirated recordings of their own performances!

Now I have transcribed and slightly edited the interview
— as I do with all my presentations — and have posted it as part of my ongoing series on this website.  As you will see, my guest was forthright and open with his opinions.  Though not jovial, I sensed a slight playfulness in some of his responses, and indeed his postcard to me after receiving the tape showed this slightly sardonic side.

Here is
what transpired that afternoon . . . . .


Bruce Duffie:   It seems that for quite a number of years your symphonies were languishing, and now they have emerged again with ever increased vigor.  Does this give you a special sense of joy to have the symphonies and other music come back again?

David Diamond:   I’ll answer the first part of your statement.  They never languished.  That seems to be part of a mythology that started I don’t know how.  I think what happened was that I languished.  I disappeared from the United States of America at a time that it was very, very difficult to live here
called the McCarthy Periodand I went to Italy to live.  Naturally, the moment you move away you leave things in the hands of your publisher.  The music was always there, available to conductors if they wanted it.  While I was away all those years that they say the music languished, if they only would do their homework these people who set up this story would realize that Mr. Bernstein gave premieres of three symphonies.

BD:    There were always a few performances, but it seems now there’s a much bigger resurgence, or is that just perception?

DD:    I think it’s the recording that has done that.  Mr. Schwarz is the one who is playing the music like mad, but I haven’t seen Mr. Slatkin or anybody else jump in and go along.  [See my Interviews with Leonard Slatkin.]  The recording has been out since July, and the publisher says there have been inquiries, but I can’t say that there is any improvement in the so-called interest.  What is different is that they’re all younger conductors today
some whom I had as students in my classes at the Juilliard Schoolwho haven’t shown the slightest interest.  They said they would when they got orchestras of their own, but people like Andrew Litton, who is at Bournemouth and was in Washington as assistant to Rostropovich hasn’t played a note of mine yet.  So you see, there’s the problem.

BD:    Is there anything you can do
or should doto get your music even more widely performed?

DD:    There are young composers today who’ve made a career of promoting their own music.  They do nothing but go from city to city and peddle their scores.  I’m too old for that; at seventy-five you can’t do that.  I’m glad that I can just get my teaching done.  I live in Rochester so I have to commute to New York once a week.  I wake up five o’clock in the morning to make a flight going in, and take a flight coming back at five.  So it’s not easy.  But there are young composers who do it, and if they enjoy doing it, well let them do it.  All power to them if they think that conductors will do it that way, but I know that conductors have told me they can’t stand these young composers coming around and annoying them.  They always say, “Why don’t they send their tapes and scores?”  But the young composers say, “The conductors won’t listen to them.”  I advise my own students not to do that.  They should simply send their scores with tapes
if the works are very, very, good.  For example, I have a brilliant doctoral student who graduated from Juilliard last year named Lowell Liebermann.  [See my Interview with Lowell Liebermann.]  He is getting along very well.  I thought his First Symphony, which he had written with me as his doctoral program, was so fine, and he was only then twenty-five.  He had studied with me when he was eighteen and then came into the school as a regular student.  Lowell sent the score to Schwarz at my suggestion.  Schwarz listened to the tape of the reading and performance at Julliard and said, “My God, this is a wonderful work.”   He then performed it with Seattle Symphony and commissioned a work for his New York Chamber Symphony from him.  So you see, there are ways of it happening.

BD:    But of course, Mr. Liebermann had a little bit of extra push with the name of Mr. Diamond attached to it.

DD:    Maybe.  I don’t know.  But other young composers have people who could promote them and encourage them, too.

BD:    Now this young man obviously is an outstanding example.  You don’t need to give me a list of names, but are there others who are on that level coming along?

diamondDD:    Yes, strangely enough they’re my students and everybody can’t get over that.  They’re the ones that are really making the big thing in America.  There is Daron Hagen, who has been performed now by major orchestras including the Philadelphia Orchestra as a matter of fact, and there are many, many more.

BD:    What is it about your teaching that makes a composition student ready to really produce a worthwhile work?

DD:    I do what those university-based teachers don’t do
I give them a thorough, traditional training.  They have to really prove to me that they can do everything in traditional harmony, chorale harmonization, contrapuntal florid counterpoint, fugal writing and orchestrationbut real orchestration, not the silly ways they teach orchestration at universities.

BD:    What’s a silly way?

DD:    The silly way is assign them a short Schumann piece from the Album for the Young, or a movement from a Beethoven sonata and say, “Orchestrate it for chamber orchestra, or for large orchestra.”

BD:    Then what is the correct way?

DD:    The correct way is to simply give them an assignment like, “Take the opening of your idea for what you think will be a sinfonietta or any short orchestral piece, and show me how you will go about orchestrating a piece.  How do you begin?  What do you begin with?  Do you make a sketch first?  Do you have a piano version?”  If they show me that they have made a version for the piano, I say, “That’s wrong.  It can’t be for the keyboard because you’re fishing from notes from the keyboard.  You’re not hearing it your head, and you’re not hearing it in terms of the orchestra.” 

BD:    It seems that instead of giving them a pattern and letting them make the clothes, you’re asking them to design their own pattern as well as tailor the clothing.

DD:    I show them how Strauss made his sketches before orchestrating
three lines, four lines.  I show them Debussy’s sketch for La Mer which is in the library in Rochester.  I show them Debussy’s arrangement on three lines, not on piano, indicating in colored pencil this is the harp, this is the horn, this is the first and second violins.

BD:    But is this something that they can do before they’ve really developed their inner ear?

DD:    Oh well, the orchestration comes after they’ve mastered the elementary techniques of composition.  Orchestration is something that evolves after you’ve studied counterpoint and harmony and chorale harmonization and figured bass and all that.

BD:    Would someone with a limited capacity for hearing things in their ear be better off doing things at the piano?  Would that help them at all?

DD:    No.  They still would not be hearing what they hear in their inner ear in terms of the orchestra.  They would be hearing it chordally as piano music.  How can you possibly play on the piano what you might be thinking of a three-part fugal section in the middle of a symphony?  Just try to manipulate that.  They get chords but they don’t hear lines.  How do they know the first violins are going to come in there, the violas here, the piccolos up there?  They’re thinking only of this and it’s totally the wrong way.  Now Stravinsky used to work at the piano, but he had his sketches.  He had a special, extraordinary accoutrement on the piano.  He had a big board with attachments and things to line up staffs, to make his sketches.

BD:    I assume that this way you’re encouraging your students to work is the way you have worked all your life?

DD:    All my life, probably because I was trained as a violinist and piano was secondary.  Violinists or other instrument players, if they’re composers they usually work that way.  Pianists, I think, in our time have the worst compositional techniques, because they don’t hear linearly.

BD:    Even for piano?

DD:    Oh no, for piano they’re fine.  But writing for the orchestra they have no conception.  They write piano music, which they then have to arrange for orchestra.

BD:    If you find someone who is so attached to the piano, do you encourage that person to just write piano music?

DD:    If I think that they have a bigger potential and that they can write for orchestra, too
if they’ve shown me in some little exercise I asked them to do that there is a technique therethen I encourage them to write for the orchestra.  What’s the point of writing piano sonatas if you really don’t have a good enough technique, anyway?  How can you write a fugue for the piano if you don’t have enough counterpoint?

BD:    Of course, Hindemith took that to the extreme and learned every instrument before he would begin to write.

DD:    That is right.  There you are!

BD:    Is that the right way to do it?

DD:    The right way to do it is his way because he made sketches like crazy and sometimes orchestrated right into the score.  He didn’t even have preliminary [orchestration] sketches.  He would write a whole symphony.  His Symphony for Band was written that way — right into score.

BD:    The ideas come right out onto the page in fifteen or twenty lines?

DD:    Right.

BD:    Have you written anything for band?

DD:    I just finished one last year.  That’s very strange... The man who just called me a few minutes ago, Jack Stamp, arranged where several university bands commission a work.  It’s a piece I call Tantivy, based on [sings] “di da di, di da da, di da da,” the hunting call.  It turned out very well and it’s been played by almost all of the people who commissioned it.  It’s already recorded by the University of Cincinnati Band, but there’s going to be a commercial one released with Frederick Frenell.  [See my Interview with Frederick Fennell.]  Then there’s another one called Hearts Music, which will go along very nicely with that piece.

BD:    Is the technique really at all different writing for band?

DD:    Very different.  You have no strings for supporting harmony.  You don’t have any kind of color that resembles the string section, so you have to completely invent a way of getting that lyric quality which the band can produce if you know how to write for the high winds, particularly the clarinets, flutes, oboes.  So there is enough possibility.

BD:    Would you raise violent objections, then, if someone took one of your orchestral works and tried to arrange it for band?

DD:    Couldn’t be done.

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  Oh, someone could make it work.

DD:    They’ve tried and they can’t because the music is so contrapuntal.  For example, the Fifth Symphony that’s being done here would be impossible to arrange for band because of the big fugue that ends it.  It also has a huge organ climax which is not available to the band.  [Both laugh]

BD:    [With a wink]  Maybe add a calliope?

DD:    Maybe...

diamondBD:    Well, when you’re working on a piece of music, do you know before you start that it’s going to be an orchestra work or  a chamber work or a piano work or a band work?

DD:    Oh, yes.  Sure.  If it’s not an out-and-out commission piece, you always have a conception that you hear.  You always know what it is you’re going to write.

BD:    When you start making your sketches, do you know where it’s going to end up or are you ever surprised where it goes?

DD:    Oh, I’m often surprised!  Yes.  It never ends up where I think, not even in the tonality.

BD:    Are these good surprises?

DD:    Oh yes, I think so.  But sometimes I change them because they don’t work out in terms of equilibrium.  I may have a total surprise in the key that I end up in, or in the kind of fast ending when I’d planned a slow ending.  This symphony that they’re doing here I originally had imagined as having a fast last movement.  Instead, it ends with one solo cello playing all by his little self.

BD:    So when you’re working on these sketches, are you always controlling that pencil or are there times when that pencil really leads your hand?

DD:    I don’t know where it comes from, except what my sketch books have down as the material.  But what makes one note follow the other is something that has never been able to be explained by anyone.  You can explain any other field of art, but not the art of music.  There is the subliminal life that creates abstract notes which have absolutely no meaning whatsoever as pitches or even a series of notes.  If somebody hadn’t told you we had that horrendous war and somebody hadn’t put ‘victory’ for [sings] da-da-da-dum, you wouldn’t know that this means that.  Somebody said that’s
V for victory, and that’s Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.  That’s supposed to represent victory, and that’s that.  But music can’t tell us that, so it’s a completely abstract art unless you have a program and you need a book to tell you the plot.  I defy anybody to really listen to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and know what that’s about if you hadn’t known what the story line is.

BD:    Then is it a mistake that we all come with our conceptions of Mickey Mouse and the dancing brooms?

DD:    Oh, no, no.  If you’ve seen Fantasia and all the other things, that’s fine.  That’s what you can do in illustrating music.

BD:    I’m trying to figure out which comes first, then
the scene in the composer’s mind, or the notes that create the scene?

DD:    If it’s program music, like my Romeo and Juliette music or my music for The Tempest, you have a play.  You are asked to write incidental music.  You have character.  You are inspired by these wonderful plays and so ideas come a little easier there.  Or if you write an opera, you have words.

BD:    Of course, there’s the text and a scenario.

DD:    So you have much more to work with, too.

BD:    If you’re writing a piece and it starts to sort of sound like something, do you continue with making it sound more like that, or do you let it go itself?

DD:    If you’re any kind of artist, you know that things can go on just so long and then you need what is called contrast.  Above all in music, if you don’t have contrast, then you have boredom.  That’s the trouble with a great deal of what they call minimalist music today.  I can’t sit through more than three minutes of Philip Glass because I begin getting hives . . . and the same for John Adams’ Nixon in China.  I thought if he doesn’t stop going up and down the scales and get started, then I’ll have to get out.  And indeed, I had to walk out after a while.

BD:    And yet it fascinates so many people.

DD:     I don’t think it fascinates them.  I think it is just that they’re told that’s what the new music is.  Actually, music-goers
unless they are, let’s say, highly cultivated music listenerswill do what they’re supposed to do.  I look around often to see what audiences are like, and I can tell pretty well by the way they react to music.  I remember the moment they began listening to a John Adams piece that was very noisy and very fast, five of them flew out.  I thought, “Well, this is a John Adams piece that was more interesting than all those scales that he wrote.  It was fast and furious and the name is funny — Fast Ride in a Small Car, or something like that.  [Both laugh]  [Note: The correct title is Short Ride in a Fast Machine.]   Before it was over, I thought, “Well all right, if you want.”  But there are certain kinds of young composers today who write gimmick pieces and then they turn to something else.  But that’s something the latter twenty-five years of our particular century has produced, which I find very sad.

BD:    It’s like just putting on the latest fashions from Paris or Milan.

DD:    It’s commercialism, yes.  They’re promoters.  They work in a commercial world with a recording company, and the recording companies tell them what to do.  They found that this is a way of making a lot of money, and it’s very easy music to write.  You repeat twenty-four bars.  The copyist makes a lot of money, but really they don’t write that many notes that change too often.

BD:    When you’re listening to an Adams piece, I wonder if you’re not instinctively thinking, “I could make it go here, and we could do this, and this would be fine,” and then you find that it’s stalled in the one place.

DD:    No.  I never react to that.  Every time I hear music of that type, particularly Glass...  Not Steve Reich.  He’s the one that interests me the most because I find there’s a big, deep humanity.  [See my Interviews with Steve Reich.]  For example, there’s a piece he wrote called Tehillim which is an extraordinary work!  But with Adams and Glass, the musical materials are so dull that it doesn’t matter one way or another.  I feel,
Gee, it’s strange that that’s what they want to do, and that’s sufficient for them.

BD:    I’ve often wondered if perhaps it’s a reaction to the extreme compression of music in the fifties and sixties and seventies.  Music became so dense that it was like one of these super novas that implodes on itself and then has to explode and begin again with nothing.

DD:    That could be, but why didn’t they realize that when they were writing that kind of music?  I used to tell them.  I wrote articles and I would give lectures, and they would hate me for it and would sometimes boo me in public when I would be speaking about this.  I would always say, “Why are they doing this?  Don’t they know they are alienating an entire public?  Don’t they know that human beings need spiritual values in music, that they are not interested in fun and games?”  Maybe it’s I who lack humor.  I can’t even stand Peter Schickele.  [See my Interview with Peter Schickele.]  Some people love that.  Some people like going to see Charles Ludlum plays, or men playing drag queens
a man as Camilleor those who went to Carnegie Hall to hear a woman named Anna Russell, a pathetic creature who couldn’t sing anymore.  They would go and adore and yell “Bravo” at this poor unfortunate woman that was terrible.  Why do people like to do that?  To me that’s a kind of humiliation of a woman who may once have sung very well.  But when you get Carnegie Hall full with a bunch of these crazy, crazy people at that time when she sang...  Believe me, New York City had the weirdest people from downtown who came uptown to just attend her concerts.  But then, as I say, I may be the culprit.  I am not humorless.  I find some things quite funny, but I think when we live in times that are tragic enough, humiliation is not the way to use humor.  Humor should be used to be constructive, like Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca and things like that.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let me ask a great, big philosophical question.  Where is music going today?

DD:    Right back to where it was, which makes me very happy.

BD:    Do you feel you’ve been vindicated?

DD:    Oh, yes!  It’s all coming—young, the very ones that were once young now.  Even John Adams, somebody told me, has just recorded a work of mine that I wrote way back in ‘38, my Elegy in Memory of Ravel which he’s done in a string version on a record of American string music.  I was surprised, because I thought for sure he knows [laughs] how badly I think of all of his music.  I like earlier pieces of his, like the Harmonielehre and things like that, but when he began going up and down the scales, that was just a little too much.

BD:    Well, have we essentially lost twenty-five or thirty years of musical composition?

DD:    That is one of the most tragic things that has happened in music, and in Europe it has not stopped.  They’re still losing all that, because there, music—all art—is subsidized by governments.  So you have Mr. Stockhausen still knocking everybody’s heads off with so much sound, they go mad.  None of his works of the past have gone into the repertoire.  You know, when a composer has been around as long as Stockhausen, and not three pieces, not even the piano pieces, are taken up by anyone and played again, it’s a rather sad commentary.

BD:    Well, how do you account, then, for the fact that he does draw at least some audiences?

DD:    Well, look at the audiences.  They’re the same ones who follow the Polish Festival of New Music.  Look at John Cage, for example.  [See my Interview with John Cage.]  It’s a faddist thing in Europe because the money is there to promote it.  Why did Elliott Carter have to go to Europe to make his name?  [See my Interview with Elliott Carter.]  He made his name there because there was no money to support what he was trying to do with his music.  But Elliott announced to everybody that he did not want a public.  At the time of his first quartet he said, “I don’t care whether a public likes it or not.  I’m writing this for myself.”  We are old friends from way back, Carter and I, and we’ve discussed it.  He knows that he’s made a big mistake somewhere, and his music is little by little coming back to more traditional values.

BD:    Is it like society that it is coming little by little back to traditional values?

DD:    That society is doing this worries me a little.  It’s doing it in the horrible way I found in the fifties, which is it’s getting a rightist, bigot slant, and it worries me.

BD:    Are we going to get a new McCarthy coming in?

DD:    If there is, I don’t think anybody’s going to allow him to exist because we so-called ‘leftists’
as they call usare still around, and there are many more and they haven’t died out.  We will make life very unhappy for them.  Even around here, remember this Skokie business that happened not too long ago?  I hear a new Yiddish National Theater is giving a series of performances there.  Could that have happened when those skinheads and all the other monsters were out?

BD:    In a way, it’s sort of ironic that one of the great classical writers of tonal music should be such a leftist and label himself a leftist.  For some reason it doesn’t seem to add up, and yet it makes a perfect harmony within you.

DD:    That’s exactly what a good socialist-minded composer should be.  He should think in terms of human beings.  Beethoven did, Mozart and Haydn did.  Bach certainly did
he wrote directly for human beings.  What happened with my generation and the older generation, when we began we were writing for human beings.  We had good teachers.  Aaron Copland was writing wonderful, advanced music, but it was all music for human beings.  El Salón Mexíco showed his experiences in Mexico.  Think of Leonard Bernstein and his Kaddish Symphony or Jeremiah Symphony, bless his soul.  Today we don’t have great souls in the young composersexcept my students.  [Both laugh]  No, I exaggerate, naturally.

BD:    Perhaps you find the great souls in the students who come to you, and you bring that out.

DD:    Yes.  I’ve also met some other wonderful, wonderful young people.  There are some right here in Chicago who came to a couple of rehearsals.  They seem very interesting.  I wish I had had a little more time to talk with them, but they seemed to know a lot about my music.  They had been listening to the new Schwarz recording, the first that will come out of my symphonies, and they were most interested in my music.  That’s a good sign.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let me ask the other philosophical question.  What is the purpose of music in society?

DD:    To give human beings spiritual values which will help make life more supportful.  Otherwise, life can be an agony on earth
— one agony, one minute after another.  Why do you have so many stations playing Baroque music and religious music?  I turned the station on you have here and it’s mostly, I would say, Baroque, although I heard two of my pieces on today, and a couple of other contemporary works.  But why is there such a need for people to hear Baroque music as much as they do?  Why do they like it so much?  Why do they listen to so much Romantic music?  Even if they’re lay listeners, there is a fulfillment emotionally.  Why do they like Jerome Kern’s songs?  Why do they like George Gershwin’s songs or Steve Sondheim or Bernstein’swhether it’s his more serious music or Candide or West Side Story?  These are men who have given music that communicates.  I won’t even use the word accessibility, but communication which is on a deeper, more profound level that every human being on this earth can understand and appreciate and be moved by.  That’s the main thing — emotionally moved by.

BD:    Now when you say, “every human being on the earth,” I assume you’re acknowledging a basic understanding of the Western Musical Language?

DD:    No!  Hundreds of people everywhere all over the world who sing in choruses on Christmas Eve when they sing Messiah or Israel in Egypt or Elijah of Mendelssohn
those are the people that I’m talking about.  They’re not trained musicians.

BD:    No, no, no, but are you leaving out the cultures of India and Asia?

DD:    On the contrary!  I think by now we know their music very well.  Thank heavens the immigration has changed.  When I was a child, Italians came in mainly as immigrants.  My parents, Russian Jews, and all the others came at the beginning of the century.  Now it’s that wonderful influx, and they’ve changed our culture so much for the better because they’ve introduced the feeling of patience into life.  It’s a joy to go to an Oriental restaurant
whether it’s Asian, Indian or Chinesebecause of the feeling.  You get away from the monstrosity of our Caucasian, nasty, rude behavior of waiters that you get almost everywhere.  With the Orientals, it’s politeness from beginning to end.  They’re on a much different spiritual level than we are.

BD:    Has your music been played in India and Asia?

DD:    That I don’t know.  I know that years ago in Shanghai my First Symphony, Second, Third, Fourth were performed.  Szigeti used to play my Sonata when he traveled abroad to Japan.

BD:    I just wondered what the reaction of non-western audiences was.

DD:    Very interesting.  I went once when Szigeti did the Sonata in Hong Kong, and I must say it was almost the reaction of a Western audience.  Even more, I would say, much more because he had tremendous following particularly as a violinist.

BD:    How are performers doing these days
— are they getting better and better as we go along?

DD:    Oh, they’re better than ever at the Juilliard School.  I can’t believe it sometimes!  Right now they’re preparing the concert of my orchestral music that Gerard Schwarz will be conducting for my seventy-fifth birthday at Avery Fischer Hall on November 14th.  It’s sponsored by Juilliard and we had to choose, because everything is by competition to play with orchestra.  We had the competition for my Kaddish for Cello and Orchestra.  I listened to seven of them and I found out later two were students of Zara Nelsova and three were former students of Leonard Rose.  They were magnificent.  Dorothy DeLay produces incredible creatures like Midori and all the other wonderful young violinists that she has coming out.  Performers are better, technically, than ever.

BD:    They are better technically, that’s true.  Are they better musically?

DD:    That we will have to wait and see, because if a Gerard Schwarz could have been one of the great trumpet players and first trumpet of the New York Philharmonic for years who turns out to be one of the greatest conductors later on, that tells us something, too.  So we must wait for the younger ones to develop.  Gerard Schwarz has an orchestra now in Seattle that I would say is almost as good at the Chicago Symphony.  He’s ready to bring them into New York.  Listen to the recording of my Fourth and Second Symphonies.  You’d think this was the old Boston Symphony.

BD:    I assume, then, that you are extremely pleased with these new recordings that are coming out?

DD:    I’m more than pleased.  There isn’t one bad review.  Chicago, for example, had one of the most wonderful reviews of it.

BD:    Do you feel that making these recordings of your works inhibits other interpretations of them?

DD:    I don’t think so, no.  As a matter of fact, Schwarz asked to hear the old Koussevitzky performance of the Second that was taken off the air in ‘44 at the premiere, and it is, indeed, very different from what Schwarz does.  But I love what Schwarz does in his way because he gives a vitality to the last movement which Koussevitzky, as a seventy year-old man, could not quite do.  On the other hand, Leonard Bernstein recorded and played often the Fourth Symphony, and I was never really happy with his way.  We would talk about why I didn’t like it, and he said, “Well, I’ll try to do it as close as you want it.”  This is way back in 1948, and he said, “I’ll do my best, but I have a feeling I want to slow it up a little bit here,” and I said, “Well, please don’t.  You didn’t write it.  Do what I say.”  He said, “But I don’t feel it that way.”  Already then he had very strong convictions about what he felt in terms of interpretation.  So now I’m finally hearing the recording of Schwarz’s, which is the way I want it, not the way Bernstein wanted it.

diamondBD:    Who’s right?

DD:    Schwarz.

BD:    How much flexibility do you allow or do you want in terms of interpretation in your scores?

DD:    As much as the conductor wants.  For example, Michael Morgan is performing the Fifth Symphony, which Bernstein gave the premiere of.  Now, that symphony Bernstein did very well, and there isn’t much leeway and monkeying around with tempi.  So whenever I would find that Bernstein was at the premiere in ’66, doing something again that was getting in the way of the piece moving at that point, I would tell him, “Please.  You’re holding it back.”  “But I feel it!”  By then there was absolutely nothing you could do.  He was on his own track, and you couldn’t get him to, but by God, came the performance and he did it my way.  So, it was really wonderful that I have a memory of that wonderful, as I have of other performances — the Eighth Symphony, the Second Symphony.  But I think Schwarz is the one who seems to have a real affinity for my music.  He doesn’t like when I say it, but I always say, “You are my musical savior.”   He said, “I know, but I’m not on a cross.”  [Both laugh]

BD:    Hopefully he’ll be doing lots more conducting of all of your symphonies.  How many are you up to now
— nine or ten?

DD:    Eleven.

BD:    Is there a twelfth coming?

DD:    No.  I’m just finishing the eleventh now.

BD:    May look ahead?

DD:    Oh, no.  I’ve got to orchestrate a whole opera with Christopher Keene, who’s planning to give in New York with the City Opera, so I’m afraid that’s going to be it.  [See my Interview with Christopher Keene.] 

BD:    Which opera is this?

DD:    This is an opera which takes place in present day Washington shortly after war called The Noblest Game, which I wrote for the National Opera Institute.  But our strange managers, a certain woman named Beverly Sills and a certain person named Julius Rudel, threw screws in the works, so only now that Christopher Keene is there can he unscrew their screwing it up.  [See my Interview with Julius Rudel.]

BD:    Has the date for the premiere been set?

DD:    Christopher Keene’s here right now rehearsing an Argento opera.  What he’s doing is trying to cast my piece, to get an idea because we need a soprano with an enormous range — high C sharps and good strong, solid bottoms. 

I listened to Marilyn Zschau last night in Fanciulla.  [See my Interview with Marilyn Zschau.]  She could be, but she’s a little wobbly on high notes so I’m not sure she’s right.  But right now he wants to get the casting set, and I have to finish up this symphony for the New York Philharmonic, which is a good year’s work, and finish the Tenth for Schwarz for Seattle.  So I’m begging to put it off for about three years because the orchestration alone would be close to a year.  When he’s got casting, then he’ll give me an approximation of a date.

BD:    It’s a full evening, a full-length opera?

DD:    Its playing time is two hours and twenty-eight minutes, as I conducted it through.  With an intermission it’ll be probably around two hours and forty-five minutes.


BD:    Tell me the particular joys and sorrows of writing for the human voice.

DD:    I’ve written over a hundred and something songs, and lots of them have gone into singers’ repertoire.  I always feel comfortable with the voice, and it’s always wonderful when you find the right poetry to write songs.  But I haven’t been able to do too many of them because as I got older and older, I found it takes longer and longer to write music.  You develop physical ailments and your eyes get bad and it just takes longer.  The physical labor is horrendous!  It’s tough going.

BD:    I assume, though, that the ideas still flow?

DD:    The ideas are faster than ever.  What I have to do is try to put the damper on.  There are so many ideas and it exhausts me, so I sometimes overwork and pay a bad price for it.

BD:    Is composing fun?

DD:    [With a resigned tone]  No.  It’s agony.

BD:    Is it worth it???

DD:    Yes!  If you can get performances like the one I’m getting here, and if you can have a man like Bernstein perform your music, and all the other great conductors who’ve performed my music — Mitropoulos, Monteux, Stokowski, all of them — then it’s worth the agony.

BD:    Are you optimistic about the future of music?

DD:    Oh, very.  There are so many wonderful talents in music, so many great performers, so many orchestras
, so many wonderful chamber groups and so many people who love music!  There are more than ever.  My only worry is TV — and yet I shouldn’t worry because people are catching on to how bad TV really is, and that the only good things are the Public Broadcasting programs.  I must say, sometimes I watch TV and I wonder how in God’s name the American public just doesn’t rise up and rebel.  It’s so ghastly, and you can’t remember one actress or one actor from another.  There are no faces I’ve seen where I truly can say, “Yes, these are young people that have faces as well as great talent,” as the old great star system of Hollywood used to be with a great Garbo or a great Dietrich.  We had great, great, wonderful, spiritual faces like Garbo.  Who can ever, ever forget that woman?  Even now, one watches Camille and you’re a wreck at the end of that picture.  But now you have absolutely nothing.  You can’t remember who they are; they all look alike.  They all have fixed noses, and they all have teeth that are fixed.  They’re like Andy Warhol silkscreen people.  I must say the only pleasure I’ve had is because David Lynch is an extraordinary talent.  I watch Twin Peaks not so much because I think I know who the murderer is, but because I think the actors are so fascinating.  I think every one of those women are the old silent movie type faces.  You can’t get them out of your mind!  Each one is so different from the other.

BD:    You’ve touched one of my buttons
I love silent movies!

DD:    Well, of course!

BD:    To me there’s a certain innocence and naïveté, and a genuineness about the techniques of film-making back then.

DD:    I never thought it was naïve.  I certainly thought of Josef Sternberg as anything but naïve in Blue Angel or Clarence Brown in Intruder in the Dust.  That’s not very naïve.  You have to have great directors.  There were some sort of naïve approaches to what were so-called family pictures like the Andy Hardy series with Mickey Rooney when he was a little kid, and all that stuff that Mr. Mayer insisted on.  But no, I don’t think there was much naïveté.  In Rochester, where I live, we have Eastman House, where the big collection of silent films is.  So I see them all the time and they’re really quite extraordinary to see today.  They had a series of them years ago.  At least in Rochester, if you wait up until eleven o’clock you might get some really old, good ones of Marlene Dietrich, like Dishonored and Morocco, pictures that you can’t really get on videotapes yet.

BD:    Thank you for being a composer.

DD:    Well, thank you very much for listening to me.

BD:    [Laughs] I wish you lots of success with this and lots of continued success with all of the old music and the new music to come.

DD;    Thank you very, very much.  It’s a pleasure to be here.









David Diamond was born on July 9, 1915, in Rochester, New York. He received his first formal training at the Cleveland Institute of Music. In 1930 he continued his studies at the Eastman School with Bernard Rogers in composition and Effie Knauss in violin. In the fall of 1934 he went to New York 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 the ballet TOM to a scenario by E.E. Cummings based on "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Leonide Massine, the choreographer for the ballet, lived near Paris, and Diamond was sent there to be near him. Although, due to financial problems, the work was never performed, Diamond did establish contacts in Paris with Darius Milhaud, Albert Roussel, and the composer he revered above all others, Maurice Ravel. (The First Orchestral Suite from the ballet TOM received its much belated and much acclaimed premiere in 1985, conducted by Gerard Schwarz).

On his second visit to Paris in 1937, Diamond 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.

After the San Francisco premiere of Psalm under Pierre Monteux, Alfred Frankenstein wrote: "On first hearing, the outstanding qualities of this work seem to be its fine, granitic seriousness, its significant compression of a large idea into a small space, and its spare, telling use of the large orchestra."

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. He returned to the United States when Germany declared war on France, and the problems of day-to-day existence in America soon replaced the charmed life of the gifted young composer in France. He worked as a night clerk at a soda counter in New York City, and after resuming violin practice, did a two year stint in the "Hit Parade" radio orchestra.

An impressive number of awards and commissions during the 1940s somewhat relieved Diamond's struggle for daily needs. Among the awards was a renewal of the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Prix de Rome, a personal commission from Dimitri Mitropoulos (resulting in the popular Rounds for string orchestra), a commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation for his Symphony No. 4, and a National Academy of Arts and Letters Grant "in recognition of his outstanding gift among the youngest generation of composers, and for the high quality of his achievement as demonstrated in orchestral works, chamber music, and songs."

Important works appearing during the 1940s include the Concerto for Two Solo Pianos (1942), String Quartet No. 2 (1943), Symphony No. 3 (1945), String Quartet No. 3 (1946, receiving the 1947 New York Music Critics' Circle Award), Sonata for Piano (1947) and Chaconne for Violin and Piano (1948). In the 1950s Diamond's music became imbued with a much more chromatic texture. A good example of this new chromaticism is The World of Paul Klee, four scenes inspired by paintings of the Swiss artist. Irving Kolodin praised Diamond's "orchestral concept, his refinement of touch, and power of imagery" in this work. The String Quartet No. 4, written in 1951, was nominated for a Grammy award in 1965, as recorded on Epic Records by the Beaux Arts Quartet. Alfred Frankenstein called the work "one of the masterpieces of modern American chamber music.... The fugal movement provides one of the most moving experiences to be found in the whole range of modern American music, but the entire work is an achievement of the rarest quality."

In 1951 Diamond returned to Europe as Fulbright Professor. Peermusic 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, when he returned to the United States.

On his return, Diamond was greeted by a series of concerts around the country 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. Harriet Johnson wrote of the fifth symphony that "its rich texture, glowing from an expansive imagination, soars with a pulsation that is improvisatory but at the same time the essence of formal logic and economy of structure." Leonard Bernstein was even more enthusiastic, finding the fifth symphony "his finest and most concentrated symphonic work to date. But even more important, I find it to be a work that revives one's hopes for the symphonic form." Bernstein praised the "seriousness, intelligence, weight, deftness, technical mastery, and sheer abundance" of Diamond's music, calling him "a vital branch in the stream of American Music."

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. In 1971, Diamond was given a National Opera Institute Grant to write his opera The Noblest Game. With a libretto by Katie Louchheim, The Noblest Game is the story of social intrigue in the Washington DC power set, taking place in the present, "after the termination of a recent war."

Any portrait of David Diamond would not be complete without mention of his vocal music. Diamond's songs for voice and piano are among his finest achievements, sung by the likes of Jennie Tourel, Eileen Farrell, and Eleanor Steber. Hans Nathan has stated that "David Diamond has cultivated the art-song more consistently than any other American composer of his stature. Each of his songs is constructed with the same detailed care that is ordinarily given to an instrumental work."

Diamond became professor of composition at The Juilliard School in 1973, where he taught well into the 1990s. The renewed interest in Diamond's music starting in the 1980s coincided with his being awarded some of the most significant honors available to a composer. 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.

This period culminates in his largest symphony to date. The Symphony No. 11 (1989-91) was one of a few major works commissioned by the New York Philharmonic in celebration of its 150th anniversary. In his New York Times review, Alex Ross wrote that "the confidence and conviction of the voice are unmistakable" -- a phrase that applies to so much of Diamond's music written over a remarkable sixty year career.

For more information about David Diamond's life and music, please visit David Diamond.org

--  Biography from the Peermusic website










© 1990 Bruce Duffie

This was my second interview with David Diamond.  The first was done on the telephone in April of 1986.  This second interview, which is presented on this page, was recorded in his hotel in Chicago on October 18, 1990.  Portions (along with recordings) were used on WNIB in 1995 and 2000, on WNUR in 2005 and 2009, and on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio in 2006 and 2010.  The transcription was made and posted on this website early in 2013.  As with all my posted interviews, it differs slightly from the original, having been edited to read smoothly and to tighten where needed.  I mention this because unbeknownst to me until I stumbled upon it during a Google search, audio of the copy I sent to Diamond at his request has appeared on YouTube. 

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.