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Diamond, David (1915-2005)  
 
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Prolific, versatile, and long-lived, David Diamond was one of the leading American classical music composers of the twentieth century. His music is melodic and lyrical at the same time that it jumps with modern energy. It began to be widely appreciated in the 1940s.

Since Diamond was openly gay and fiercely outspoken when he confronted discrimination and stupidity, he also made his share of enemies in the conservative musical milieu of the 1940s and 1950s. His music fell out of critical favor for three decades, but he lived to see renewed appreciation of his work, which since the 1980s has enjoyed a long-overdue revival among audiences yearning for beautiful music.

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Early Life and Education

David Diamond was born on July 9, 1915 in Rochester, New York. Very early on, he demonstrated undeniable musical talent. His parents, Jewish immigrants from Poland and Austria, were probably not prepared when their five-year-old picked up a violin and started playing as if he had already had lessons. Certainly they were not ready or able to pay for a prodigy's instruments and lessons on their meager earnings as a carpenter and dressmaker.

As fortune would have it, Diamond was given a violin as well as lessons in the public school he attended. When his family moved to Cleveland in 1927, André de Ribaurpierre of the Cleveland Institute of Music volunteered to teach him violin and composition for free.

In 1928, the 13-year-old Diamond also received a different kind of support. Upon learning that French composer Maurice Ravel was a visiting artist with the Cleveland Orchestra, Diamond went to Ravel's hotel to show him some of his compositions.

Ravel was encouraging. He told him, "Young man, you must come to Paris and study with Nadia Boulanger." At the time, Diamond had never heard of the famous teacher.

Music might have been the prime connection between Diamond and Ravel, but they were also attuned to each other's dapper style. Diamond later said, "I think [Ravel] was interested because of my purple turtleneck sweaters." Diamond was no less enthusiastic about Ravel's sartorial flair; he recalled the composer conducting in "a peculiar checkered suit, with yellow shoes, purple socks, a green shirt and a purple bow tie."

Support for Diamond's early musical training continued when his family moved back to Rochester in 1929; he was given a scholarship to the preparatory division of the Eastman School of Music, where he studied violin with Effie Knauss and composition with Bernard Rogers.

After Diamond graduated from high school, he entered the undergraduate program at the Eastman School of Music. The School at the time was headed by composer Howard Hanson, a man who reportedly disliked Jews, homosexuals, and modernists. Diamond, who never hid his gayness, would have drawn Hanson's hostility on all three fronts, and some people have hypothesized that the brevity of his one-year stay at Eastman can be explained by the unwelcoming atmosphere Hanson created.

Whatever the cause, Diamond moved to New York in 1934 and studied on scholarship with noted composer Roger Sessions privately and at the New Music School until 1937. As he was learning more about composition and rhythm, the spell that French music continued to cast over him showed up in Hommage à Satie (1934), one of his first published compositions and his first work performed in New York.

Paris Sojourn

In 1936 at the age of 21, Diamond at last made his first trip to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger. Her teaching methods led him to a close analysis of scores by Ravel and Johann Sebastian Bach. His time with her was highly productive compositionally.

A visit to Oscar Wilde's grave in Paris inspired his orchestral piece Psalm (1936). Dedicated to French novelist André Gide, this work won the Juilliard Publication Award in 1938 and was performed by many orchestras at the time.

Diamond's Parisian sojourn was also socially rewarding; he befriended some of the city's leading artistic lights, including Gide, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein, as well as composers Albert Roussel and Igor Stravinsky.

It was also at this time that his work found an appreciative sponsor in conductor Charles Munch. Munch would later program his work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Despite increasing command of his art and a greatly expanded circle of influential friends, life was not one triumph after another for Diamond. In 1938, for example, when he applied for a teaching position at Columbia University, he received the odd advice to "stop wearing turtleneck sweaters."

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