About this Recording
8.559156 - DIAMOND: TOM Suite / Symphony No. 8 / This Sacred Ground

David Diamond (b

David Diamond (b. 1915)

Suite from the Ballet TOM • This Sacred Ground • Symphony No. 8


“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.”


These words by Seattle Symphony Honorary Composer in Residence David Diamond capture 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.


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’s ballet TOM had to endure a difficult and confusing gestation period that could have profited from a printed cast of characters. In 1935, the twenty-year-old composer was still a student of Roger Sessions but was nonetheless approached by the writer Cary Ross to compose music for TOM, e.e. cummings’s scenario for a “ballet in four episodes” based on the famous anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, among the most influential writings in American history. Ballet impresario Lincoln Kirstein had asked cummings to produce the scenario in 1933, and approached Stravinsky, Virgil Thomson and Paul Bowles to provide the music. Each composer turned down the request. On top of that series of rejections, George Balanchine, who was to choreograph the proposed work, begged off, as did Kirstein, effectively leaving the project up in the air. Diamond wrote to cummings and asked for permission to go ahead with the composition. The poet acceded to Diamond’s request and suggested that the composer go to Paris to discuss the project with Léonide Massine, newly chosen as choreographer. Disagreements ensued and ultimately TOM was never performed as a ballet. In 1937, Diamond extracted music from the complete score and produced this suite. Despite interest shown by Copland and Bernstein, the music had to wait 44 years for its first performance under Gerard Schwarz on 4th July, 1981 at the Waterloo Festival in New Jersey.


In twelve sections that relate to both action and character portrayals of the protagonists, one could easily take many of the American-sounding tunes to be part of the heritage of our country’s folk-music, yet Diamond had fashioned them all from his fertile imagination. Like Dvofiák, Tchaikovsky and Bartók in their respective homelands, Diamond thoroughly absorbed the “language” of our culture (the composer referred to this process as “osmosis”), and the homespun melodies sound utterly natural and folk-like. cummings was delighted with Diamond’s efforts, writing, “David Diamond not only did the job, but created—strictly on his own initiative—a musical original which is also a musical equivalent. If you don’t consider that an achievement beyond any mere ‘abilities,’ read TOM; then get Diamond to play you a piano version of TOM, stand at the piano, and follow my script which he has copied over his score.”


Like TOM, This Sacred Ground relates as well to our nation’s still-resonating encounter with the institution of slavery. The eminent conductor Josef Krips had expressed a wish that Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” be set to music. As a student in Vienna years earlier, Krips had memorized the justly famed speech and continued to be inspired by its ringing truths and great humanity. During his tenure as conductor of the Buffalo Symphony, he arranged for the Buffalo Evening News and radio station WBEN to co-commission the score, which received its première under Lukas Foss and the Buffalo Symphony on 17th November, 1963. Diamond dedicated his new work to Krips, who was unavailable to lead the première because of scheduled duties with his new orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony (with whom he eventually conducted This Sacred Ground).


The work is scored for mixed chorus, children’s chorus, baritone solo and orchestra. A 43-bar orchestral introduction sets the tone for the powerful text. As is typical, Diamond’s harmonic vocabulary is tonal/modal, with judicious use of piquant dissonances to heighten emotional impact. It is always a challenge for a composer to set prose, rather than the customary poetry, in a song cycle, and Diamond’s imaginative setting balances the rhythmic freedom of recitative with the structured cadence of an aria.


Diamond dedicated his Symphony No. 8 to his friend and mentor, composer Aaron Copland on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday. The work was completed in November 1960 and received its première with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic on 27th October, 1961. While essentially tonal in harmonic language, Diamond incorporated highly chromatic elements and even a twelve-note tone row, not unlike what the Symphony’s dedicatee was doing during this same period in his Connotations, though Diamond’s work is far less aggressively dissonant in overall sound.


The composer provided these notes for the première performance:


I. Moderato—Adagio—Allegro vivo. The basic row is proclaimed in the very opening bars of the introduction; it is in two halves. The first, a forceful rhythmic theme of five notes (4/4), is thundered out by the orchestra tutti. The second, a more lyric theme of seven notes (3/4), is sung softly by a single clarinet. Thematically, the second phrase is destined to be the more important; in fact, the row is immediately rearranged and presented by a solo horn, which starts with this second phrase in an even more lyric version, and concludes with a lyric transformation of the thundering five-note opening.


The fast body of the movement, a free sonata-allegro structure, starts with a heavily syncopated version of the row as presented by the French horn. This is the principal theme; a contrasting second theme is presented at a more relaxed tempo by a solo clarinet, ben cantando, over a soft counterpart of strings. Both themes are developed, and return in very nearly their original form during the course of this long but highly concentrated movement. The conclusion is a stunning climax compounded of the essence of both themes.


II. Theme (Adagio), Variations and Double Fugue. After a two-measure introduction, which turns into a sequential accompaniment, the first violins begin a high, flowing melody that is the theme (3/4). Soon the orchestral basses and cellos enter with this same melody, while the violins continue the forty-measure theme. Variation No. 1 is a canon, in which the violins lead and cellos follow with the same melody, always at a distance of one measure. There are seven variations in all, the last of which repeats a long section from No. 1, and then leads without pause into the lively double-fugue. The first principal theme of this is derived from the principal theme of the first movement. Other themes from the first movement make their appearance, too, as the Symphony moves on to its climax and conclusion.


Steven Lowe

© 2004 Seattle Symphony



[12] This Sacred Ground


Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.


Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.


But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


The Gettysburg Address - Abraham Lincoln




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