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David Diamond, 89; Prolific Composer Known for Variety of Styles, Fiery Temperament

June 16, 2005|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

David Diamond, a prolific American composer who studied in Paris with famed pedagogue Nadia Boulanger, died from heart failure Monday at his home in Brighton, N.Y. He was 89.

Born in Rochester, N.Y., to Austrian-Polish Jewish immigrants, Diamond showed remarkable musical talent early. Reportedly, he picked up a violin at the age of 5 and played it without having had any lessons.

He studied at the Cleveland Institute, at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester and at the Dalcroze Institute in New York City before moving to France in 1937 for further work with Boulanger. There he became friends with Andre Gide, Maurice Ravel, Albert Roussel and Igor Stravinsky.

His works were performed by conductors such as Hermann Scherchen, Serge Koussvetizky and Dimitri Mitropoulos and later, Leonard Bernstein, with whom he had a close friendship.

A feisty individualist with a thin skin, Diamond made enemies as well as friends. He once punched Artur Rodzinski in the face because the conductor had refused to let him attend a rehearsal of his music. Bernstein and composer Aaron Copland were so concerned that they took up a collection to get Diamond into psychoanalysis.

Diamond was outspoken about his homosexuality, which he believed hampered his career. He said when he unsuccessfully sought a teaching position at Columbia University in 1938, he was told that he should "stop wearing turtleneck sweaters," which he took as a reference to his sexual orientation.

"Turtlenecks were considered very ... bohemian, as the word was in those days," he told Newsday in 1997.

As a composer, Diamond commanded a wide variety of styles, from the lush and tonal to the more acerbic 12-tone method. He wrote 12 symphonies, 52 preludes and fugues for piano, 11 string quartets and many other works, including scores for motion pictures, including "20 Million Miles to Earth" (1957).

"I have always thought music had to have strong melodic contours, good rhythmic variety and counterpoint, or it would make no dent on people," Diamond told the Seattle Times last month.

Diamond was in Seattle to participate in the Seattle Symphony's Made in America Festival, taking a bow after Gerard Schwarz conducted his Symphony No. 4. Schwarz and the orchestra had championed Diamond's music over the last two decades, commissioning several works, including the short chime theme that calls Benaroya Hall concertgoers to their seats.

Diamond is survived by a nephew, Noal Cohen, of New Jersey.

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