David Diamond: Rounds for String Orchestra

Context

David Diamond (1915-2005) was an American composer who studied in New York and Paris. He wrote a range of works including 10 string quartets and 11 symphonies. Although Diamond didn’t receive the popularity that some of his American contemporaries did, his works are still influential in 20th century American music. 

Round for String Orchestra was composed in 1944, and, as the title suggests, the music is based around rounds. The piece was composed in the midst of World War II, with Diamond wanting to write a positive work that would somehow distract people from the misery of war. The work became a hit for Diamond, with all the big conductors of the time wanting to programme it, including Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland. Diamond commented on Copland’s reaction to the piece:

“He would conduct my rounds a great deal because he seemed to find that there was something very much like what he would like. He used to say, ‘Oh, I wish I had written that piece. It really works for the audience very well.’”

 

The Music

Set into three movements, Rounds for String Orchestra leaves no notes wasted as Diamond’s economical style shines through. 

 

Movement I – Allegro, molto vivace

A strong pulse is initiated from the beginning of the work, with the upper strings announcing the theme for the round. Lower sections then enter in succession to create the round. The pulsating fast movement is passed around between the top and bottom of the orchestra. There is a light-heartedness to the music, with the bouncy rhythms and open tonality accentuating this. After playing separate lines the orchestra unite, which creates quite the impact. 

The theme returns every so often from a different part of the orchestra, which keeps the excitement high. This movement comes to a surprisingly quiet end. 

 

Movement II – Adagio 

The slow middle movement highlights Diamond’s interesting orchestration choices. The ominous opening feeds into the central lyrical section, which sees the theme start at the top of the orchestra and slowly trickle down. There is tension in the music, which makes the build up to climaxes, whether they grow into fruition or not, really tight and intense. 

A lyrical counter-melody is heard from the cellos, which adds to the richness of the music. The rich textures that Diamond explores in this movement makes it perhaps the most intriguing of the three. The movement ends quietly, with really high and sonorous violin chords leading towards the light. 

 

Movement III – Allegro vigoroso

Similarly to the first movement, the opening music initiates the theme of the round. The intricate dialogue between the strings is heightened by putting the music in compound time. The unison sections are effective and bold, with the intricate soli lines shining through in the textures. The vigorous col legno technique adds a unique sound to the timbre, and also plays into the ‘Allegro vigoroso’ character. 

The theme from the first movement is heard again in this movement as the themes begin to unite. As the tension is built from the lower end of the orchestra, the swirling motif from the first movement is played by the upper strings. This leads the finale to its epic conclusion. 

 

Happy Reading!

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