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The Devotions of David Diamond

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The following is a guest post by Processing Technician Pam Murrell.

Cover of Diamond’s “David Mourns for Absalom,” David Diamond Collection, Music Division.

Ahava — brotherhood — to me that’s the big thing that I still believe should happen in this difficult world of ours. Without brotherhood there’s nothing.

That was the response of David Diamond when questioned about the title of a song he composed in 1954. Although the commissioned piece was written to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Jewish American history, he also used it to pay homage to the international ideals of freedom, love, and brotherhood. These three values are at the heart of Passover during which the global community of Jews commemorates its ancestral liberation from slavery. In 1936, a young Diamond made his musical contribution to the holiday when, at the urgence of Marc Blitzstein, he submitted his piano-vocal “Passover Night” into a competition sponsored by Young Israel magazine and won.

Around the time of this achievement, 21-year-old Diamond would become acquainted with Lazare Saminsky, the musical director at Temple Emanu-El in New York City. Perhaps because of their shared Ukrainian Jewish roots and extraordinary gifts, Saminsky sensed a kindred spirit within Diamond. Whatever the case, the revered composer took the prodigy under his wing and soon the latter was creating liturgical settings for services at Emanu-El. These exercises, in addition to Saminsky introducing him to the venerated musician Frederick Jacobi, would furnish Diamond with an appreciation for Jewish music that would endure for the rest of his life.

Born in 1915 to Orthodox Jewish immigrants, Diamond never forsook his covenantal roots, even as his musical aptitude garnered him awards and worldwide acclaim.  Throughout his career, he frequently drew inspiration from the high holiday liturgical songs of his youth. Such was the case when Hazzan David J. Putterman summoned him to write a composition for the Shabbat evening service at Park Avenue Synagogue. Once a year, under Putterman’s leadership, the influential New York temple would showcase a contemporary songwriter. And in 1951, it debuted Diamond’s “Mizmor l’David,” a choral and organ piece of the 93rd Psalm.

“Ahava,” “Mizmor l’David,” as well as other Torah-inspired works like “David Mourns for Absalom,” “Psalm 98,” and “Silent Prayer” can all be found within the David Diamond Papers which are now accessible to the public. Additionally, correspondence from Blitzstein, Jacobi, Putterman, Saminsky and the American Jewish Tercentenary Committee is also available. The collection spans 279 boxes and contains everything from childhood photo albums, to a notebook in which he practiced his Hebrew penmanship, to a draft of his unpublished autobiography The Midnight Sleep.

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