David Diamond’s The Enormous Room played on the car radio as I was driving home. I stayed inside listening after I pulled in the driveway to hear the end. Then I ordered the cd soon after. This was several months ago.
As I considered American orchestral pieces to set next to Rhapsody in Blue in a line of classics, this one was an easy choice. The music, billed as a “fantasia for orchestra,” evokes a certain soothing emptiness, creamy strings playing with crescendo, then pulling back. Mostly they contain occasional outbursts from brass and percussion, but the taming is not complete. An occasional playful tympani, and bassoon, and especially the french horns, especially at the end, cannot be silenced or suppressed.
The composer was inspired by poet e.e. cummings’ first book (same title) recounting his five months spent in a detention camp. Diamond’s words:
I have allowed a natural lyric flow to express qualities in feeling that are spiritually kindred to cummings’ moving words.
And what were those words?
… a new and beautiful darkness, the darkness of snow outside, falling and falling and falling with the silent and actual gesture which has touched the soundless country of my mind as a child touches a toy it loves …
Diamond is impressed with individualism expressed by the author, and given the date of composition, 1948, the pride and resolve of the American spirit would naturally be in full flower. If this piece communicates a winter, it must be one that revels in its own beauty, its own control. If born from a prison experience, one does not get the impression that this incarceration is truly burdensome. Rather the poet has retreated into some inner world, separated from curcumstances that have befallen him, and enchanted by the mind’s journey to places wondrous.
Despite the book of the inspiration taking place in Great War France, The Enormous Room is a fully American piece of music with a recognizable and irrepressible American sound. It is by far my favorite of David Diamond’s compositions. I’m sure you will come to love its fifteen-minute beauty, too. I recommend the cd pictured above. The First Symphony is quite good, the concerto less so, but The Enormous Room will beckon you to return again and again and to contemplate that beautiful darkness.
Next up: another early twentieth-century composer goes abroad to image not France, but China. Can you guess what piece and by whom?