Emma Lou Diemer : solo and chamber works for piano through 1986

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Outland, Joyanne Jones
Meckna, Michael
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Chapter I. Emma Lou Diemer, currently Professor of Composition at the University of California at Santa Barbara, is an excellent representative of the mainstream of twentieth- century American music. Born in 1927 in Kansas City, Missouri, she began composing at an early age, motivated by her improvisations at the piano. She received a Bachelor of Music and a Master of Music from Yale and a Doctor of Philosophy from Eastman, all in composition.Diemer's career has encompassed teaching in the public schools and at the university level, working as a church organist, and performing publically on all of her keyboard instruments. Her compositional output reflects this diversity. In 1959, she was the only woman in the first group of young composers to be awarded Ford Foundation Grants, for which she was assigned to the secondary schools of Arlington, Virginia. During this time, the simpler works for the bands and choirs resulted in requests from publishers and commissions from many sources, for choral works in particular. These have since become her largest category of compositions. However, she has also written some twenty-six chamber and solo works for piano. This body of music, which reflects both her many influences and her unique style, constitutes an outstanding contributionto her art.Chapter II. Her earliest works reflected her stated models, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, and Gershwin, in their programmatic titles, energetic rhythms, and full keyboard sound. In them one can see her affection for low sustained resonant tones and for Prokofiev-like brilliant high register sounds. She frequently used chord structures in thirds, but employed a deliberately atonal harmonic framework.Chapter III. At Yale, she fell under the neoclassic influence of Hindemith. Her forms tightened and her harmonic language centered on tonics and key schemes resembling traditional modes. Features seen in the early works became pervasive: motivic melodic construction, ametric and syncopated rhythms in a strongly metric context, ostinatos in all registers, imitative textures, structured fugues, and a Bartokian control of harmony by intervals, particularly the fourth and fifth.Chapter IV. With the solo piano works, she melded the neoclassic structured language with her earlier romantic style. Ideas once again flowed directly from improvisations, while she also wrote her first large twelve-tone work.Chapter V. In the 1970's, she combined the sonorities of the electronic world with intrinsically pianistic techniques, including the new sounds of the avant-garde. Rhythm returned as pulsing beats, contrasted with free and aleatoric sections. Neoclassic motivic development generated dramatic forms.Chapter VI. Diemer integrates many techniques, new and old, into a highly successful and personal style, one which places ultimate value on expression and communication. Retaining a strong tie to the past, she is a cautious explorer, rarely breaking new ground, but eventually encompassing even the most advanced trends into wonderfully effective works.