Friday, January 25, 2013

CCC 056 - Emma Lou Diemer

The Consonant Classical Challenge continues with a look at American composer Emma Lou Diemer. Diemer is an accomplished pianist, and has composed many works for her instrument. She's also written extensively for choral groups (many of which have piano or organ accompaniment). Her facility for creating lyrical melodies is best reflected in this part of her ouvre. Diemer has experimented with some advanced performance techniques, creating some exciting works in the process. For the most part, her music has a clarity and common-sense approach. Diemer's language may be tonally-based, but its one that is distinctively her own.

This excerpt from her Piano Sonata No. 3 showcases Diemer's pianistic skills. The movement (marked "Tango fantastique") is energetic without being overly showy. The harmonies are distinctively modern, but still tonal in character.

Her setting of Shakespeare in her "Three Madrigals" shows her skill at composing vocal music. The lines are carefully woven together in interesting ways that help illustrate, rather than detract from, the text.


In her Quartet for Trumpet, Horn, Trombone and Piano, her melodic gifts come to the fore. The piano part is well-developed, of course, and sounds like a gratifying part to perform. The music for the brass instruments is carefully crafted. Diemer takes advantage of each instrument's strengths and uses them to create music that's perfectly in character for the instruments performing them.

Emma Lou Diemer has composed for larger forces, too. Her "Santa Barbara Overture" is a good representative sample of her orchestral writing. The shapes of the melodies are similar to those of her chamber works. Diemer's orchestral writing is quite precise and clear. Although this is full orchestra, the full weight of the orchestra isn't often used.

Emma Lou Diemer is yet another composer whose work (I believe) is under-represented in the concert hall. Her compositions use the tonal language most audiences are used to, so they're naturally engaging. And yet she uses that framework to create soundscapes of appealing originality. Her works are most frequently performed by choral groups. I'd like to see her name appear on programs for chamber and orchestra concerts in the same frequency, at least.

Recommended Recordings

Emma Lou Diemer: Chamber Works

Summer Day: The Complete Works for Violin and Piano by Emma Lou Diemer

The Psalms of Emma Lou Diemer, Volume 1

The Psalms of Emma Lou Diemer, Volume 2

1 comment:

  1. Your comments, and the music (for the most part) may fall on deaf ears, but I appreciate what you wrote. Thank you!