The Paris and New York Diaries of Ned Rorem Analysis

Ned Rorem

Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The Paris Diary was the first in a long series of selections from his diaries published by the American composer Ned Rorem (some other installments are included in Music From Inside Out, 1967; The Final Diary, 1974; and Essays and a Diary, 1983). It was followed a year later by The New York Diary, which takes up the chronological sequence exactly where the previous volume leaves off: in mid-Atlantic, aboard the SS United States, as the author returns home to America after years of expatriation in France. Though necessarily episodic, given their “intimate journal” form, together the diaries do tell a story: of the composer’s continuing attempts at self-understanding, abroad and at home. Young, talented, beautiful, and successful, Rorem traces his own progress in “those three things (and there are only three) we all desire: success in love, success in society, success in our work.”

For his work, Rorem charts the mysterious ebb and flow of his desire to create. He also records the professional circumstances under which various pieces were commissioned, performed, and received, but more space is devoted to aphoristic reflections on music and the arts in general, and particularly to the state of modern music in Europe and America at the historical moment in which he writes: The conflict between serialism and his own more melodic, tonal compositions, for example, remains an important concern throughout.

For society (or friendship), Rorem records, especially in the more gossipy Paris Diary, his meetings and developing friendships with many prominent members of the international cultural elite, including artists, writers, performers, and conductors as well as his fellow composers. Most important is Marie-Laure, Vicomtesse de Noailles, who becomes his patron and closest friend; many sections of the diaries were written at her home in Hyeres. He also traces, with a candor that surprised early readers, the progress of a serious drinking problem: Whereas The Paris Diary presents the picture of a young charmer whose drunken antics contribute to his social success (Marie Laure de Noailles becomes his friend only after he knocks her down at a party), The New York Diary’s portrait is more somber, its...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Gruen, John. The Party’s Over Now, 1972.

Lambert, Gavin. “Confessions of a Charmer,” in The New York Times Book Review. LXXI (July 10, 1966), p. 46.

Mazzocco, Robert. “To Tell You the Truth,” in The New York Review of Books. VII (September, 1966), pp. 6-8.

Miller, C. K. Review in Library Journal. XCI (May 1, 1966), p. 2326.

Phelps, Robert. “A Portrait of the Diarist,” in The Paris Diary of Ned Rorem, 1966.

Slavitt, David R. “Pose and Compose: With Ned Rorem, It’s Hard to Tell the Difference,” in Philadelphia Magazine. LXXIX (May, 1988), p. 89.