Diamond completed this work on November 3, 1945. Leonard Bernstein conducted the first performance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on January 28, 1948. It is scored for quadruple winds, trumpets, and percussion, six horns, three trombones, tuba, timpani, two harps, piano, and string choir.
Diamond enjoyed a creative heyday in the 1940s, composing four symphonies and starting a fifth (not completed, however, till 1964). For Philadelphia performances of the Fourth Symphony in 1977, Diamond provided a lengthy analysis without reference, however, to a 1945 "program" that stated its three movements (dedicated to the memory of Mme. Natalie Koussevitzky, "Magni Nominis Umbra") symbolized "a state of uninterrupted sleep...the transition from sleep to wakefulness...and the eternal wakening to death."
In 1977 he wrote (in part), "I consider the [the Fourth] my smallest large symphony. Small in the sense that not only is it short...but form is never allowed to exceed the needs of the material. Yet materials, although of a modest nature, are expansive, [and] somewhat transcendental in the way they go beyond themselves...."
The first movement is marked Allegretto. "A sonata-form movement in alla breve [2/2] tempo. Exposition: first theme (A minor) of a tender and pastoral lyricism in two large phrases; the first half of it played by muted violins and cellos at the beginning, the second half by violins and violas without mutes, ushered in by a cortege-like accompaniment. The second theme (D minor, solo oboe) has a simple, jovial, carefree quality. Subsequent development is the largest and most extensive section, [followed by] a short recapitulation of only the first theme, and a short coda...."
Next is the Andante. "Its Adagio introduction has a chorale-like brass theme of a religious and supplicating nature. Restatement by the strings [leads to] the Exposition -- a long cantilena theme in the violas, followed by a second theme whose first half is played by three clarinets, its second half by violins. [The latter part] is elaborated, bringing about a climax [after which] the second theme continues to sing itself out."
The final movement is an Allegro. "The symphony's one brioso movement combines scherzo and rondo-finale. After brass stridently proclaim the main theme, a rhythmic percussion figure intrudes itself repeatedly as the movement gains momentum -- Mercurial, sometimes elfin. I chose materials of a strongly contrasting character to produce dramatic flourishes of almost theatrical evocativeness, so that what may have seemed earthbound at the start is released at the end."