Jack James Diether was born February 26, 1919 in Vancouver, B.C. Canada. His parents were Louis Meyer Diether from Fort Wayne, Indiana and Ruth Curtis McIlreevy from Nebraska City, Nebraska. Louis Diether had successful businesses in the coal-oil and taxi industries. Jack attended Culver Military Academy in the U.S. and the University of British Columbia, and retained both U.S. and Canadian citizenship until 1939, when he joined the Canadian Air Force. He served with the Air Force and the Canadian Army from 1939 to 1946, being stationed for a time in England, where he met Joe Wheeler.
After he was discharged from the Army, he married in Vancouver and moved to California, where he lived until moving to New York City in 1956. He became a U.S. citizen again in 1955. While married to Mary Southon Diether he sired a son, Anton (who co-wrote the recent teleplay for the television adaptation of Melville's Moby Dick), now residing in California. The couple divorced in 1957, and in 1958 he married Doris Thomas, with whom he lived until his sudden death from a heart attack on January 22, 1987.
Diether's interest in Mahler began when, during a trip from Vancouver to San Francisco, he bought the first two 78 rpm records of a Mahler symphony, which didn't quite complete the first movement. It was like missing the end of a mystery story, he always said, and he could hardly wait to see how it came out.
Over the years, although his major interests remained the composers Mahler and Bruckner, he branched out into many other aspects of music. He was a regular contributor to Chord and Discord, Musical America, American Record Guide, The Villager, The Westsider / Chelsea Clinton News / East Side Express, and wrote articles and reviews for almost all the major music magazines and journals between 1955 and 1986. He also wrote articles for non-musical publications such as Film Quarterly, The Journal of Orgonomy, Psychoanalysis & The Psychological Review, and program notes for many orchestras.
He gave a number of lectures, although he much preferred conversations with small groups, and he wrote the scripts for six radio programs for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, including the eight-part The Life of Beethoven and programs on Bruckner, Mahler, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Edward Elgar, and the film music of Bernard Herrmann. His record liner notes covered the musical field for almost every major record label. As early as 1948 he was presenting radio talks on concerts for KOWL-AM in Santa Monica, California, one tape of which is now in the archives of the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts in New York City.
He was a member of the Gustav Mahler Society of America; Gustav Mahler Society, USA; Music Critics Association; National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences; and the Dance Critics Association, for which he presented some panels on music, including one with conductors of dance music. (A tape of this panel is also at the Lincoln Center Library.)
The New York Mahlerites, which he co-founded with Nancy Karlins Thoman in 1976, presented annual concerts from 1977 on, offering such rare works as Mahler's Piano Quartet movement, the Songs to Josephine, concert highlights from the Weber-Mahler Die Drei Pintos, and a dance version of Blumine, choreographed and performed by ballerina Sallie Wilson. The Society, under his leadership, partly sponsored William Carragan's completion of the Bruckner Ninth Symphony, performed in 1985 by the Utrecht Symphony Orchestra and later released in a recording with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Yoav Talmi on the Chandos label.
Diether is listed in Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, which cited his 1969 article Notes on Some Mahler Juvenilia in Chord and Discord, noting that the article settles some moot questions regarding Mahler's early development, to which Diether commented, Moot questions are among Jack Diether's long-time specialties.
In 1996 the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts started a Jack Diether Collection, which will include the Diether letters, including correspondence with Alma Mahler Werfel, Joe Wheeler, Dmitri Shostakovich, Theodore Reik, Donald Mitchell, and many others, and the various writings of Diether, published and unpublished. The collection, which is in the Research Library, will be available to scholars and others doing research or interested in the subject matter. (As of July 1998, the facilities of the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center are undergoing renovation, which should take two years. The Reference collection is at the New York Public Library branch at 10th and 43rd Street.)
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