Musicologist, critic and scholar Jack Diether’s lifelong interest in Mahler began on a trip to San Francisco, where 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.
Born on February 26, 1919, in Vancouver, Canada, Jack James Diether was the son of Louis Meyer Diether (who ran successful businesses in coal, oil and taxis) and Ruth Curtis McIlreevy. 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 until 1946 (while stationed in England, he met Joe Wheeler, who later completed a version of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony).
After his Army discharge, he married Mary Southon in Vancouver and moved to California (the couple had a son, Anton, now a screenwriter in California). In 1955, Diether became a U.S. citizen again. After moving to New York City in 1956, he was divorced in 1957. He married Doris Thomas in 1958, with whom he lived until his sudden death from a heart attack on January 22, 1987.
Over the years, his major interests remained the composers Mahler and Bruckner, but Diether 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 for non-musical publications such as Film Quarterly, The Journal of Orgonomy, Psychoanalysis & The Psychological Review, as well as program notes for many orchestras.
Although he much preferred conversations with small groups, Diether gave a number of lectures. 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. 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 .
In 1976, with Nancy Karlins Thoman, Diether co-founded the New York Mahlerites (which eventually became the Gustav Mahler Society of New York). Beginning in 1977, annual concerts offered 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. Under his leadership, the Society partly sponsored William Carragan’s completion of the Bruckner Ninth Symphony, performed in 1985 by the Utrecht Symphony Orchestra and later released on a Chandos recording with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Yoav Talmi.
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.”