Diversions was written for the 1964 Cheltenham Festival and premiered by the Delphos Ensemble. It is scored for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and piano.
The title of this work is unusual to the extent that Berkeley has otherwise used only traditional generic titles for his instrumental pieces. It is apt, however, for two reasons. Firstly, each of the four movements in some way makes use of the initial three note motif – a rising tone followed by a falling fourth – thus involving a degree of variation form in the work as a whole. Secondly, the vigorous, outdoor qualities of three of the movements are associated with the Divertimento style, although, as in Mozart’s case, the work belies the traditional light-hearted connotations of the term.
The first movement consists of a slow introduction to an allegro based on sonata form. The first variation of the opening motif is found in the allegro’s jaunty first subject. The flow of the movement, in which the different timbres of the strings, piano and wind are fully exploited in opposition, is interrupted by only two moments of repose, the first appearance of the second subject and the all-inclusive coda.
The second movement is a scherzo, full of exciting rhythm and colour in the outer sections but with more lyrical elements in the middle where the woodwind figure is the retrograde of the work’s opening motif. The slow movement is an essay in counterpoint of the highest order. Four pairs of instruments take it in turn to state their own ideas. All four duets are then combined with minimal alteration for one restatement. The musical skills involved in such a simple structure are all the more impressive in view of the musical ideas chosen which so suit the diffuse nature of the instruments involved.
The fourth movement is an allegro again based on sonata form in which the opening spiky duet is contrasted throughout with passages of sinuous, interweaving phrases. The pervasive three-note cell makes its final appearance in the coda – an exciting crescendo using an augmentation of the earlier sinuous material and a fitting climax to the work.
James Rushton 1983