Leonard Bernstein’s Divertimento is an expression of his love affair with the city of his youth and its symphony orchestra, for whose centennial celebration in 1980 it was written. It is a nostalgic album filled with affectionate memories of growing up in Boston, as well as a recollection of hearing live symphonic music for the first time in Symphony Hall, under the direction of Arthur Fiedler (which may account for some of the lighthearted nature of this work).
The Divertimento is a series of vignettes based on two notes: B, for “Boston,” and C, for “Centennial.” This tiniest of musical atoms is used as the germ of all thematic ideas. Most of these generate brief dances of varying character, from wistful to swaggering, from dodecaphonic to pure diatonic.
The opening vignette, Sennets and Tuckets, (a Shakespearean stage direction for fanfares) was originally to have been the entire composition, but such an abundance of fun-filled transformations flowing from the B-C motive suggested themselves to the composer that he found himself with an embarrassment of riches. Nevertheless, the dimensions of the separate pieces are as modest as the motive itself, and while there are eight of them, each lasts only a minute or two.
The work was completed in Fairfield Connecticut during August of 1980, and the orchestration was compleed in the nick of time for the premiere perfromance on September 25: Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony orchestra in Symphony Hall, Boston. The instrumentation is for the noral ochestral complement, featuring various soloists and small groups: a Waltz for the string alone, a Mazurka for double-reed woodwinds with harp, a Blues for the brass and percussion, etc.The movements are replete with allusions to the repertoire with which Mr. Bernstein grew up in Symphony Hall, some quite obvious, others rather more secret messages for the orchestra players themselves. (To reveal one of these secrets, the opening section of the final March is a quiet meditation for three flutes, marked in the score “In Memoriam,” recalling the beloved conductors and orchestra members of the BSO who are no longer with us.
– Jack Gottlieb