Diversions for Piano Left Hand and Orchestra

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Diversions for Piano Left Hand and Orchestra, Op. 21, is a concertante music composition by Benjamin Britten.


Britten wrote the work for the Viennese-born pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in World War I. Britten met Wittgenstein in New York in July 1940 and sketched the piece in August at Owl's Head, Maine. Although Wittgenstein complained about the orchestration, Britten initially declined to make any changes[1] but later agreed to a few small alterations. He for ever after felt bitter about them, and after 1950 he revised the score 'to create an official version that would stop Paul playing it by rendering his version obsolete.'[2] Wittegenstein retained the performing rights for a good number of years, which kept other pianists from performing the work.[3]

Wittgenstein played the premiere of Diversions with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Eugene Ormandy on 16 January 1942. The Philadelphia reviewers commented more on Wittgenstein and his work as a one-armed pianist than on the composition itself. The Philadelphia Record did describe the score as "ingeniously written", while Musical America commented on the presence of both "pleasurable and dull moments" in the work.[4]


The piece is in the form of a theme and 11 variations:

  • Theme
  • Variation I, Recitative
  • Variation II, Romance
  • Variation III, March
  • Variation IV, Rubato
  • Variation V, Chorale
  • Variation VI, Nocturne
  • Variation VII, Badinerie
  • Variation VIII, Ritmico
  • Variation IXa, Toccata I
  • Variation IXb, Toccata II
  • Variation X, Adagio
  • Variation XI, Tarantella.

Britten utilised music that he wrote for a production of J. B. Priestley's Johnson over Jordan as source material for the work.[5] Lyn Henderson has noted the influence of Prokofiev-like rhythms in Variation IXa.[6] Christopher Mark has discussed Britten's use of the circle of fifths in various works, including the Diversions.[7]



  1. ^ SMitchell, Donald & Reed, Philip (eds) (1991). Letters from a Life: Selected Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten, Vol 2, 1939–45. London: Faber and Faber. pp. 956–57. ISBN 0-571-16058-1.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  2. ^ Waugh, Alexander. 'The House of Wittgenstein' p279, p292
  3. ^ Thackeray, Ruth (1978). "Music in London: Orchestral". The Musical Times. The Musical Times, Vol. 119, No. 1629. 119 (1629): 975–977. doi:10.2307/960161. JSTOR 960161.
  4. ^ Robinson, Suzanne (1997). ""An English Composer Sees America": Benjamin Britten and the North American Press, 1939–42". American Music. American Music, Vol. 15, No. 3. 15 (3): 321–351. doi:10.2307/3052328. JSTOR 3052328.
  5. ^ Salter, Lionel (1994). "Book Reviews". The Musical Times. 119 (2): 268–297. JSTOR 964627.
  6. ^ Henderson, Lyn (January 1987). "His Influence on Britten: The Vital Prokofiev". The Musical Times. 128 (1727): 24–25. JSTOR 1004703.
  7. ^ Mark, Christopher (1994). "Britten and the Circle of Fifths". Journal of the Royal Musical Association. 119 (2): 268–297. doi:10.1093/jrma/119.2.268. JSTOR 766522.
  8. ^ Thomson, Eric (1955). "Record Guide". Tempo. New Series. 36 (36): 35. ISSN 0040-2982. JSTOR 944035.


  • Mitchell, Donald & Reed, Philip (eds) (1991). Letters from a Life: Selected Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten, Vol 2, 1939–45. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-16058-1.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)

See also[edit]