Divertissement . . . Jacques Ibert

(Born August 15, 1890, in Paris; died there February 5, 1962)

Although Jacques Ibert’s education was interrupted by service in the French Navy during World War I, on his return home in 1919, he won the greatest honor that his country bestowed on its young artists, the Prix de Rome.  He was a pupil of Gabriel Fauré at the Paris Conservatory. While in residence at the French Academy, he composed one of his most popular works, the suite Escales (“Ports of Call”).  In 1937, he became the director of the Academy in Rome, the first musician to be honored with that post.  Later he served as director of the Paris Opera and Opéra-Comique.  His music is always reflects his apt sense of color and his gift for contriving iridescent effects.  Ibert was an independent composer, a member of no school, who wrote in a clear and direct musical language. 

Divertissement is the French equivalent of “diversion,” in the sense of amusement or entertainment; this title Ibert gave to the concert suite he drew from his incidental music to a 1929 production of one of the greatest French farces, The Italian Straw Hat, by Eugène Labiche (1815-1858).  The piece was performed for the first time on November 30, 1930, in Paris.  There are six movements; the music almost overflows with wit and high spirits.

The Introduction is a miniature comic-opera overture.  Next comes a Cortège, (in French, a procession) usually a funeral procession, but this cortège is too perky for such an occasion.  Ibert manages somehow to work a quotation from Mendelssohn’s Wedding March into the music.  Then comes the quiet night-music of a Nocturne, which is followed by a little wrong-note Waltz that pokes fun at every other famous waltz, from the French ballet to the Blue Danube.  After the sounds of a Parade approach from the distance and pass by, a wildly haphazard piano cadenza introduces the Finale, a furiously funny dance and march. 

An orchestra of modest size produces the brilliant sound of this entertaining score: piccolo and flute, clarinet, bassoon and contrabassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, percussion, celesta, piano and strings.  In the original chamber-ensemble scoring,  the string section was divided in an unconventional way: three violins, two violas, two cellos and a double bass.