Diversion (1943)

From Wind Repertory Project
Bernhard Heiden

Bernhard Heiden

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General Info

Year: 1943 / 1984
Duration: c. 6:30
Difficulty: VI (solo); III (ensemble) (see Ratings for explanation)
Publisher: MMB
Cost: Score and Parts – Out of print?


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None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Diversion was composed in 1943 while Bernhard Heiden served in the U.S. Army Band during World War II. In a career that would span roughly six decades, he was to become an influential voice in writing for the saxophone, enjoying an early success with the debut of his 1937 Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Piano, widely considered to be the first sonata written expressly for the instrument.

Although today Diversion is similarly regarded as a staple of 20th century saxophone solo repertoire, this work written just six years after the Sonata had a much longer and more arduous path to publication. In his 1985 interview with The Saxophone Symposium, Heiden traces the genesis back to his original score, which was then titled Solo for Alto Saxophone and Band. The quote suggests the humble origins of the piece, written almost incidentally for the 445th Army Services Band, for which he was the assistant bandmaster: “The band had some wonderful players, especially saxophonists; they were all outstanding jazz musicians who had been assembled for that purpose, but they had to play in the concert band ... I wrote (Diversion) in 1943 and we performed it many times.”

After Heiden’s return from the war, Diversion was in fact soon accepted by another major publisher. However, as a result of most performance materials being inopportunely misplaced by the company, the deal was ultimately scuttled. In spite of that, Heiden continued to receive steady requests to perform the work year after year. The interest in the piece never died, and fortunately Diversion got a second chance in the 1980s by virtue of a concert of the composer’s works organized by his former student, Michael Cunningham, then a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. Heiden recounts that he uncovered a personal copy of the pencil manuscript score and handed it to Cunningham saying, “If you want to make parts and copy out the score, you are perfectly welcome. I don’t want to be involved with that piece anymore, you know, after thirty years.” This concert was the catalyst that ultimately brought this work to the attention of world-renown classical saxophonist Eugene Rousseau, who offered to publish it for Heiden under the Etoile brand Rousseau had founded at Indiana University. Heiden accepted and the title was changed to Diversion at the composer’s request to avoid confusion with another of his works, Solo for Alto Saxophone and Piano. The publication of the original score along with a reduction for saxophone and piano helped establish Etoile as a serious saxophone music imprint, a legacy which remains to this day.

The influence of the composer’s mentor, Paul Hindemith, is evident in Diversion’s tonal but non-diatonic harmonies, paired with Heiden’s own elegant melodic writing. Constructed in a loose rondo form, the work is light and tuneful, revealing a mastery of instrumentation, with graceful lines for the solo saxophone and accompaniment passages supporting lightly underneath it. Contrasting sections for wind and brass choirs, punctuated with full tutti ensemble, provide interesting variety and underline climactic moments.

- Program Note from score


State Ratings

None discovered thus far.


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Works for Winds by this Composer


  • Heiden, B. (1943-1984). Diversion : for alto saxophone & wind ensemble (1943-1984). Keiser Classical: Milwaukee, Wisc.