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8.550474 - BEETHOVEN: Bagatelles, Opp. 33, 119 and 126
Ludwig von Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
Seven Bagatelles, Op. 33
It was the French composer Couperin who, in 1717, first used the title Bagatelle for one of his harpsichord pieces. The name proved useful, but it was with Beethoven, a hundred or more years later, that the Bagatelle received an assured position. He wrote 26 short piano pieces under the title, the first group of seven appears to have been completed in 1802 and was published in Vienna and in London the following year. The manuscript carries the apparent date 1802, the 8 changed to 7 and the 0 to 8, providing too early a date for the whole set, although they may contain earlier material, here reworked. The first of these pieces is a graceful little composition, in E flat major, with a contrasting central section. It is followed by a C major Scherzo, its first section followed at once by a section in A minor. There is a central Trio, with passages of ascending thirds, and a final syncopated version of the first material. A gentle F major Bagatelle leads to an A major Bagatelle, marked Andante, in which the opening material re-appears in various guises. The fifth piece of the set, in C major, opens with an ascending arpeggio. The middle section is in C minor. The sixth Bagatelle, in D major, carries an additional marking: Con una certa espressione parlante (with a certain speaking expression). Its soft conclusion leads to a rapid final Bagatelle in A flat major.
The eleven Bagatelles that form Opus 119 were written between 1820 and 1822. Five of them, Nos. 7 to 11, were written for Kapelimeister Friedrich Starke, director of music for an Austrian regiment of infantry, who was writing a book of instruction for the piano, the Wiener Pianoforteschule, and these commissioned pieces were included as Kleinigkeiten (Trifles). The set opens with a B flat Allegretto, followed by a C major piece that calls for some crossing of hands, as a recurrent figure appears now high, now low. The third Bagatelle is marked à l'Allemande and is in D major, followed by a brief excursion into A major. The fifth Bagatelle is in C minor and the sixth, in G major, has a slower introduction, with a quicker section that includes a distinct change of rhythm. Trills mark the C major seventh Bagatelle, succeed by a brief C major piece. The ninth, an A minor Bagatelle in waltz rhythm, and a very short syncopated A major piece, precede a charming B flat piece, marked innocentemente e cantabile.
The last group of six, Opus 126, was completed in 1824, the period of the Ninth Symphony. The composer described them in a letter to his publisher as the best things of that kind he had done. The first of the set, in G major, allows its principal melody to re-appear in the bass in its second section, after a brief cadenza. The second, in G minor, with a central B flat cantabile melody, offers a contrast of mood and key, and is followed by an E flat major Andante, marked cantabile e grazioso, in which the opening melody is elaborated. There is a strong element of drama in the B minor - B major fourth Bagatelle, capped by a gentle G major Allegretto fifth. The set, which makes a coherent whole when played as one work, ends with an E flat major Bagatelle in which a rapid outer frame-work holds a pleasing and more extended central Andante.
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