Finzi’s Bagatelles for Clarinet and Piano

On the theme of bucolic music (see my post on Troldhaugen), I’m reminded of English composer Gerald Finzi. At a friend’s recital last week, the programme had included a couple of Finzi’s Bagatelles for Clarinet and Piano. The whole set consists of 5 bagatelles and makes for a satisfying listening experience.

The Bagatelles are perfect examples of how well the clarinet and piano complements each other. The clarinet – which is often said to have the range “closest to the human voice” – is personable: it sings and moves the listener’s heart gently, never forcefully. The first three of the set were written shortly before he was drafted to work for the Ministry of War Transport in 1941. Together with a fourth, the Bagatelles was premiered in 1943. perhaps uplifting the spirits of war-weary recital goers. The finale to the set – a lively fast-paced piece – was added a year later.

What I like about the Bagatelles is that it’s down-to-earth. I read somewhere that ‘bagatelle’ means “a short, unpretentious instrumental composition”. In urban slang, it probably means no-bullshit music.

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