A bagatelle is a short, light, seemingly inconsequential piece of music. The term in both French and German means “trifle” and first appeared musically in relation to Francois Couperin in the late seventeenth/early eighteenth centuries.
Beethoven wrote three sets of bagatelles - from one of them comes one of the most recognisable pieces of classical music: “Fur Elise”. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mVW8tgGY_w) A young Camille Saint-Saens wrote a set. The Hungarian master, Béla Bartók, in his own unique style, wrote 14 of them, like Saint-Saens, for piano. Turning to other forces, in England, William Walton wrote five bagatelles for solo guitar, a work once neglected but now gaining in popularity with an increasing number of recordings - and even a concertante arrangement – and Gerald Finzi’s set of six for clarinet and piano - later arranged with string orchestra - gives the form a comfortable pastoral feel.
One of the most popular chamber works of all time is Antonin Dvorak’s Bagatelles (op.47) for harmonium, 2 violins and cello; simple, charming and cheerful music that is a fine example of what can be called “household music” – pieces written for a particular group of friends or family using the instruments available to them.