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A bagatelle (bæɡəˈtel[1]) 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 François 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”. (listen on YouTube) 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. This particular tune has been sung by youth groups (church and otherwise) as a semi-scatalogical refrain while travelling.

Passengers will please refrain from using toilets while the train
Is standing in the station for a while.
If you feel you must pass water, please be kind and call the porter;
He will place a gerry in the aisle.
And so on.....


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