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ClassicsOnline Home » ZILBERQUIT, Julia: 3 Centuries of Bagatelles
Bagatelle means ‘trifle’ in French. The genre was often used by composers to ‘disarm’ their listeners, surprising them with a brilliant or poetic character piece. This innovative recording by the gifted Russian-born American pianist Julia Zilberquit traces the development of the bagatelle from Couperin through to Bartók and beyond, revealing the remarkable character and drama in the genre.
By Giv Cornfield, Ph.D.
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics
Three Centuries of Bagatelles
This innovative and unique recording traces the development of the bagatelle from the eighteenth century through to the twentieth century, featuring music by Couperin, Beethoven, Saint-Saëns, Liszt, and Bartók, as well as the Russian composers Anatoli Lyadov, Alexander Tcherepnin and Edison Denisov. The striking majority of Bagatelles – with the exception of those by Beethoven – have not been heard often in concert or on the air. Recordings of bagatelles are equally rare.
Bagatelle means 'trifle' in French, a thing of no importance. In spite of that definition, this recording reveals the remarkable character and drama in the genre. It was used by composers to 'disarm' the listeners, to surprise them with a brilliant or poetic character piece.
Les Bagatelles by François Couperin (1668-1733) is arguably the first work in the history of western classical music to be called 'bagatelle'. The rondeau is the last piece in Pièces de Clavecin, Book 2: 10th Ordre.
Beethoven's bagatelles, among them Für Elise, are easily the most famous examples of this genre. Composed as cycles at three different stages of his career (Opp. 33, 119, 126), these miniatures reflect many features of his style.
Saint-Saëns' bagatelles were published as two sub-cycles of three pieces each, and reflect the influence of Romantics such as Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, and Liszt. The very first and last pieces of the cycle create an 'arch' by using similar character and subject matter, thus uniting the whole cycle.
The four bagatelles by Anatoli Lyadov (1855-1914), a brilliant composer of the Russian school, are very typical of this composer's style. A true master of piano miniatures, Lyadov creates delicate lyric sketches. Alexander Tcherepnin (1899-1977) comes from a famous family of composers – his father Nicolai, himself, and his son Sergey. His Ten Bagatelles bring to life picturesque traditional characters from Russian folklore.
Several decades later, Edison Denisov (1929-1996) – one of the most original composers of the mid-twentieth century – composed a cycle of musical 'luboks', popular prints by primitive artists depicting scenes of urban and rural life, filled with extraordinary characters. In the cycle Seven Bagatelles, Denisov developed traditions of the Russian composers who had preceded him. One finds musical echoes of Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky and Borodin in that cycle.
The Bagatelle Without Tonality by Franz Liszt (1811-1886) was written towards the end of the composer's life when the composer started experimenting with tonality and the lack thereof. The images of this exquisitely masterly miniature in the form of a waltz are similar to those of the Mephisto Waltz No. 1 in its tension and mystery.
This recording finishes with the last piece from Fourteen Bagatelles by Béla Bartók (1881-1945). The piece is subtitled 'My dancing sweetheart …' or 'Ma Mie Qui Danse …', a humorous musical sketch.
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ZILBERQUIT, Julia: 3 Centuries of Bagatelles