Gerald Finzi: Five Bagatelles


Just before he was drafted into the war in 1941, Gerald Finzi completed three short pieces for clarinet. He used “20 year old old bits and pieces” he still hadn’t used, with his consequently adding a fourth piece in 1943. The quartet of pieces were premiered at the National Gallery as part of one of their lunchtime concerts that went ahead daily during the war.

A fifth and final movement was then added for publication in 1945, which were then branded as the Five Bagatelles. The set became a quick success for Finzi, and they still remain some of his most beloved music. Interestingly, however, Finzi was not a fan of the bagatelles. He dismissed them, calling them “only trifle pieces” that were “not worth much, but got better notices than my decent stuff.” Either way, the Five Bagatelles contain some of Finzi’s finest lyrical writing as well as showcasing the wide range of rich tones, characters and 


The Music
Bagatelle I – Prelude

Starting in high spirits, the peppy Prelude focuses on the intricate relationship between the clarinet and piano. The syncopated scalic movements are accompanied by cascading chord changes from the piano. Full of character and charm, the clarinet is shown in an animated way. 

The lyrical middle section slows the tempo down and shows some of Finzi’s glorious lyrical writing for the clarinet. The sweeping melody is delicately accompanied by the piano, creating real synergy between the two. This leads to a shrill climax that leads back into a recap of the opening material. This movement ends with building tension in the clarinet before a quick explosion of sound at the end. 


Bagatelle II –  Romance

The peaceful Romance is serene and calming in atmosphere. The more sparse piano accompaniment allows the clarinet to sing freely above. There is a feeling of weightlessness here too, as the melody slowly moves along. This bagatelle is perhaps one of the most performed on its own due to its need for control from the soloist, plus the delightful rich tone that it also begs for. This bagatelle ends quietly after a short reprise of the main theme from the opening section. 


Bagatelle III – Carol

The tender Carol is again another triumph in Finzi’s ability to write sweeping lyrical melodies. Unlike the Romance, Carol gives the piano a more active role in its accompaniment. Often music with the clarinet, the two work together to create a really poignant middle movement. This movement also showcases some of the higher register of the clarinet, which is heard in the small climactic sections. This bagatelle also ends quietly as the music slowly fades away. 


Bagatelle IV – Forlana

Based on an English folk tune, Forlana is presented as a calm dance. The pulsating piano allows the clarinet to dance through the melody. The two unite to emphasise the main kernel of melody in this bagatelle, which creates a strong wall of sound as they then veer away and start the next section. Another quiet and poignant ending sees the reprise of the melody one final time. 


Bagatelle V – Fughetta 

The final bagatelle in the set is fast-paced, animated and full of zest. The fast movement of the lines of music see the clarinet and piano intertwine and work together as a team. This bagatelle highlights the soloists vivacity as a player, as well as highlight their technical abilities. From high-octave flourishes to the syncopated reprise, this finale is full of excitement and joy and a fantastic way to end this short set of bagatelles. 


Final Thoughts

Although Gerald Finzi wasn’t a great lover of his Five Bagatelles for clarinet and piano, they have certainly stood the test of time. They are considered some of his most popular works today and are regularly played in concert programmes, recitals and examinations. A lyrical journey of clarinet discovery!


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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