Five Bagatelles


Five Bagatelles is a set of five movements in which dance forms predominate. In each, at least two different dances play and collide, to dramatic effect. Each of the five instruments is featured in a virtuosic solo capacity throughout the work. There are many diverse influences to the piece, from 1930s swing to mid-European traditional dances, and even a tongue-in-cheek harmonisation of an imagined Church of England hymn.

  1. Animato, ritmico — Rustico — Com primo

  2. Adagio, con spirito — Grazioso, non troppo allegro — Tempo I

  3. Allegro, capricioso — Presto, agitato — Più presto

  4. Agitato, scherzando — Solenne, religioso

  5. Largo

Part of my sketch for Five Bagatelles
Part of my sketch for Five Bagatelles

Programme note

by Jemima Bannitt, in the programme for the first performance, given by Radius at Wigmore Hall, 20th April 2007

In Tim Benjamin’s Five Bagatelles, the listener is taken on a journey through the composer’s personal musical memory. Dramatic, terse, and often amusing, the five movements provide an acerbic commentary on music as diverse as folk idioms – Bartók and Dvořák here, not Vaughan Williams and Henry Wood – and mid-20th century modernism, 1930s swing and Romantic elegy. These idioms, however, are not encountered with a straight face. The music is twisted, turned, and the composition subversive, tongue-in-cheek; unlikely combinations are found side-by-side or even on top of each other. The music is dissected and questioned, half-remembered and re-heard.

Nothing is quite as it seems in this music: during the fourth movement, for example, after an extended, “serious”, and agitated flute solo the listener is launched into a wheezy, imaginary Wesleyan or Anglican hymn-tune. Is this a memory of hours spent as a boarding-school chorister? During rehearsals, Benjamin compared this movement to an impassioned and pious sermon given by an earnest preacher – but then exhorted the performers to imagine that the irreverent Reverend was “wearing ladies’ underwear”.


15 minutes


fl, cl, vn, vc, pno. A version also exists with a marimba part.

First performance

27th April 2007, Wigmore Hall, London, by Radius. This was the version with a marimba part. The performers were Daniel Rowland (violin), Oliver Coates (cello), Jennifer George (flute), Charys Green (clarinet), John Reid (piano) and Adrian Spillett (percussion).


Request a score / parts

If you would like to see a score and/or require a set of parts for this music, please contact me.

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