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.
Animato, ritmico — Rustico — Com primo
Adagio, con spirito — Grazioso, non troppo allegro — Tempo I
Allegro, capricioso — Presto, agitato — Più presto
Agitato, scherzando — Solenne, religioso
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”.
fl, cl, vn, vc, pno. A version also exists with a marimba part.
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).
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