11 Bagatelles, op. 56

I wrote this set of short pieces for my friend-muse-collaborator Joseph Vaz, at his behest. Joey was also the instigator / dedicatee of my piano sonata, and after he had performed and recorded that piece several times, he came asking for more.

Why a set of eleven bagatelles? Joey was very specific in this regard. He wanted short pieces as opposed to another big work. It so happens that eleven is his lucky number, and it didn’t hurt that Beethoven’s op. 119 is a set of eleven bagatelles.

The first step in writing these pieces was to figure out just what a bagatelle was. I’ll be honest, I had only the vaguest conception. It turns out that basically nobody knows (per Wikipedia: “A bagatelle is a short piece of music, typically for the piano, and usually of a light, mellow character.”) That meant that a bagatelle could be anything I wanted, but I had to figure it out myself.

I came up with a Theory of Bagatelles:

As is so often the case with my music, I mostly followed this set of rules, but I mostly broke all of them at some point. I guess the big self-imposed no-no that I broke was that the pieces are all supposed to be self-sufficient, because I ended up making the last bagatelle a gloss on the first bagatelle. What can I say — I’m a cyclical girl at heart. 💁‍♀️

Other rules broken: they’re all too hard for me to play (except nos. 4 and 6), I did used received dance forms (the Poulencian waltz no. 8 — but I made up for this by writing an anti-waltz for no. 9). Many of them are spunky and spontaneous, but many are not.

I didn’t get around to including any African Pianism techniques (an academic specialty of Joseph’s) but I did include an homage to my favorite Tuvan folk group (as if I knew more than one) Huun-Huur-Tu (no. 7.) Number 10 is an ode, naturally, to Sondheim. No. 4 is an arrangement of the Basque folk song “Ezin ahaztu” in honor of Joey’s last name (which may reveal some sort of partial heritage.)

None of them are exactly programmatic, but no. 6 includes the instruction “con la dolcezza semplice del giovane amore in una notte d’estate illuminata da stelle e lucciole” (“with the simple sweetness of young love on a summer night illuminated by stars and fireflies”) and no. 11 was inspired by the feeling of freedom I felt at being done with a particularly onerous task.

Nos. 1 and 2 feature trick endings, and I considered doing the same for the rest, but I realized that would get tiresome.