A couple of weeks ago, I explored the bagatelles of Beethoven and enjoyed the music that I found there very much. That’s when I decided to take a look at some of the other bagatelles by composers whose music I enjoyed playing and teaching. That’s when I discovered the two sets of bagatelles (Opp. 34 and 97) by the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius.
The piano music of Sibelius is not widely performed in the States. My limited experience with his compositions came during graduate school when I explored a set of four songs by the composer for soprano and piano. What I found was music that fit the pianist’s hands very well and explored the variety of timbres available to the instrument. Upon further research, I learned that Sibelius’ bagatelles are central pieces to the piano instruction of students throughout Finland. The Op. 34 set consists of 10 pieces that are mostly approachable by developing pianists and can serve as an entryway to the larger standard repertoire of other Romantic composers.
Valse – Op. 34, No. 1
This charming opening piece of the set features a lovely melodic line with an accompaniment that will prepare students to study the more famous (and more challenging) waltzes of Chopin. The Valse can also serve as an excellent study in the art of rubato. The quasi-cadenza at the end of the piece may be intimidating for some young pianists, but a careful look will show that this Db major scale is not all that frightening.
Boutade – Op. 34, No. 5
The word “Boutade” means “a sudden outburst or outbreak.” With its waltz-like character, Op. 34, No. 5 is another strong preparation for further study of waltzes for students who are not yet ready for the rolling, broken accompaniments found in the Op. 34, No. 1 Valse. The stretto passages found throughout are very exciting and fun to play as well.
Danse pastorale – Op. 34, No. 7
This dance is simple and delightful. With only one chord in the piece that extends beyond the octave, students will have the opportunity to explore Sibelius’ music without too much stress on their hands. Since much of the piece is detached, Sibelius provides an opportunity to learn about shaping line when a legato line is not present. This piece is also an excellent early study in chord voicing.
Joueur de harpe – Op. 34, No. 8
This is perhaps my favorite bagatelle from the set. It appeals to my love of impressionism and will provide students an opportunity to explore a new sound dimension. Simply lovely!
The remaining 6 bagatelles in the Op. 34 set are certainly worth exploring as well. Many of them have similar features for the young pianists. I have simply chosen to highlight a few of the works that I discovered in my own explorations of the past few weeks. It is also interesting to note that each of the pianists featured in the videos above have performances of most of the set for comparison and differing interpretations.
In my next post, I will continue to explore the piano compositions of Sibelius. We will explore the 6 bagatelles that make up Op. 97. Until then, I would love to hear your thoughts about the Op. 34 bagatelles as you join me in exploring this under-performed repertoire.