piano technique, Shura Cherkassky

Instruction and Comparative performances of Beethoven’s Bagatelle in G minor, Op. 119 No. 1

“The Eleven Bagatelles, Op. 119 were written by Ludwig van Beethoven between the 1790s and the early 1820s. By the end of 1803, he had already sketched Bagatelles Nos. 1 through 5 (along with several other short works for piano that he never published). In 1820, he composed the last five bagatelles of Op. 119, and published them as a set of five in 1821. The following year, he revised his old bagatelle sketches to construct a new collection for publication, adding a final bagatelle, No. 6, composed in late 1822. He then sent off this set of six to England for publication in 1823, along with Nos. 7 through 11, which had not yet been published in England.”

Oxford Dictionary definition of Bagatelle:
The name literally means a “a short unpretentious instrumental composition” as a reference to the light style of a piece.

Bagatelle no. 1 is more complex than it looks.

Composed in the key of G minor, it uncannily ends on the Dominant of C minor, creating a C minor home key perception (that is, at the final cadence or last measure of the composition, as the G MAJOR chord resonates). But from a different perspective, the final G MAJOR chord at pianissimo level (very soft) could be considered a PARALLEL MAJOR to the Bagatelle’s firmly ingrained G minor key signature. Regardless of theoretical analysis, the composition is audibly more than a “lighthearted” work.

In my own preparation and instruction, I drew on Alfred Brendel and Shura Cherkassky’s readings, later adding a forte piano player’s rendition.

While reviewing and practicing the Bagatelle, I crystallized my ideas about phrasing:

Beethoven Bagatelle in G minor p 1

Beethoven Bagatelle p 2

In these comparative You Tube performances, staccato versus legato choices are varied, and tempo decisions relate to artistic preference.

Shura Cherkassky

Alfred Brendel

4 thoughts on “Instruction and Comparative performances of Beethoven’s Bagatelle in G minor, Op. 119 No. 1”

  1. I cant believe the depth of insight you offered me on this! It’s one of my exam pieces, Grade 5 Trinity. I thank you with all my heart.
    Emma from India


  2. Your videos are terrific. I’m playing this for a piano workshop in Sept. I’m a third year adult beginner who finally moved to early intermediate and am so enjoying my piano journey with a fine teacher. At 70 this has been a real treat. Hope by 80 to play some Schumann kinder pieces.


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