About this work
In the mid-twentieth century, Liszt's piano music was unfairly viewed by many as generally flashy and virtuosic, often saccharine in its Romantic demeanor and only rarely of harmonic, rhythmic, or melodic interest. When his neglected and previously unpublished late works finally began appearing, and when musicologists also started to re-evaluate his middle-period output, his artistic worth was not only upgraded, but his influence on succeeding generations of composers was finally recognized.
Bagatelle sans tonalité is one of the first pieces to explore atonality and probably the first by a major composer. It clearly anticipates Schoenberg and the Second Vienna School, as well as other modernist movements. The piece humorously begins as the music seems to playfully hesitate, almost awkwardly, in mapping out its course, a sense of mischief seeming to hover above the proceedings. The mood remains amusing throughout, subtly so even when the music threatens to turn serious as it builds up with a rising series of chords. In the end, the impression left is one of colorful, playful music clothed in odd-ball writing where notes stumble and caress by turns. For all this charming three-minute work's supposed modernism, first-time listeners unaware of the Bagatelle's title will likely not notice its atonality.