About this work
"A mere bagatelle" usually indicates some light, throwaway piece, but Finzi labored over his Five Bagatelles for nearly two decades, and the results have become favorites among Anglo-American clarinetists. Finzi began the set sometime in the 1920s, early in his career, but didn't complete it until during World War II. There also exists a later arrangement for clarinet and string orchestra by Lawrence Ashmore.
The set consists of three slow movements, quite distinct from one another, framed by fast opening and closing movements. First comes a Prelude with an exuberant initial section, repeated at the end, interrupted by a more restrained middle section that builds to a dark climax. The Romance, the first of the slow movements, is lyrical and sweet. The miniscule Carol that follows begins with a light but foursquare rhythm that soon proves to be more flexible, bringing interest to the very simple melody (the tune was written for the children of fellow composer Herbert Howells). The "Forlana," still in a slow tempo and featuring a rather antique, pastoral melody, seems to have a slightly quicker pulse thanks to its rocking rhythm. Had the tempo been a bit slower, Finzi might have held to his original title for this piece, Berceuse. The final movement, Fughetta, is vigorous and witty, if not a textbook model of counterpoint. It's a fitting conclusion to a suite of pieces that are light and charming, but not at all trivial.