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Scoring

2.picc.2.corA.2.bcl.2.dbn-4.3.2.btrbn.1-timp.perc(3)-harp-pft-strings

Abbreviations (PDF)

Publisher

B&B

Territory
This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.

Availability

World Premiere
11/7/2021
Brisbane City Hall, Brisbane
Brisbane Symphony Orchestra / Antoni Bonetti
Composer's Notes

Bag of Twelve was commissioned by the BSO to celebrate its 30th anniversary.
This piece was to be premiered in the 250th year since Beethoven's birth (1770), therefore I wanted to pay tribute to this giant of our music history. Not long before I started composing this work, I had discovered a disk of the renowned pianist, and a friend, Stephanie McCallum, “Für Elise, Bagatelles For Piano by Ludwig van Beethoven”, which contained as its last track a most charming 54 second piece that was unknown to me. This is what I found out:
Sydney musicologist, Professor Peter McCallum discovered the 32 bars of handwritten sketched music in the composer's last sketchbook, stored in the State Library, Berlin. Peter painstakingly restored the piece to, as he put it, the status of “possible Für Elise alternative”. Peter believes it was written in 1826, just a few months before the composer died in March 1827 and would have been the last piano piece that Beethoven wrote. In Peter's words the piece is “slightly melancholy”. This quality is one of my favourite moods in music in general. I found myself deeply drawn to this short and gentle piece and I decided to create a set of variations on this bagatelle for this commission for the Brisbane Symphony Orchestra.

The Bag of Twelve is a theme and 10 variations plus a coda.
The original Beethoven Bagatelle starts the work, with low clarinet notes added for colour after 4 bars, then 4 bars later flute, harp and strings join. Only after the initial 16 bars does the original material move away from the piano and an orchestral texture further unfolds.
Instead of the final resolving original chord of F minor at the end of the theme statement, a celebratory Variation 1 begins with a crash of cymbals and the whole orchestra in F major. Most variations are quite short, this first one being one of the longest.
Variation 2 is mainly in reflective strings, a respite from the very full first variation. There is something resembling Puccini in this variation.
Variation 3 starts with a chord progression that prepares a melody in bassoon and strings which revolves around the 3 neighbouring notes that form the basis of the Bagatelle. A few phrases later I introduce a new theme on Trumpet solo as an addition to this material in strings, now in pizzicato. A kind of a slow waltz is born here, to be expanded upon later in the piece.
An insistent Variation 4, with many repeated chords in brass and strings, leads to Variation 5 which is a light tango, containing lots of notes jumping about in the orchestra.
Variation 6 begins with the “new” waltz theme which was introduced in Variation 3. This time it is in intervals of thirds on Trumpets, accompanied by the rest of the brass. It is a little bit like a chorale, until the strings take over, and the waltz keeps growing, leading to Variation 7, another Puccini-like variation. This time it is mainly in the woodwinds, with a light support from the strings.
Variation 8 is something between a rag and a tango, but only very slightly, it is like a walk in the park towards something that awaits.
Variation 9 is a sum of all the forces and has an almost heroic nature, but it is also the darkest, with the melody moving to the lowest possible register, in Basses, Tuba, Bass Clarinet and Bassoons, as well as Contrabassoon. Frantic semiquavers in violins add perhaps to the intensity of this variation. I think that this variation reflects my initial obsession with this Beethoven's Bagatelle and is a culmination of a journey where the small intervals of the original have travelled far. This variation grows into a big march, followed by a somewhat surreal variation 10, which is like a memory of the original melody, played by soli Oboe and Clarinet, then doubled in flute and bassoon successively.
The Coda starts with the recapitulation of the Puccini-like material leading to the Bagatelle in its original form. I got quite excited when I realised (while writing this note) that this final Beethoven material starts at bar 500 and the rehearsal number is 50. Though not intentional, it is always surprising to see the numbers relate to each other and also to the structure of the whole.
The whole work has 515 bars and 51 rehearsal numbers. Often such information is irrelevant, but it is a nice mix of numbers worth mentioning.
The piano has the last word, playing the original with a resolution in F minor, accompanied by just a few delicately playing instruments.
Elena Kats-Chernin

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