Now I know length is part of the answer. Nobody wouldn't consider a 10 minute long rondo to be a bagatelle. Bagatelles tend to be around 3-5 minutes in length. Also, from my experience(though this is biased towards Fur Elise and Bagatelle in C minor(the one at a presto tempo) because those are the 2 bagatelles that I am most familiar with), they seem to follow one of 2 forms most often. Those being:

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Rondo form, usually ABACA instead of the more complicated rondos you see at the ends of sonatas such as ABACABA. This is how come, despite the short length, Rondo Alla Turka does not count as a bagatelle, its rondo form is more complicated than a simple ABACA and is much closer to Sonata form in its nature(that and it is the end of a Mozart sonata, just more often played by itself than with the whole sonata)

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This is the Sonata-Rondo form that Rondo Alla Turka is in. You wouldn't expect to find this complicated of a rondo in a bagatelle.

The other form I most commonly see bagatelles in besides Rondo form is:

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Ternary form, sometimes itself split into Ternary form subsections, especially in the A section.

An example of a Bagatelle in Rondo form:

The most famous bagatelle in existence

An example of a Bagatelle in Ternary form:

This one has an A section that itself is in ternary form. In that sense, it is closer to a rondo, but I'm still counting it as ternary form because of the Scherzo and Trio structure of the bagatelle as a whole.

Another thing that I notice, at least in minor key bagatelles, is that there will often be 3 sections differing by key and intensity. One of the sections will be intense and in the minor tonic. Another section that is also in the minor tonic will have a more relaxed feel to it. And then there is a section in a contrasting major key. This key is up to the composer but I usually only see a few options used, those being:

  • Relative major
  • Submediant(this is the case with Fur Elise)
  • Subdominant major
  • Dominant
  • Parallel major(this is the case with the C minor bagatelle)

But obviously form and length aren't the whole story, otherwise a lot of short, simple rondos would be called bagatelles. And granted there are a lot of bagatelles out there(especially Beethoven bagatelles), but the majority of short rondos aren't bagatelles, just rondos.

So besides the piece being in either Rondo or Ternary form, being short, having 2 sections in the same key and another section in a contrasting key, and having the 2 sections that share a key differ in intensity, what makes it a bagatelle? Does it have to do with being in triple meter as opposed to 4/4 or 2/4? No, because some bagatelles are in 6/8 and that isn't triple meter(well, I guess it can be either duple or triple depending on context but usually 6/8 is duple meter with a triplet feel, not triple meter with a straight eighths feel).

So, I have found a lot of similarities amongst bagatelles in their form, key, and length, time signature types differ, but I don't seem to have found what makes a piece a bagatelle. So what is it that makes a piece a bagatelle?

  • Sheesh, I thought 5 minutes is too long for a bagatelle.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jun 27 '19 at 5:12
  • 1
    short piece of music, typically for the piano, and usually of a light, mellow character. The name bagatelle literally means "a short unpretentious instrumental composition" as a reference to the light style of a piece „. didn’t you look up this site?en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagatelle_(music) Jun 27 '19 at 5:12
  • Yes, but I thought there was a deeper explanation which is why I went and listened to Beethoven bagatelles to try to find that deeper explanation. That is what lead me towards the 2 most common forms, why Rondo Alla Turka, despite its short length, isn't a bagatelle, the key relations commonly seen in bagatelles, and the most common time signatures for bagatelles being in simple triple meter such as 3/4 or 3/8 but other time signatures like 6/8 also being used.
    – Caters
    Jun 27 '19 at 17:46

You are right. A point is the length of the piece:

  • Bagatelles are short. One of Beethoven‘s pieces was too short to be edited by Peters. So he called it a Bagatelle.
  • Originally Bagatelles had been written for piano.
  • the character and style is light and lovely, mild.

Translation of the German version of this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagatelle_(music)

The bagatelle (French bagatell [e] for "trifle, love)" refers to a small work of instrumental music, mostly for piano.

The special use of the term in the musical world goes back to the French composer François Couperin, in whose 10ème ordre de clavecin from 1717 a piece is entitled "Rondeau - les bagatelles". If the term is still used here to characterize a Small character piece, then the term gets its special meaning only in Beethoven. A first series of bagatelles for piano from the years 1794 to 1823, when Opus 119 published by various publishers as so-called "pirated print", was initially unsuccessful. The Leipzig publisher Carl Friedrich Peters, the Beethoven had offered them for inclusion, rejected them as "too small" from and promised no business success of the technically and musically unbalanced miniatures. But while working on the last three piano sonatas op. 109 - 111, Beethoven's compositional technique had changed again, and so the 1824 published "Bagatelles" op. 126 are in truth a formally and expressively balanced sequence of musical aphorisms. The composer emphasized in his letters, "that they are not only completely new, but also longer than usual and 'somewhat executed', 'probably the best in this way'." Building on this, Franz Liszt wrote a "Bagatelle sans tonalité" for piano in 1885. From the pen of Antonín Dvořák come five "bagatelles" for string trio and harmonium op. 74 (1778). In the 20th century it was Béla Bartók - for piano op. 6 (1908) - and Anton von Webern with his string quartet op.9 (1911), which resumed the label "Bagatelle". In 1942, Theodor W. Adorno gave the collection "Bagatellen" (Opus 6) to a collection of six songs accompanied by piano, thus focusing on the special significance that Beethoven has associated with the term "bagatelle": although of miniature brevity and outwardly as " Incidental "stamped, they speak an unusual musical language and address existentially important issues.

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