Beethoven had a sense of humor that worked its way into his compositions. Sometimes the long and serious works had moments of humor, as is heard in the third movement of the Sixth Symphony In F Major 'Pastorale', where the orchestra mimics a village band, or the imitation of an oomp-pah-pah band in the quite serious 4th movement of the Ninth Symphony In D Minor. The piano sonatas also have their humorous moments (and movements) as well. Sometimes Beethoven's sense of humor took over a complete piece, as happened in some of the Bagatelles For Solo Piano, opus 33.
The term bagatelle is of French or Italian origin and means something of little value, a trifle, and was first used as early as 1717 by the French Baroque composer François Couperin. Beethoven wrote three sets of bagatelles, a total of 24 with opus numbers as well as an additional 6 individual bagatelles without opus numbers. One of the without opus number bagatelles is arguably one of Beethoven's most well known pieces, Für Elise. His first set of bagatelles opus 33, was written in 1802-1803 and contains seven works. It would be a mistake to take the term bagatelle literally. These are short pieces, but they aren't all fluff and stuff. Pieces like these were Beethoven's laboratory; he used them to experiment in writing for the instrument he knew very well:I. Andante grazioso, quasi allegretto - Written in the key of E-flat major, the first bagatelle of the set is graceful, though somewhat heavily seasoned with grace notes in the melody. A short middle section in a minor key provides contrast, after which the first section is repeated.
II. Scherzo. Allegro - It is not certain if all seven of the pieces in this opus were written between 1802-1803, but this scherzo follows a general pattern of music Beethoven labeled as 'scherzo' at about the same time. Piano sonata Opus 14, No. 2 In G Major of 1799 includes a scherzo as the final movement. Symphony No. 2 In D Major, Opus 36 written in 1803 also has a scherzo movement. Beethoven followed the experiments of Haydn in writing scherzos, but Beethoven's were quite unique. This scherzo is in C major and begins with a rhythmically quirky figure:
III. Allegretto - The third piece is in F major. The first phrase is in the home key, but Beethoven throws the ear another curve ball when the second phrase unexpectedly shifts to the key of D major. This section repeats. The next section begins with a very short development of the initial phrase before the initial phrase is repeated. This section also repeats. Another development section begins and leads back to the beginning material which is now decorated with grace notes. A short coda ends the work solidly in F major.
IV. Andante - A graceful theme in A major begins the piece, and shifts to a contrasting section in A minor. The A major theme returns and is varied. The melody shifts to the bass, and a shor coda brings the music to a quiet ending.
V. Allegro ma non troppo - Written in C major, this is another scherzo in all but name. Ascending arpeggios bring the music to rest upon a high A after some hand crossing, after that both hands descend in triplets before the hands move in contrary motion. The right hand plays trills to the chords in the left hand. The next section has both hands playing triplet figures along with long bass notes in the left and the melody in the right. The middle section is in C minor, with the melody in right hand octaves with low triplets in the bass. The C major scherzo begins again, but it not a verbatim repeat as Beethoven makes changes. A coda of longer duration begins and ends the piece in C major.
VI. Allegretto, quasi andante - Written in D major, this piece carries the added instruction Con una certa espressione parlante (with a kind of speaking voice) along with the tempo indication. It is a gentle, lyrical and short bagatelle that ends not long after it begins.
VII. Presto - After the gentleness of the preceding bagatelle, this one comes as a surprise. Written in A-flat major, the music begins with pianissimo thirds in the left hand for 4 measures in a beginning that may have been an experiment for what was to become a similar opening in the scherzo of Symphony No. 3 In E-flat Major 'Eroica'. The motive of this scherzo staggers into the picture in the right hand: