Gordon Jacob – Seven Bagatelles

This composition involves a short series of very short pieces, which are played by an oboe only.

1) March

Suiting to the title, Jacob uses the motive of a repetitively playing note, which reminds the listener of a march, this effect is being strengthened by him using a staccato rhythm going faster every time the motive comes to an end.

2) Elegy

This bagatelle is a complete contrast to the first one. It consists, except for a few moments, only of legato notes and has a moderate pace. Even though the piece is high pitched (due to the instrument), the melody makes it sound sad.

3) Walz

Despite the fact that this composition is, as well as the others, very short, one can clearly hear a rough compositional structure. The first motive is being repeated several times in varied versions until a very short subsidiary section starts, which reminds the listener of the main theme but still makes a bit of a contrast. A third and final part follows afterwards,where the first motive is played again. The general mood of the piece is joyful an thrilling.

4) Slow air

This piece as a very mysterious mood. It is played with legato-notes only, most of them have the same length, it only occurs a few times in the piece, that one note is shorter or longer than the ones which are being played more often.

5) Limerick

Except for the last two notes, this piece is played very hastily. Due to the melody jumping  up and down, the piece sounds rather amusing. Seeing that this piece is the shortest one from the seven bagatelles, the composition reflects its name very well. ( A Limerick is a “humorous poem consisting of five lines” ( Your Dictionary, 2018), which also has a given amount of syllables it must include.) If Jacob put a certain amount of notes into this piece, which would then reflect the syllables, I was not able to hear it.

6) Chinese Tune

The composition basically involves two themes, which could be divided in another two motives. The piece repeats itself in a slightly different way after the first half with a different ending. Due to its slow pace it sounds rather phlegmatic. The pentatonic scale gives this composition the right mood to fit to its name. Although, especially this pentatonic scale doesn’t involve five notes as usually, but six. In this case just Jacob added a sixth dominant at the end of the fifth. Thus, he didn’t only use the normal pentanonic scale on C , which involves the notes C – G – D – A – E (those notes are all a dominant ( 5 notes ) apart from each other). Jacob also added a sixth note, the Dominant from the last tone E, which is B. ( A more detailed description of pentatonic scales can be found alongside with my fifth project here.)

7) Galop

This piece changes between short staccato notes, which are used to reflecting the title, and legato notes. The main theme can be heard three times always with a slightly different following section. The third and last motive (after the main theme has been played) comes to a climax until the piece ends on one long note. Due to it being so diversified it has a really vivid mood.


Those seven bagatelles gave me a very good understanding how many different ways there are to shape a melody and also what a high variety of techniques there can be for just one instrument.

I personally preferred the second piece “elegy” because of its ability to put the listener in a rather melancholic mood. I was quite surprised at that, because I did’t think that one single instrument can create so many different emotions.


A link to those bagatelles (provided from Sarah Francis on Youtube) can be found here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s