Walton's 3rd: fingerings and tips for practicing it correctly!

Updated: Jul 22

Following on from the blog on B.Britten's Nocturnal, I would like to take you today on a journey through another masterpiece of 20th century English music, the "5 Bagatelles" by W. Walton. For reasons of time and space, however, we will be forced to concentrate only on one of them, the 3rd, which, in my opinion, is the one that suffers most from the lack of care with which the precise indications of the composer have been neglected, especially regarding the time and the articulation, producing in some cases executions that frankly touch the grotesque. As always, after highlighting the most common errors, some fingerings will be proposed that facilitate an execution adhering to the text, thanks also to the consultation of the manuscript. Let's see one by one the crucial points of this masterpiece.

The Tempo

The error perhaps with more consequences perpetrated by the majority of the interpreters is the choice of a too-fast tempo, completely in contradiction with that clearly indicated by Walton:

It is a rather slow tempo which, although it seems more suitable for an orchestral version (as it will in fact happen with the arrangement of the 5 Bagatelle for large orchestra under the title of Varii Capricci), however, perfectly adapts to the 'lazy' and languid character of this piece. While granting a certain elasticity in the choice of time, highlighted by the ‘C’ (circa = about) post by Walton, the choice of most guitarists is oriented towards quaver = 112 or even 136! The effect is absolutely deranged, almost caricatural. I believe that a tempo quaver = 88/92 is instead absolutely acceptable and desirable.

The symmetrical Tempo-structure in the Bagatelles

In support of the composer's time signature, there is also the fact that the 5 Bagatelles show a very clear symmetrical scheme of tempo (fast-slow-slower-slow-fast):

Allegro (126 = 1/4 note)

Lento (46 = ¼ dotted note)

Alla Cubana (88 = 1/8 note)

No tempo indication (126 = 1/8 note) (moderate)

Con slancio/with elan (126 = 1/4 note)

That is, with the metronome indications expressed in 1/8 notes:






As we can see, the third Bagatelle constitutes, therefore, the moment of greatest 'slowness' of the cycle, and as such should be performed, with a time at least close to that indicated by Walton. The consequences of too fast a time are easily foreseeable: a song that should give off a sense of languor becomes a Totentanz, without any breath.

The first bar: A mine of information!

  • The harmonic B

Right away a curiosity: the absence of the harmonic B at the 19th fret. It is however available in the orchestral version, we can, therefore, assume that it was added for the publication of the cycle without the manuscript being updated.

  • The duration of the basses

As we can see, the descending bass {B-A-G # -G- (F #) - E} with which each of the first 5 bars begins is clearly indicated with a prolongation bow:

All the performances that I have been able to attend or listen to in recordings ignore this precise indication. Let's see what happens if we try to respect it. Here some possible fingerings:

If you prefer a darker color, which certainly adapts very well to the emotional climate of this beginning, you can opt for the following variant:

  • The articulation

Another crucial indication is that of the articulation. Throughout the whole Bagatelle we find an extremely refined articulation thanks to which the same element is presented in rapid succession with different articulations, shifting the weight of the notes from one to the other and thus causing a different punctuation of the element itself. The first two bars present a sort of obstinate on a descending bass, composed of the notes (in red) of a broken Bm9(7+) chord:

If we go further, we also observe that, despite the time signature, the position of the bows divides the 3/4 into two bars (in red the notes that due to the bows receive a slight accent):

The first part of the measure (6/16) creates the suspensions caused by the particular composition of the Bmin9(7+) chord and the second part (3/8) resolves them. Perfect symmetry:

After having said that, here 2 frequent and crucial errors:

1) The tied note of the 6/16 is accentuated and not the first (against all the general rules of the articulation)

2) The first F# of the 3/8 is played as an anacrusis of the last unit of time


This incorrect articulation of the first bar, will be the one used to signal the change from harmony from Bmin into Gmin. In fact, the notes in the red rectangle of the next example have a very marked harmonic bivalence, being able to be used at the same time for a harmony of Bmin and, enharmonically, of Gmin, in which the A# becomes enharmonically Bflat and the C# acts as suspension of the IV+ on the V:

Therefore, Walton marks this change of harmony with a simultaneous change of the articulation, thanks to which the notes that were previously accentuated are now aspirated by the bow and vice versa. The composed bar (6/16 + 3/8) is also shortened (2/4):

Bars 1-2:

The same element, in the red rectangle, bars 3-4:

Clearly, the bass, falling on the first beat of each measure, always receives a natural accent.

  • The portamento

In the first bars of the manuscript we encounter an interesting sign: a portamento between the penultimate and the last note:

In Bream's edition this sign is absent, although between the F# and the A of the second bar there seems to be a hint of line, but it could be an editorial typographical imperfection. Performing these portamenti is practically impossible, also because in fact the arrival notes (the B and the A) should be produced with the only intervention of the left hand, forcing us to a back and forth on the {5} string which would not favor a smooth execution of the bars in question. On the other hand, these portamenti well express the languid character of this beginning. Here is a possible compromise, for those who want to try them:

The 2nd finger of the left hand will perform a partial portamento on the {4} string until the following note of the bass has to be performed.

The sobbing motif

Immediately after this brief introduction, we encounter a passage that can be safely defined as neo-Baroque for the repeated use of a typical figure of this historical period known as the 'Seuftzenmotif', or the ‘sobbing motif’. It is a repeated series of suspension (in red) and resolutions. In our case, the rhetorical use of the pauses (in blue) highlights even more the sighing character of the passage (rhetorical figure of the suspiratio):

The implicit harmony of the passage makes these suspensions even more intense. I transposed the passage an octave higher for ease of execution, in case you want to perform it:

(original octave)

The suspensions must be performed with more emphasis and resolutions more gently. The resulting effect is the following:

Those who have read my blog on the slurs will already know which is the most suitable technique to achieve this result. The problem in our case, however, is that each suspension is adorned with a mordent, this makes it extremely inconvenient to perform them with a single slur on the same string. My suggestion is thus to use two strings: one for the suspension+mordent and the one immediately below for the resolution:

To obtain the due legato effect, however, care must be taken to let the suspension resonate simultaneously with the resolution (e.g.: leave your finger on the fret) and to remove the two fingers/notes at the same time, immediately after playing the resolution itself:

Let us remember that the mordent on a suspension is performed on the upbeat, before the suspension thus, and not as a triplet!

The varied reprise of the initial theme

Here too we find a small but significant discrepancy between the edition and the manuscript:

The bow (in red) is present in the edition and it is certainly right, the percussion (red star) is instead found only in the orchestral version and is therefore certainly right, the B/D bichord (in blue), however, produces a somewhat different color in the harmony (without changing it, yet) from that present in the edition (F#/D). Was it perhaps corrected by Walton himself to get a full Bmin harmony (with the 5th)? Leave the choice up to you.

2 strange bows

This measure leaves us somewhat perplexed. It arises 2 questions:

1) Is the blue bow really meant for the D? Wouldn't it be more logical, given the harmony, that it referred to the C# just before it?

2) Is the bow in the red rectangle two or three notes long? The edition contains only 2 notes but could go as far as F#.

As for the second point, I lean more for a two-note bow, since the same element, as we will see, will be taken up later in fact with a 3-notes articulation, creating through it, therefore, a sense of variety respects the first time.

The harmonic D

For reasons of warm sonority and realization of a captivating legato, I recommend trying to let the harmonic D (in red) resonate in the following Emin7- chord, taking care not to pluck its {4} string, in order not to turn off the harmonic itself (in any case the open {4} string is a D, so the chord will not be deprived of any of its fundamental sounds):

Bipolar harmony

From bar 20 we encounter a very interesting passage, due to its harmonic bipolarity:

As we can see we encounter a series of 5ths in the lower part (in red) presented first in broken form and then as bichords. Their rhythm is syncopated and they accompany the melody that consists of an alternation of A#/B (in blue). Even if the rhythm of this melody is not syncopated, however, the articulation makes it so. It will therefore be absolutely necessary to take care to make it clearly perceptible. It will also be very important to play the last notes of each voice staccato, they are in fact the way out of this series of 3 bars of syncopations. Great care must also be taken to keep the notes for their full value so as to highlight the bipolarity of the A# which with the bichord F #/C# will be perceived as a major third and with the bichord G/D as a minor third (enharmonically: Bflat ):

Here is a possible fingering of this passage, with the implicit articulation written in full:

Separating harmony and melody

The following bar presents a problem with the division of the voices and the function of the notes:

Despite a widespread misunderstanding, Walton's articulation leaves no doubt that the notes in the red rectangle constitute a filling of the harmony of F#9- and that the melody (in blue) begins from A. Unfortunately, in the guitar version the proximity between the last note of the harmony (F#) and the first of the melody (A) is very small and, therefore, can easily lead to the error of playing them as if they belonged to the same voice. The orchestral version, however, leaves no doubt about it: the melody (from the natural A) is performed by the 'violin solo' an octave higher. For us it would be enough to begin the melody on the {2} string, thus remedying with a change of color (among other things very nice) the lack of the change of octave. Moreover, thanks to the inevitable movement of the left hand, we will produce a natural breath between the F# and the A which will highlight even more the different belonging of the notes themselves.

(forgive me, please, a small parenthesis: during a wonderful concert, Maestro Ricardo Gallen actually performed this melody an octave higher. It is, therefore, an option to consider seriously)

A different sobbing

The passage that starts from the natural A (red arrow) reproduces the ‘sobbing motif’ we had already encountered at the beginning, with a fundamental difference, however: here there are no pauses, the suspiratio. The expression is therefore more relaxed, 'broad' and cantabile. Due to the lack of silences, care must be taken to keep the suspension in the resolution but not too long:

An exciting articulation

The following bars are also frequently victims of an articulation totally far away from that clearly indicated by Walton:

Compared to the first time this element was presented, the articulation is somewhat different. The resulting expression must be highlighted with a fingering that helps the articulation itself. The first bar of this example, in fact, has a very syncopated accentuation due to the position and length of the bows:

The beauty of the passage lies in the fact that thanks to the first two bows the notes on the beginning of them (the 2 C#) are long and syncopated, while the note of the third syncopation (the G with the accent) is slightly detached from the following note F# (in red brackets). These are small subtleties that make this piece an example of high compositional technique.

The second part of this passage, the most assertive one (with emphasis on the strong times of the bar, the time units and the subdivisions), should instead be performed as follows:

The complete passage will then look like this:

Another fingering allows us to maintain the F# of the bass for even a longer time:

Always the articulation...

The following bar is also very often performed without any respect for Walton's bows, which clearly indicates, through their position, which are the heaviest and which the lightest notes:

The first mistake one can often hear is to play the bichord at the end of the portamento as if it were an anacrusis of the next element:

The second mistake is probably caused by the desire to prepare the left hand for the position in which the chord of the following bar must be played. Doing so one produces a syncopation on a bichord which should be played on the contrary softly, ‘sucked away’ due to the bow and makes short a bichord which should be played legato (long thus) with the next:

This bar can best be performed with the following fingering:

A different harmony

As you have probably already noticed from the previous example, the chord of this bar is slightly different from the one found in the edition, in fact it has a D (on the {4} string) which gives it a particular color given the harmony of dominant in which is inserted, making from it an A13 (without the fifth):

Another option for the following chord

This bar has at the beginning a D9(7+) chord that is normally performed in IV position. Unavoidably, 3 notes, unfortunately, vanish due to the change of position necessary to perform the following bichord at the XI position:

Damping the E in {1} string is not harmful as the melody contains an E in the upper voice immediately in the bichord after the chord. The F# is also present in the same bichord, so there are two notes that can be 'sacrificed'. With this premise, the only note that we should maintain to obtain a complete harmony would be C#, a very important note, indeed, that gives a particular color to harmony, being the major 7th of D. Here a possible solution:

The disappeared mordent and the forgotten bow

In the same bar we find a mordant (in red) that does not appear in the edition, where it is replaced by an acciaccatura (E):

As we can see, Walton has also indicated a bow (in blue) between E and D, even though this bow does not appear in the edition. Here is a possible solution to the double problem:

Or even:

Still some more extra notes

The following bar presents the G7+ chord in its complete form:

In this case, we can absolutely agree with Bream's choice to remove the two upper notes (even if one could actually easily keep the B). However, I don’t agree with the choice of the fingering. The bow on the last 4th of the bar indicates in my opinion that the notes must be kept in order to create a harmony-"carpet", otherwise the harmony itself would sound very dry and poor. Here is a possible solution to the problem, which also allows us to keep the G and D of the bass throughout the bar:

Again, harmonic bipolarity

The following bar shows us once more the bipolarity F#maj vs Gmin through the common note A#/Bflat. It will, therefore, be necessary to keep the notes for their entire duration so that this bipolarity can be perceived by the listener:

Again, wrong articulation

The next measure is performed with obstinate negligence incorrectly, Walton could not, in fact, indicate more precisely the desired articulation:

Yet, this is the articulation with which it is normally performed (the accentuated notes in red):

Walton's articulation, on the other hand, highlights the element G/F#, with the G being the strong note of the bar due to the position of the bows:

The final bars, another little surprise

In the last bar, we see that C#-D (in red) should be performed as harmonics. At the same time the median voice (B-A#) is missing:

The very last bars

The piece ends with the same harmony as the beginning, Bmin9(7+), this time presented as a sequence of thirds (in blue). The low B (in red) of the penultimate bar is indicated in the manuscript as a minim:

In Bream's edition, however, the same note is indicated with an approximate value (quarter note with prolongation bow):

Factually, however, the B turns off when we change position to perform the A # on the {2} string (X in the red circle). However, this bar can be easily arranged in such a way that the B can last as indicated by Walton:


Obviously, the Etouffee technique can be also fruitfully been used instead of the pizzicato (the finger of the left hand is positioned on the metal piece of the fret).

One last recommendation: the final chord is to be played dry, so if you want to play it with a rasgueado, as Bream suggests, do it but using only one finger, otherwise you run the risk that the chord is too 'grainy' and redundant. As a final curiosity: in the orchestral version after the chord played dry and fortissimo, the strings continue to play in pianissimo the same harmony with the tremolo, creating a wonderful echo effect in which, however, the color of the notes changes.

Dulcis in fundo

To conclude, look at the first bars of the 4th Bagatelle. What do you think about it?


Well, I thank you heartily for having read until the end of this blog and hope it will be of some use to you. Please, share your thoughts on this topic in the comment section below, they are very welcome! Stay safe and see you next time :)

Sincerely yours,


P.S.Thanks Merce, as always, for your patience in making such cool thumbnails! :)


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