FOUR BALLADES FOR PIANO, OP. 10
Recording: Martin Jones, pianist [NI 1788]
Dedicated to Julius Otto Grimm.
The second “wave” of Brahms’s solo piano
output in the early 1860s was dominated by independent variation
sets. The third “wave” in the high maturity and late period
was entirely devoted to short character pieces with generic
titles. At the end of the first “wave,” dominated by the
three sonatas, Brahms gave a “preview” of both genres in two
consecutive publications—the Op. 9
Schumann Variations and this set of four “Ballades.” While
these early pieces do bear some similarity to the later ones, they
share much of the unrestrained expression typical of the
sonatas. Their forms, while all basically ternary, are more
nebulous and fluid. The key scheme, with a D minor/major
pair followed by another minor/major pair centered on B (a
“relative” relationship existing in the middle between D major and
B minor), indicates that complete performance is intended, but
calling them a fourth “sonata” is probably a stretch. The
title “Ballade” suggests a literary connection, and indeed there
is an explicit one in the first piece, the so-called “Edward”
Ballade. The narrative of the grisly Scottish border ballad,
known to Brahms in Herder’s translation, is easily transferred
onto the piece’s music, although interpretations obviously
vary. Brahms would return to the poem in an actual duet
setting of the words as Op. 75, No. 1,
which is musically unrelated to this piece. Concrete
literary models for the other three pieces are not known, but a
certain “heroic” or “bardic” character is apparent in all of them.
He returned to the title once more for Op.
118, No. 3, another piece with a heroic mood. The word
also draws an inevitable reminiscence of Chopin and his four grand
large-scale works. The “Edward” piece establishes the loose
ternary model with its agitated, dramatic central section and
slow, tragic outer portions. In No. 2, the lyrical framing
passages enclose a much larger middle portion that shows its own
“ternary” form, creating a symmetrical five-part structure.
Brahms curiously labeled No. 3 “Intermezzo” (an early use of that
term, like the fourth movement of the F-minor
sonata), effectively giving it two titles. It
resembles a scherzo/trio structure, but the “scherzo” portion is
not in the typical binary form. The more diffuse No. 4
extends its form by bringing back a large part of its rhapsodic
middle section as a coda. The longest piece of the set, it
remains remarkably subdued throughout.
IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut Lübeck)
SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition [monochrome] from Russian
FROM IMSLP (Later Simrock Edition from Brahms’s time)
FROM IMSLP (from Breitkopf & Härtel Sämtliche Werke)
No. 1: Andante – Allegro (ma non troppo) – Tempo
I (Ternary form with variation elements). D MINOR, 4/4
The piece is headed by this indication: After the Scottish
ballad “Edward” in Herders “Stimmen der Völker” (“Voices of the
Nations”). This ballad was later set by Brahms as a
duet, Op. 75, No. 1.
Scottish-English text of “Edward,” with German translation by
English translation of Herder’s German text
A Section--Andante – Poco
0:00 [m. 1]--Theme 1 (Andante). The austere chordal
melody begins with an upbeat. The first downbeat is
decorated by a leaning grace note chord, or appoggiatura.
The continuation of the melody emphasizes descending fifths, and
fifths are also prominent in the harmony. The phrase closely
reflects the mother’s questioning lines in the “Edward”
poem. This is even clearer in the two bare descending fifths
that close the phrase, the second an octave lower. These
correspond to the urgent addresses “Edward, Edward!”
0:14 [m. 4]--The second phrase begins like the first, but
after the first measure, a second “appoggiatura” chord is
added and the melody descends lower with a hint at G minor.
At the point where the closing fifths were heard before, a single
darker, harmonized version of the fifth in a “diminished” or
“tritone” form is followed by two rising half-steps (a fifth
apart) in the melody with harmonies and a low bass that reach a
half-close. This phrase corresponds to the last two lines of
the mother’s stanzas in the poem.
0:31 [m. 9]--Theme 2 (Poco più moto). The second
theme, which will become the driving force of the middle section,
is presented as a richer series of more active chords. The
theme can be seen as representing Edward’s answers to his mother,
fitting metrically with the first line of all his stanzas.
The response is presented in two phrases beginning respectively on
the upbeat and the second beat of the measure. The first,
with active octaves in the bass and three-note harmonies in the
right hand, turns to a full close in G minor. The second
begins a fifth lower and seems to move to C minor, but at the end,
it unexpectedly turns upward in a questioning way. A bare
half-close in the home key is reached and sustained with a fermata.
0:49 [m. 14]--Theme 1 (Tempo I). The first phrase is
presented as at the beginning.
0:59 [m. 17]--The second phrase is nearly identical to its
first presentation, but at the very end, the last rising half-step
is replaced by a downward fall leading to the chord of the related
major key, F. This in turn becomes the preparatory
“dominant” to the B-flat harmony that begins the new statement of
1:17 [m. 22]--Theme 2 (Poco più moto). The character
is noticeably altered by placing the former bass octaves on top as
the melody. The former melody is placed in the tenor voice
of the chords, but it is not an exact transfer. Notably,
some stepwise motion is replaced by downward leaps. Because
of the preceding F-major harmony, the first phrase seems to begin
in B-flat major, “relative” to G minor, where the phrase was heard
before. But G minor quickly returns at the end. The
second phrase similarly seems to begin in E-flat (“relative” to C
minor). The harmony at the end with the fermata is
no longer a half-close, but has the home keynote, D, in the
bass. It is supported by only the open fifth above, not by
the full chord.
B Section--Allegro (ma non troppo), D major
1:34 [m. 27]--The middle section represents the gradual
buildup to the father’s murder in Edward’s narration. In the
new major key and faster tempo, the “inverted” form of Theme 2,
the original bass, is isolated as the principal argument.
Its first five notes are heard in the left hand and the tenor
range, beginning on the upbeat, against new chords in triplet
rhythm. After the upbeat and downbeat, the right hand leaps
below the left to play a low open fifth in the bass, also in
triplets moving to a strong beat. The same pattern is
repeated, with an upper octave added to the thematic fragment in
the left hand. The whole two-measure sequence is then stated
a fifth lower, on the “dominant. It is varied by adding a
rising motion to the triplet chord upbeats. The volume
slowly and steadily builds from the onset.
1:46 [m. 31]--This passage is active dynamically and
harmonically, but generally follows the established pattern, with
the thematic fragments accompanied by a triplet rhythm. The
low bass triplets are now on octaves instead of fifths, and
instead of the right hand leaping over the left, the left hand
itself now leaps down to play these octave triplets while the
right, also leaping down, takes over on the thematic
fragments. A rising motion in triplet octaves is now added
to the upbeats of the thematic fragments themselves to help the
harmonic motion. The harmony turns initially to the
“relative” minor key, B on the first such fragment. This
quickly becomes major and moves to E minor for the second
fragment. This, in turn, also becomes major on the
upbeat. A second sequence with two fragments moves strongly
to F-sharp minor.
1:57 [m. 35]--The volume has now reached forte and
still builds. In the next statement of the thematic
fragment, F-sharp minor changes to major and becomes the
preparatory “dominant” of B major, the goal of the first
climax. The triplet chords take over in both hands for a
measure, still on weak beats leading into held chords on stronger
ones. The hands expand outward with these chords.
After the massive arrival on B major, fortissimo, the left
hand leaps up to play the thematic fragment again. This
fragment pivots to an A-major chord. The entire
three-measure passage is restated at a new level, with A becoming
the “dominant” in preparation to the second, more powerful climax,
which arrives in the home key of D (major).
2:11 [m. 41]--After the D-major arrival, the triplet chords
in the right hand become more persistent, overpowering the
thematic fragments. The measure with the chords punctuating
the arrival on D, including the preceding upbeat and the
succeeding left hand leap to the thematic fragment, is
repeated. D major is then changed to D minor on the next
upbeat, which includes a rising arpeggio in the bass. This
moves to the chord of B-flat major, a new harmony, and another
left hand leap to a thematic fragment. This measure, with
its upbeat, is also repeated, moving toward the third and most
2:18 [m. 44]--The tension having reached its peak, it is
released, pesante and fortissimo, in a massive
statement of Theme 2 in its original form, with the phrases in G
minor and C minor. The top melody is an octave higher than
in the first presentation, and the chords are fuller. The
bass is in octaves, but it is decorated by rising triplet figures
on the “upbeat” gestures of each phrase, first the rising arpeggio
that was heard in preceding buildup, then a rising scale
line. Unlike the presentations in the A section, the
phrase moving to C minor reaches a decisive close there.
These statements seem to depict Edward’s confession.
2:33 [m. 49]--The climactic statements of Theme 2
continue. First, the melody is heard at its original level,
but the harmonies are changed so that the key is E-flat
major. The major key makes the statement almost sound
triumphant. In the left hand, the original counterpoint (the
“inversion”) is heard in the tenor range, but the low bass keeps
the momentum going with throbbing triplets on the upbeats.
The brightness of the major version is quickly dispelled by the
return of the C-minor version at the original level, still with
the throbbing bass triplets.
2:44 [m. 53]--The C-minor statement now dissipates into a
series of circular chords that once again hint at E-flat major
(the two keys being related). Finally, the music subsides
and slows down. After a measure and a half, the chords
themselves slow to twice their length, and the throbbing bass
triplets are replaced by octaves on weak beats, some held over bar
lines. These last chords seem to be descending to a C-minor
cadence, but at the last moment, the final arrival is diverted by
an unexpected half-step. The key pivots to F major, and the
right hand drops out. Hushed and mysterious, the left hand
uses “diminished” chords over a descending line to turn back to
the home key of D minor for the spectral return of the Theme 1.
A’ Section--Tempo I
3:08 [m. 60]--The epilogue-like closing section could
represent the revelation at the end of the ballad: that Edward’s
mother urged him to commit the deed. In the first phrase,
the right hand is as it was at the beginning of the piece, but the
left hand replaces its chords and octaves with sinister staccato
figures in triplet rhythm (with the first note of each group
replaced by a rest). These begin quite low and gradually
descend even lower. They are heard in two “waves,” the
second (under the descending fifths) beginning higher and falling
more precipitously. Brahms marks this return sotto voce.
3:19 [m. 63]--The second phrase begins analogously, but now
the “sinister” staccato triplet figures circle around four
pitches rather than steadily descending. The second “appoggiatura”
chord is subtly placed a step higher than it was in the first
section, and the harmony hinted at is now A minor instead of G
minor. The descending fifth is dispensed with, and there are
two stepwise motions into longer chords. The first is a
rising half-step and the second a descending step. Both
longer chords are dissonant, tension-filled “diminished”
harmonies. Under these chords, the “sinister” figures in the
left hand expand to octaves and stall at the same level, reversing
the direction of each longer right hand motion.
3:34 [m. 67]--The music now dissipates. A D-major
chord held over the bar line offers only the briefest ray of
hope. The clipped “sinister” triplet figures move to the
right hand, which has descended to the tenor register. The
left hand sustains octave D’s under these right hand figures, then
adds another half-step in octaves on the upbeat. Also on the
upbeat, the right hand changes its chord to D minor. The
pattern continues with the right hand figures moving down a
level. On the next upbeat, another “diminished” chord is
heard over more half-step motion (still in the clipped triplet
rhythm). The chord is held over the bar line and, with bass
octaves, gradually resolves into an extended D-minor cadence and
4:04--END OF PIECE [71 mm.]
No. 2: Andante – Allegro non troppo –Tempo I
Andante (Five-part symmetrical form – ABCB’A’). D MAJOR,
4/4 and 6/4 time.
A Section--Andante, D
0:00 [m. 1]--The bass pattern is established
immediately. It is a syncopated arch, continually reaching
from a low D up to its “dominant” note, A, then to the D an octave
above, and back down to the A and low D. Every note is
syncopated, coming between beats. Against this, the right
hand, on the beats, plays another arch in octaves on the notes A
and F-sharp. The latter completes the D-major harmony.
Brahms marks this miniature introduction espressivo e dolce.
After the first two bars, the right hand begins the actual melody,
which is rich and heavily harmonized, with rolled chords.
The seven-measure phrase incorporates shorter notes leading into
downbeats, more arching motion, a high reach near the end, and a
0:32 [m. 10]--The contrasting phrase makes an immediate
turn to the “relative” minor key, B minor. The syncopated
bass pattern also turns directly to B and its “dominant” note,
F-sharp. The phrase itself begins with a pair of downward
sweeps, both fully harmonized and including rolled chords at the
end. The first is in B minor. The second magically
brightens to B major. Two more surging gestures
follow. The first shifts the harmony (along with the
syncopated bass) up to C major. The second shifts up again,
moving back home to D major. Both press urgently up to their
longer closing chords.
0:59 [m. 18]--The “rounding” phrase begins with the last
two high-reaching measures of the opening phrase, adding a short
upbeat note. These two measures are then repeated yet
another octave higher in the right hand, with a thicker rolled
chord added at the beginning. The left hand syncopation
remains constant and without harmony. Having reached this
ethereal level, Brahms sustains it with a long, very full and
tension-filled rolled chord on C-sharp (for which the left hand
must briefly leap up to strike some notes). At the end, the
left hand syncopation reaches up to a higher A, leading into the
high rolled D-major chord that closes the first section.
B Section--Allegro non troppo (doppio movimento), B minor
1:19 [m. 24]--The section begins with the second half of m.
23, which functions as a half-measure upbeat. Most of it is
based on an insistent hammering rhythm with four fast notes on the
upbeat and a held half-measure note on the downbeat. It
begins in the tenor range with a four-measure phrase. The
right hand is harmonized over low bass octaves. The first
and third of the “hammering” upbeats are also octaves. This
gradually moves upward to the “dominant” chord. The second
phrase follows the same basic pattern, but it is louder and
fuller, adding the higher octave in the right hand. The
passion and intensity build.
1:32 [m. 32]--The “hammering” rhythm continues, but how the
chords become harmonically richer and more adventurous, even in
the left hand. The first upbeat turns to major, and then the
harmony moves through E minor, C major, and F major.
1:38 [m. 36]--After four of the familiar patterns, a fifth
has a prominent half-step motion in a middle voice. Then a
new rhythm is introduced, a broad descent in triplet rhythm (three
equal notes on the half-measure upbeat). This is played
against straight-rhythm octaves in the bass. It first moves
decisively to F-sharp minor. A second such pattern suggests
a mixture of D minor and major. These keys are closely
related to the central key of B minor. This last triplet
pattern is repeated an octave higher, then again at the original
level. Finally, another “hammering” pattern in the right
hand dismisses the triplets and moves to “dominant” chord.
1:48 [m. 42]--Three pairs of hammered octaves on F-sharp,
leaping first upward, then below to the low bass, serve as a
lead-in to the next phrase. The familiar rhythm returns, but
it is interrupted by another pattern of three octave pairs, now on
the keynote B. A second statement of the main rhythm leads
to a B-major chord, but this is short-lived. Suddenly, the
broad triplets return in both hands, played in unison two octaves
apart. A sustained bass note is doubled in leaping right
hand grace notes. Two descending patterns, the second
higher, lead to an emphatic series of chords in regular “straight”
rhythm. These fall downward, reiterating a B-minor cadence,
but the final arrival is interrupted, diverted into the C
section in B major.
C Section--B major, 6/4 time
2:03 [m. 51]--The heading “Molto staccato e leggiero” does
not seem to indicate a new tempo. In fact, the new 6/4 meter
simply matches the broad triplet rhythm heard in the last
section. The thumb of the left hand holds a long pedal point
B as the right hand and the bass play staccato runs in
contrary motion. The right hand mid-range runs (one in each
measure) generally move down, while the bass ones move up.
The right hand notes are again decorated with leaping grace notes
that create fast two-note arpeggios. The same four-measure
phrase is repeated twice. The volume is generally subdued.
2:15 [m. 59]--The harmonies change, as do the directions of
the staccato runs. The inner “pedal point” played by
the thumb of the left hand moves away from B and becomes
syncopated, with its reiterations and motions placed halfway
between measures. In the runs themselves, both hands move up
together at the beginning of the phrase, but the bass reverts to a
descent in the second half. The keys of F-sharp minor and A
major are used. As the right hand reaches its highest pitch,
a new phrase in F-sharp minor begins with descents in both
hands. The right hand plunges back to the baritone range
while the bass moves very low, taking over the “pedal
point.” This bass finally adds strong syncopation on
half-steps as the right hand stalls. This, along with an
added measure that settles things down, facilitates a motion back
to B major.
2:29 [m. 68]--The original four-measure phrase in B major
from the beginning of the section is heard again, but with a
completely changed character. It is now legato and
marked pianissimo. The right hand abandons the
leaping grace notes and adds a lower harmony that moves parallel
to the bass line. After two measures, the original third
measure is stretched out by doubling the lengths of the notes,
creating a cross-rhythm or hemiola with the bass and the
right hand’s own lower harmony, which both continue as before.
B’ Section--B minor
2:36 [m. 72]--Re-transition. There is no change of
tempo, but the original 4/4 meter returns. The previous
phrase with the cross-rhythm at the end merges directly into this
transitional passage, which immediately turns back to B
minor. Right hand chords in the tenor range move slowly, one
change per bar. In the second half of every other measure,
the familiar “hammering” rhythm subtly returns in the bass.
After two statements of the same pattern, the chords move down, as
does the hammering bass, for one more pattern, averting a B-minor
cadence and unexpectedly turning to a suspended harmony on C-sharp
2:48 [m. 80]--Elegantly using two “dominant” motions,
Brahms returns to the original B section material from
1:19 [m. 24]. The first phrase, with its half-measure
upbeats on the “hammering” rhythms, is unchanged. The louder
second phrase, however, is suddenly and grandly transformed.
The upbeat leads into a radiant chord in B major.
From there, the music expands upward, remaining in bright major,
but still using the “hammering” rhythm on half-measure
upbeats. On the upbeat to the third measure of this
transformed phrase, the bass stalls. It resumes moving into
the fourth measure. At that point, the right hand introduces
a joyous descending syncopation in rich chords, extending the
phrase by a measure.
3:02 [m. 89]--From here, the remainder of the B
section follows as before. The passage from 1:32 [m. 32]
returns with its active harmonies, but its initial “hammering”
upbeat is reduced to three notes following the disruptive and
climactic major-key syncopation that preceded it.
3:08 [m. 93]--Half-step motion and introduction of broad
triplet rhythm, as at 1:38 [m. 36].
3:18 [m. 99]--Interruptions of hammered, leaping octaves,
descending triplets two octaves apart, and emphatic chords, as at
1:48 [m. 42].
3:33 [m. 108]--Re-transition. It is very similar to
the first re-transition at 2:36 [m. 72]. The emphatic chords
are suddenly cut off, and the subdued, slow-moving harmonies
return. The first two patterns are as before, but the
“hammering” rhythm in the bass is an octave lower. The third
pattern shifts up instead of down. The harmony suggests D
minor. This third pattern is repeated, extending the
dissipation, but the second chord is held, with only the bottom
note moving to create a mysterious “augmented” harmony. The
“suspended” harmony returns as before, now on F-sharp, the
expectant “dominant” in B minor or major.
A’ Section--Tempo I (Andante), B major/D major
3:51 [m. 118]--Brahms states the entire opening passage,
the two-measure introduction and the seven-measure phrase, in B
major instead of D major. Other than this wholesale
transposition down a third, the passage is unchanged from the
beginning, and all the patterns match.
4:22 [m. 127]--The continuation of the A’ section
reflects the corresponding A section in the same
key. The key signature of D major returns. The
lingering use of B reflects the extreme prominence of B major and
B minor in the three-part middle section. Now, the opening
key finally returns. But even this contrasting phrase, as at
0:32 [m. 10], begins in B minor, so Brahms’s transition, which
looks abrupt, is actually subtle.
4:48 [m. 135]--The first four measures of the “rounding”
phrase are played as at 0:59 [m. 18].
5:03 [m. 139]--At the fifth measure of the “rounding”
phrase, the music is diverted into the small coda. The right
hand replaces the large tension-filled rolled chord with a more
stable roll on the notes D and A. More importantly, an inner
voice is added, split between the hands. This inner voice is
a version of the introductory arches, under which the bass
syncopation continues. After the first measure, high rolled
harmonies are played on each downbeat, the top notes moving down
by half-step. After the second measure, the bass syncopation
is changed, replacing the A’s with G’s. At the same time,
the inner voice continues with an expressive, tender version of
the main melody, which stalls on the shorter notes.
5:17 [m. 143]--The preceding pattern is given in a new
version. The inner voice moves down an octave, and the bass
syncopation slows to longer reiterations of the low D without the
upper notes (which would collide with the lower middle
voice). The inner voice itself still uses the arches and the
melodic opening, but with chromatic inflections on the notes
C-natural and then F-natural. The rolled chords continue to
move down, but not strictly in half-steps.
5:28 [m. 146]--In the fourth measure, the shorter notes in
the melody still stall, but the note leading into them moves down
a half-step. The rolled chord is reiterated halfway through
the bar. The tempo begins to slow to the end. The
pattern is extended another measure. The rolled chords again
move down by half-step, with two in the measure. The bass
leaps down an octave to an even lower D. In the inner voice,
the note leading into the shorter notes moves down two more
half-steps. This leads into the last two measures. The
hollow low bass notes (first a fifth, then an octave, then a
tenth) are followed by three D-major chords, gradually descending
by inversion, the top notes outlining the chord, with the last
delayed and sustained.
6:01--END OF PIECE [149 mm.]
No. 3: INTERMEZZO - Allegro (Ternary form
resembling scherzo and trio, with abbreviated return). B
MINOR, 6/8 time.
0:00 [m. 1]--A stark open fifth in the bass is angrily
hammered three times. Immediately after the third of these,
the main theme begins. Its opening gesture is an angular
zigzag, with a long note followed by four shorter ones (the latter
doubled in the left hand). This gesture is repeated after an
interjection by the angry bass fifth. Only after these
opening gestures is it clear to the ear that the bass fifths are
in fact on upbeats in the 6/8 meter and that the first five beats
in mm. 1-2 are rests (with the first fifth on the upbeat preceding
m. 1). Two more angular gestures follow in ascending
succession, and the angry upbeats separating them are now
thirds. They reach a full octave above the first ones,
introducing the “color” note C-natural (B-sharp).
0:10 [m. 7]--In octaves, both hands plunge down the
keyboard using the “zigzag” motion of the opening gestures, along
with their main rhythm on the two downbeats. The upward
motions are half-steps, and the downward ones are leaps.
After this run reaches the low bass, a series of four
interjections with syncopated entries is played by both hands in
contrary motion. The right hand, moving down, adds harmony
in thirds to its figures, but the anticipatory left hand, moving
up, is in octaves. These interjections themselves steadily
rise up the keyboard. They culminate in non-syncopated
chords on the “dominant” harmony of F-sharp, and the volume
diminishes. The right hand drops out, leaving the left to
trail for one measure.
0:21 [m. 15]--The opening gestures return, now on the
“dominant,” and at a mysteriously quieter level. The upbeat
bass interjection begins as an octave. After the two
identical first gestures, the third slightly deviates from the
original statements. This facilitates a harmonic motion up a
half-step to C major. At that point, the bass interjection
is changed to its original fifth. After the pattern of four
gestures, there is an expansion with two more, still higher.
These are repeated, for a total of eight gestures. The
expansion confirms the motion to C major. The entire passage
remains at a quieter volume level.
0:32 [m. 23]--The rapidly plunging zigzag returns, played
more softly. Its first measure remains in C major, but the
second is diverted back to B minor. The four syncopated
interjections follow as before, using the same harmonies, but the
upper octave is removed from the right hand, and the left hand,
instead of its contrary motion, plays thumping F-sharps on the
downbeats and upbeats. Instead of the previous F-sharp
chords, the harmony of the last interjection is retained for two
measures. These become even quieter.
0:42 [m. 31]--The expected arrival on F-sharp is now
confirmed with four figures using the main idea (the last two are
a repetition of the first two). The bass interjection is
simply a low F-sharp. Brahms marks the passage dolce.
The plunging zigzag is then heard in F-sharp major. It is
followed by a longer cadence on that “dominant” key. The
cadence leads into the first ending (m. 38a). Two upbeat
bass interjections on the F-sharp harmony are followed by the
original upbeat to the first measure on the open fifth.
Brahms indicates that the volume should powerfully build between
the first and last of these, leading into the repeat.
A Section Repeated
0:56 [m. 3]--The first two bass upbeats are replaced by the
first two, on the F-sharp harmony, from the first ending.
The repeat leads directly into the first four statements of the
main thematic gesture. These emerge from the final upbeat
(on the fifth) from the first ending.
1:02 [m. 7]--Plunging zigzag, syncopated interjections, and
quieting chords on F-sharp, as at 0:10.
1:12 [m. 15]--Quieter main material moving from F-sharp to
C major through expansion, as at 0:21.
1:23 [m. 23]--Plunging zigzag returning to B minor, then
quieter syncopated interjections, as at 0:32.
1:34 [m. 31]--Main idea and plunging zigzag in F-sharp
major, as at 0:42. The cadence now leads into the second
ending (m. 38b). It is two measures longer than the first
ending. The cadence is is repeated twice, with its top notes
lower each time. The second cadence, marked ppp, is
resolved only with the arrival of the B section.
B Section (Trio)--F-sharp major
1:51 [m. 43]--The entire section is extremely quiet and
extremely high. The theme, in radiant F-sharp major, is a
chorale-like series of chords with a mild swing and upward
surge. In the second part of the phrase, there is gentle
syncopation, and the harmony is inflected to the “relative” minor
key, D-sharp minor. A middle voice trails with two
“cuckoo”-like falling fourths. This middle voice is in the
treble, the chorale chords being set in the very high “music box”
register. The left hand does reach down to the bass.
2:00 [m. 50]--The same phrase is repeated, but it is
expanded by two measures in the middle. During the
syncopation, there is an extra “swing” added with a colorful hint
of E major. After the small insertion, the phrase continues
as before, with the trailing “cuckoo” fourths.
2:11 [m. 59]--A third phrase provides some contrast with a
slightly lower opening and different harmonic orientation of the
chords. It is again longer, with an added surge at the
beginning. The syncopated portion is between the lengths
seen in the previous two phrases. As in those, the ending
turns to D-sharp minor, and that key is strongly implied from the
beginning of the phrase. The trailing voice is in the same
rhythm, but it is now a falling octave, and there are four of
them. The right hand harmony leaps an octave halfway through
2:26 [m. 71]--The opening upward swing is isolated in the
right hand. The left hand, continuing from its falling
octaves, now plays a single-voice accompaniment in heavy
syncopation, with notes entering on the third and sixth parts of
the 6/8 bars. This swings up and back down in
arpeggios suggesting both F-sharp major and D-sharp minor.
After two statements of the upward swing, its first two chords are
isolated twice. Then the opening chord is lengthened, with
the syncopated left hand arresting its motion to reiterate the
note A-sharp. Finally, the top note of the chord is lowered
(E-sharp to E-natural), making it a “preparatory” chord to B
minor. This tension-filled “diminished” chord is twice
reiterated as the volume fades to ppp.
2:38 [m. 81]--Re-transition. The top two notes of the
“diminished” chord begin to leap widely, first down two octaves,
then up again, with reiterations. The familiar upbeat
interjection returns, now on an F-sharp in the low bass.
With this new bass note, the chord is now clearly a preparatory
“dominant” harmony. The left hand leaps up when the right
hand does, back to the treble A-sharp that had served as the
chord’s bottom note. The leaps to this note are on the
upbeat, like the low F-sharps, and the A-sharps are briefly
sustained. Both hands abandon the reiterations and simply
leap back and forth, finally coming to rest in anticipation of the
return. The volume is hushed throughout this re-transition.
2:53 [m. 93]--The main thematic gesture returns, as at the
beginning and at 0:56 [m. 3]. It emerges from the suspended
harmony at the end of the re-transition, with only one bass
upbeat. Although the outlines are the same as before, there
are changes, most significantly the volume, which remains at the
hushed level of the B section and thus more similar to the
passage at 0:21 and 1:12 [m. 15]. The upbeat interjections
are now on the very low F-sharp introduced in the
re-transition. Finally, the left hand doubling is replaced
by gentle harmonization.
2:59 [m. 97]--Plunging zigzag, syncopated interjections,
and chords on F-sharp, analogous to 0:10 and 1:02 [m. 7].
The zigzag is simplified to a slower arpeggio in the left hand,
removing the lower notes of the upward half-steps. The
interjections and chords are also thinner, without the upper
octave doubling in either hand. They thus resemble those
from 0:32 and 1:23 [m. 23]. The volume, already hushed,
diminishes even more.
3:09 [m. 105]--Main material beginning in F-sharp and
moving to C major, analogous to 0:21 and 1:12 [m. 15].
The character from 2:53 [m. 93] is retained, but some fifths
and octaves are introduced on the bass upbeats. In the
gestures of the expansion, there is an extremely subtle harmonic
change. The sixth and eighth are lowered by a half-step from
those in the first A section, allowing the key to be
diverted back to B, a half-step lower than C, and the home key of
the piece. But it is now B major, not minor.
3:20 [m. 113]--The plunging zigzag returns as expected, but
because the preceding material has already diverted the key back
to B, the zigzag does not need to do so. It is entirely in
the key of B major, which has not thus far appeared and where the
piece will end. Brahms even changes to the five-sharp key
signature to signal the shift from minor to major. The left
hand is simplified, as it was at 2:59 [m. 97]. After it
reaches the bottom, the remaining material of the A
section is excised, including the third zigzag passage.
Instead, this second plunge leads into the cadences heard at the
end of the A section, now in B instead of F-sharp.
3:29 [m. 119]--An extremely brief coda is added, at an
extremely soft volume. After a sustained bass chord (on
D-sharp minor!), the B section is invoked in the high
register with a reminiscence of its initial upward swing, now
changed into a rising cadence in B major, which ends the
piece. Although the piece began angrily and forcefully,
other than the first half of the A section, most of it has
been at a quiet, subdued volume.
3:43--END OF PIECE [124 mm.]
No. 4: Andante con moto – Più lento –Tempo I –
Più lento (Ternary form with coda derived from middle section –
ABA’B’). B MAJOR, 3/4 and 6/4 time.
A Section--Andante con
moto, 3/4 time
0:00 [m. 1]--Part 1 (a). The leisurely,
swaying melody soars over a constant accompaniment of falling
arpeggios. These enter after the downbeat (where a bass note
is heard), and the top of each descending arpeggio is a two-note
harmony (a third with one exception). The opening melodic
half-step briefly hints at the minor key. The first two
phrases are a straightforward pair with an antecedent and
consequent, ending on the “dominant” note, F-sharp. The
second pair of phrases is more chromatic, with colorful half-step
motion, and significantly lower, including the arpeggios and
bass. The close beautifully turns back to the “dominant,”
ending an octave lower than the first pair.
0:24 [m. 1]--Part 1 (a) repeated.
0:45 [m. 17]--Part 2 (b). This contrasting
pair of phrases uses mostly descending patterns in the swaying
melody. The passage is marked espressivo and
turns to the minor key for its duration. The pattern of bass
notes and descending arpeggios remains constant. The first
phrase is regular, but the second, which reaches higher with an
octave leap at the outset, introduces syncopated notes held across
the bar line. It is also extended by two measures to a
six-bar unit, continuing a descent after an arrival point is
unexpectedly held over a bar line, and moving to the
“dominant.” It is in the measure of this aborted conclusion
that a crunching dissonance is heard at the top of the arpeggio,
the only departure from the top thirds.
0:59 [m. 27]--Part 3 (a’). The first two
measures slide chromatically (rising half-steps) into the melody
of the opening phrase, whose last two measures are presented
without alteration, as is the entire second phrase.
1:09 [m. 35]--The rest of the passage is varied. The
third phrase is similar to the chromatic one from a, but
it circles more around the notes G-sharp and A-natural and moves
toward E major. This is quickly averted in the fourth
phrase, which reaches upward and appears to be moving toward
a final cadence on B major. But the phrase unexpectedly
continues to reach upward and again moves toward E. After
this high point, a fifth, coda-like phrase is added, steadily
moving down after the motion to E, touching on minor harmonies
before settling down to an incomplete cadence on B, where the
B Section--Più lento, F-sharp major, 6/4 time
1:25 [m. 47]--Part 1. The texture of the long middle
section is unusual. Brahms writes an atypically detailed
Italian direction that translates as “With the most intimate
sentiment, but without marking the melody too much.” The
melody is buried in the middle of a dense, thick accompaniment,
and the isolated upbeat to the first 6/4 measure is the only clear
indication of where it lies. Melody and accompaniment are in
a generally low register. Above the obscured melody, the
right hand plays arching arpeggios in triplet rhythm that often
incorporate melodic notes. The undulating bass is in a
“straight” rhythm, placing two notes against three in the upper
voice. The quiet volume and the dark color of F-sharp major
create a hazy, almost nebulous sound. The first phrase makes
a turn toward B-flat major (notated as A-sharp).
1:44 [m. 51]--The second phrase continues the same texture,
adding come colorful notes, but it reaches a full, satisfying
cadence in F-sharp. The right hand triplets continue through
the first ending and the upbeat. At that point, the left
hand has reached down to a very low broken octave on F-sharp,
which is reiterated.
2:03 [m. 47]--Part 1 repeated. First phrase ending on
2:22 [m. 51]--Second phrase reaching full cadence on
2:41 [m. 55]--Part 2. The constant hazy texture
continues, but the harmony becomes unstable, moving through minor
keys. It begins on F-sharp minor (the home minor key), then
moves to C-sharp and finally to D-sharp minor, the “relative” key
to F-sharp major. The inner melody becomes more active,
incorporating notes from both the right hand triplet arpeggios and
the undulating bass.
3:00 [m. 59]--Transition. The active inner melody,
though still obscured, helps settle the music back into F-sharp
major for the return of the opening melodic line. The upbeat
sneaks in a half-beat early, marked by an accent.
3:10 [m. 61]--Return of the section’s first melody.
The first two measures of the opening phrase are as they were
before, but the last two suddenly become brighter. The
harmonic motion is still to A-sharp major, but it is now a higher
version emphasizing its preparatory “dominant” harmony at the end
of the phrase.
3:28 [m. 65]--The second phrase is replaced by another
transition. The inner melody moves steadily downward, and
the key again moves, now more strongly, to the “relative” minor,
D-sharp. The passage is intensely and richly chromatic.
3:47 [m. 69]--Re-transition. The key signature for B
major returns, indicating a transition back to the A
section material. The motion back to B is accomplished
quickly, colorfully, and decisively. After lingering on the
“dominant” harmony (with a very low bass F-sharp), the music
settles down, reaching even lower and introducing mild syncopation
in the upper triplets, with notes held over the beats. This
has a slowing effect. The long, hazy texture finally
dissipates with a slow upward arpeggio the reaches into the treble
and back into the world of the A section.
A’ Section--Tempo I, 3/4 time
4:08 [m. 73]--Part 1 (a). The presentation is
nearly identical to that at the beginning of the piece, but with
one striking difference. The two-note harmonies at the top
of each descending arpeggio are now split up, with the two notes
being played twice as fast as the rest of the arpeggio.
4:30 [m. 89]--Part 1 (a”), free variation.
This long passage is related to Part 1 in general melodic and
harmonic contour, but the texture and character are radically
altered. For the first time in the piece, Brahms uses block
harmonies. They are hushed and somewhat mysterious.
The right hand is in the tenor range, taking up in the lower range
where the familiar a passage left off. The left
plays mostly octaves in the low bass. The first phrase,
corresponding to the first phrase of a, has two “sighing”
gestures followed by a yearning arch motion that extends the
phrase to an irregular five measures. The second phrase is
similar, corresponding to the second phrase of a. It
adds a mild syncopation at the top of the arch motion.
4:47 [m. 99]--At this point, the correspondence between
this chordal section and the a material becomes more
nebulous. Another five-bar unit, this time with three
sighing gestures and an abbreviated two-measure arch with stronger
syncopation, has a kinship with the third phrase of a.
But there then follow an almost fantasia-like 11 measures.
Sighing gestures and strong syncopation dominate the first seven
of them, along with a steady, largely chromatic descent in the
bass octaves. There is also an expressive buildup. The
last four measures are a variant of the arch motion that settles
onto the expected “dominant” note, F-sharp. These 11
measures could correspond roughly with the fourth and last phrase
5:15 [m. 115]--Part 2 (b’). The contrasting
passage from 0:45 [m. 17] is stated in its entirety in a varied,
but very recognizable form. The whole melody is moved down
an octave, while the descending arpeggios are replaced by the
chordal texture that dominated the previous passage, including the
“sighing” gestures. These remain largely confined to the
5:32 [m. 125]--Part 3 (a’”). The first phrase
from 4:30 [m. 89] is restated beginning in a darker minor-key
version. At the arching motion, it again brightens, not in B
major, but in the “relative” major key of B minor, which is D
major. The second phrase, also derived from 4:30 [m. 89],
moves back to B minor, ending suspended on the “dominant” harmony,
as expected. The extended coda, which is related to the
central B section, begins in D major.
Coda (B’ Section)--Più lento, D major/B minor, 6/4
5:54 [m. 135]--Because the previous section ended with a
definite preparation for an arrival on B, and because that note is
in the bass, there is some feeling of the key of B minor
here. But it is actually D major, the “relative” key.
The beginning of the mezza voce coda is analogous not to
the opening of the B section, but to the return at 3:10
[m. 61]. This “return” did not have the strong motion to
F-sharp major seen in Part 1, but instead quickly moved to the
“relative” D-sharp minor. That is also the case here, and D
major is very quickly undermined in favor of B minor. The
end of the phrase reaches the “dominant” harmony of F-sharp major
(analogous to the arrival on the “dominant” harmony of A-sharp
[B-flat] major before).
6:14 [m. 139]--Continuing from the last phrase, this one is
analogous to the transitional phrase at 3:28 [m. 65]. Like
that phrase, this one has a downward descent in the inner-voice
melody and an even stronger pull to the “relative” minor (now B,
the home minor key). But now the phrase is extended to six
measures. Halfway through the third measure, it is
interrupted unexpectedly by a version of the opening melodic
gesture from the A section in right hand octaves.
With this gesture, the home major key intrudes. At that
point, the left hand plays the arching triplets more typical of
the right hand. This interruption extends to the end of the
fourth measure. The original phrase tries to reassert itself
in the fifth measure, but it is again interrupted by the melodic
fragment. Brahms directs a very gradual slowing and quieting
to the end.
6:44 [m. 145]--The last four measures have some similarity
to the re-transition at 3:47 [m. 69], but they begin like a
continuation of the previous phrase, a “restarting” after the
second interruption of the A section melody. The key
is already centered on B, albeit minor. The descent now
proceeds without interruption. The left hand settles on low
octaves. After one measure, the note D-sharp strongly
asserts itself in the bass, then in the inner melody, signaling an
inflection to B major. The left hand adds harmonies to its
low octaves, and the slowing becomes more pronounced. In the
penultimate measure, marked “Adagio,” both hands settle on a
static undulation over low B-major harmony, briefly swelling
before coming to rest.
7:34--END OF PIECE [148 mm.]
END OF SET
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