PIANO SONATA NO. 3 in F MINOR, OP.
Recording: Martin Jones, pianist [NI 1788]
Published 1854. Dedicated to the
Countess of Hohenthal.
The year 1853
witnessed a confluence of major musical events, including the
publication of Liszt’s B-minor piano sonata. Wagner was
beginning to work in earnest on the music for the “Ring”
cycle. And it was the last year in which Robert Schumann
was active as a critic and composer before his final mental
breakdown. Late in that year, the young Brahms famously
arrived on the Schumanns’ doorstep with some of his music in
hand, including what we now know as the first
two piano sonatas. A third
sonata, in F minor, was not completed at the time, and was
finished in Düsseldorf while he stayed
with the Schumanns. Brahms submitted it to Schumann for
consideration shortly after the latter had written his
momentous article “Neue Bahnen,” which proclaimed Brahms as
the next great musical voice. It would be the last fruit
of this brief, but happy time. Two months later,
Schumann attempted suicide and was admitted to a mental
hospital. The sonata is a tremendous work in every
sense, and Brahms’s largest
single composition for solo
following some precedents of the first
two sonatas and combining aspects of
both, it is much larger in scope, with a broad, unusual
five-movement design and, in the case of the second and final
movements, codas of almost overwhelming weight. The
first movement is a tight, but intense sonata form that
prominently includes the “fate” rhythm from Beethoven’s Fifth
Symphony. It ends in the major key. The slow
movement, unlike those of the first two sonatas, is in the
ternary form that would later be favored by Brahms. But
the movement is incredibly diverse, using four tempo markings,
five meters, and, most remarkably, ending in a different key
center from the one in which it began. The magnificent,
almost self-contained coda, whose climax rivals anything in
Beethoven, is responsible for much of this. Brahms
headed the movement with some lines of romantic love poetry
that match the movement’s mood and progression
precisely. Indeed, the coda could be described as the
consummation of the courtship that happens through the rest of
the piece. The demonic and virtuosic scherzo contains a
hymn-like trio section, and has similarities to the
corresponding movements of the first two sonatas. The
unexpectedly inserted fourth movement is an “intermezzo”
titled “Rückblick,” or “backward glance.” It transforms
the romantic theme of the second movement into a funeral
march, complete with drum roll effects in the Beethovenian
“fate” rhythm. The finale, in rondo form, is also
expansive and diverse. Its heroic central episode forms
the basis for the wildly extended coda in the major key.
In addition to F, the key of D-flat plays a very prominent
role in all five movements. It is used for the second
themes of the first two movements (and the second movement
remarkably ends there), a blong with the trio section of the
scherzo and the important central episode of the finale.
Its “relative” minor key is the center of the “Rückblick”
movement. The sonata has a strong claim as the greatest
since Beethoven, its only close rivals being the last Schubert
sonatas (particularly the final one in B-flat) and the Liszt
B-minor. And with that, Brahms was finished with the
genre that launched his career. It is of some interest
that, other than the four symphonies, Brahms never published
more than three of any multi-movement instrumental genre
throughout his career (typically there are two or three
examples of any such genre). He considered revising the sonata several times (as he did the
B-major piano trio, Op. 8), but
thankfully never did. Other than perhaps tightening the
wild coda of the finale, improvements are rather difficult to
SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut
SCORE FROM IMSLP (From Breitkopf
& Härtel Sämtliche
Allegro maestoso (Sonata-Allegro form). F MINOR/MAJOR,
3/4 time with two 4/4 measures, one 5/4 measure, and one 6/4
0:00 [m. 1]--Theme 1. The first gestures of the
theme are thunderous calls to attention. A low octave F
leaps up to a descending harmonized figure in a dotted rhythm
that is prominent throughout the movement: a long note
followed by two very short ones. This leads to a loud
chord on the third beat of the measure. Two more of
these sequences follow, with the initial bass octaves moving
down by half-step. The dotted figures and the following
chords are also chromatic. After the three sequences,
two more low octaves, continuing downward by half-step, are
broken by a single higher chord on the second beat.
Finally, a forceful cadence on the “dominant” note C, with
both hands in the treble register, ends the initial statement.
0:16 [m. 7]--A mysterious episode in C minor breaks up
the forceful presentation of the theme. The right hand
plays ominous chords in “straight” rhythm while the left hand
plays open fifths and octaves, using a triplet rhythm that is
similar to the short-short-short-long “fate” motive known from
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The second, higher five-bar
phrase of the episode turns briefly to G minor, but it slows
to a quiet full cadence on C major. The last
chord has a fermata, indicating an indefinite pause.
0:42 [m. 17]--A loud, zigzagging upbeat figure in
octaves, another element that is extremely prominent in the
movement, abruptly and jarringly transitions from the C-minor
reverie back to the commanding main theme in F minor.
Its outlines follow the first presentation, but now the left
hand takes the original descending dotted rhythm by itself,
and the chord on the third beat is replaced by a right hand
figure, shooting up in very high octaves, that uses the same
rhythm. The same type of figure replaces the chord that
separates the two bass octaves in the measure that follows the
three sequences. It also decorates the cadence on the
“dominant,” which is now even more emphatic, with rolled
chords and staggered hands.
0:56 [m. 23]--Transition. The cadence on C leads
smoothly to the “relative” major key (A-flat major).
There, the right hand plays a noble, march-like tune in rich
chords. Brahms marks it with the German expression “fest
und bestimmt” (“firm and decisive”). The left hand
unexpectedly plays the long-short-short figures from Theme 1,
without harmony, still on the second beat, and no longer in a
dotted rhythm. The short notes are lengthened from 32nd
notes to sixteenth notes after a straight eighth note.
The figure leaps up to a higher note, becoming almost
melodic. The key very quickly turns to B-flat minor and
the harmony includes dissonant “diminished” harmonies.
These smoothly lead back to F, but now F major, as
confirmed by the last left hand figure, whose rhythms are
doubled in length.
1:14 [m. 31]--A new, much quieter phrase of the same
material begins in B-flat major, a key whose minor version was
just heard. The march theme is played by the right hand
in the tenor range. The long-short-short left hand
figures derived from Theme 1 now alternate between the low
bass and the high treble. The left hand crosses over the
right for the treble statements. The leap up happens
after the beat, and after the right hand changes
harmony. In the bass statements, this leap is a fifth,
in the treble statements, an octave. The chords that had
closed the first phrase are manipulated to bring the harmony
back through F minor to A-flat, where a highly expectant
half-close is reached. This is repeated two octaves higher,
even quieter and becoming slower. The expectant arrival
back at A-flat brings this transitional material full circle.
1:34 [m. 39]--Theme 2. The delayed second theme
is marked con espressione. The right hand plays
a gentle, but passionate melody, richly harmonized with moving
internal voices. The left hand plays very widely spaced
arpeggios with added high-low alternations over “pedal
points.” After the first phrase in A-flat, a second
follows in C-flat with added rolled chords. The high-low
alternations take over completely in the left hand. The
right hand shifts to full-measure chords, which steadily
build, then become shorter and syncopated. The left hand
alternations are now extremely wide. The chords approach
an arrival point as the final key of the exposition is reached
1:51 [m. 51]--The arrival and climax are very
grand. Rolled tenths and chords in the left hand
incorporate a long-short rhythm underneath a tolling, joyous
outburst in the right hand. The key of D-flat is
triumphantly confirmed, but a cadence is avoided. The
last figure of this climactic passage is repeated with an
added triplet rhythm.
2:00 [m. 56]--Closing passage. The music suddenly
becomes quiet again. The right hand returns to material
from the beginning of the Theme 2 melody, adding more
chromatic motion. The left hand moves again to its very
wide alternations, now over a long pedal point on
A-flat. The end of the six-bar phrase seems to approach
a cadence as it accelerates, then slows, and the left hand
narrows as its top line moves down. The cadence is
diverted by a full repetition of the entire phrase with both
hands an octave lower. After the repetition, the warm
cadence in D-flat finally arrives and is reiterated three
times. Following this closure, the jagged, zigzagging
upbeat figure in octaves heard at 0:42 [m. 17] returns with an
equally jarring effect, wrenching the music back to F minor
for the repeat.
2:22 [m. 1]--First statement of Theme 1, as at the
2:36 [m. 7]--Episode in C minor, as at 0:16.
3:01 [m. 17]--Second statement of Theme 1 leading to
cadence on the “dominant” harmony, as at 0:42.
3:15 [m. 23]--March-like transition in A-flat major, as
3:33 [m. 31]--Quieter transitional phrase with hand
crossing and high repetition of last phrase, as at 1:14.
3:54 [m. 39]--Theme 2 moving from A-flat to D-flat, as
4:11 [m. 51]--Arrival and grand climax, as at 1:51.
4:20 [m. 56]--Closing passage with repetition an octave
lower and cadence in D-flat, as at 2:00. The second
ending (m. 71b), removes the highest level from the zigzagging
upbeat figure in octaves, a very slight change. The
figure leads into the development section, as it had led into
the exposition repeat.
4:43 [m. 72]--The F of the zigzag figure is diverted to
F-sharp. Two inserted 4/4 measures follow. In
them, Brahms alternates the zigzag figure in octaves between
the right and left hands. In the first measure, it
begins on A in both hands, and in the second, it starts on
B-sharp (C-natural) and F-sharp. The key is heading to
C-sharp minor, a direct shift in mode from the D-flat major at
the end of the exposition. The octaves and the chords
that accompany them are intense and almost wild. After
the two 4/4 measures, another zigzag pattern begins in right
hand octaves. It is extended, creating a great
anticipation for an arrival on C-sharp that is intensified by
the lengthening of this measure to an irregular 5/4. The
left hand in this measure leaps up from low bass notes to more
passionate rolled chords.
4:52 [m. 75]--The prevailing 3/4 meter returns, and
Theme 1 appears to begin in C-sharp minor. The bass line
makes a chromatic half-step descent in octaves. After
the first chord, minor reverts back to major, and after four
of the long-short-short figures, the harmony lands on the
“dominant” chord of C-sharp. The left hand then quiets
and begins the triplet “fate” rhythm as heard in the C-minor
episode at 0:16 [m. 7].
5:00 [m. 79]--The episode from 0:16 [m. 7] is now heard
in a C-sharp-minor variant. The “fate” triplets are in
right hand octaves, holding steadily to the note
G-sharp. The “straight” rhythm figures are now heard in
both hands, in octaves in the left and single notes in the
right. The figures in the right hand follow those in the
left after a long first note at the beginning of the measure
that harmonizes both the left hand figures and the
octaves. After two measures, the figures in both hands
come together in harmony.
5:11 [m. 84]--The “fate” octaves move up to D-sharp,
and the variant of the episode just heard is played a fifth
higher, in G-sharp minor.
5:21 [m. 88]--The key moves back to major, now again
notated as D-flat. The right hand begins a very quiet
syncopated rhythm that will remain in force for some
time. At first, the note A-flat remains steady while a
lower note is added and then moves to harmonies in seconds,
thirds, and fourths. The first of these is a dissonant
adjacent half-step. After three measures, beginning on
an upbeat, a new and very soulful melody in D-flat major
begins. It is in the tenor range and played by the left
hand, which also adds supporting bass notes that are often
rolled up to the continuing melody. The right hand
continues with the syncopated pattern that had been
established. A prominent chromatic note (C-flat) colors
5:39 [m. 96]--A return to the dissonant half-step, or
minor second harmony in the right hand syncopation coincides
with the upward expansion and intensification of the tenor
melody. The melody soars up with a triplet rhythm, and
then descends. At the same time, the right hand
syncopation expands to full chords. Another upward
triplet in the tenor melody, colored by more chromatic notes,
also descends after a high note. The right hand
syncopation now leaps up into the very high register, still in
full chords. Becoming even warmer, the melody settles to
a beautiful cadence in D-flat against the continuing high
6:05 [m. 110]--The last notes of the warm D-flat
cadence are repeated twice, inflected to minor. The
right hand chords become more chromatic, still in the same
syncopated rhythm. A third repetition seems to begin,
but expands upward, and the right hand chords reach even
higher. A dramatic crescendo in a sustained
tempo leads to a sudden outburst of the long-short-short
rhythm in a passionate, cascading descent as the right hand
syncopation finally breaks. The key has moved to G-flat
major, and after the descent, a descending triplet doubled in
three octaves leads to a strong arrival in that key.
6:23 [m. 119]--A grand, triumphant statement of Theme 1
in G-flat major is expanded by full tolling chords. In
the left hand, these are rolled, enhancing the bell-like
effect. The meter is somewhat ambiguous here. The
placement of prominent chords and accents creates a subtle
cross rhythm, so the four 3/4 measures can almost be heard as
6 measures in 2/4.
6:32 [m. 123]--Again, the music is suddenly
hushed. The syncopated pattern returns in the right
hand, in high chords as it was before it broke. The left
hand plays with the long-short-short rhythm, this time cutting
off the expected longer note or chord that follows. The
effect is somewhat disconcerting. Four of these figures
without the long note are heard. The first three are in
G-flat major. The fourth makes a surprisingly smooth
gesture toward F minor, a half-step lower. Immediately
confirming G-flat again, the pattern continues. Four
more figures are heard, this time with the long-short-short
pattern leaping up a tenth to the expected longer note.
The fourth one, expanding the leap to an eleventh, makes the
same disarmingly easy shift down to F minor, and this time it
stays there, setting up the re-transition.
6:50 [m. 131]--Re-transition. The opening is
marked misterioso. The “fate” triplets quietly
return in high right hand chords while the left hand plays the
pervasive long-short-short rhythm. It is heard twice in
each bar, leaping up an octave for the second statement.
The triplets are heard at the beginning of each measure,
steadily moving upward. In the fourth measure, a third
long-short-short rhythm is added to the left hand and a crescendo
begins. The harmony also shifts to the “dominant” key, C
7:00 [m. 135]--The triplets become constant beginning
with the upbeat to the fifth measure of the
re-transition. Then both hands expand greatly in both
texture and volume. The long-short-short figures in the
left hand make a grand arch, and the triplet chords in the
right, now very high, are like tolling bells. As the
left hand arch concludes, the right hand chords leap down to a
lower octave, emerging in a thick six-note texture with the
top three notes doubling the bottom three an octave
above. The recapitulation is set up with a hanging and
expectant, but very grand C-major chord in the preparatory
“six-four” position. Then the zigzag upbeat figure, in
bass octaves, wrenches the music back to F minor.
7:07 [m. 138]--Theme 1. The first theme complex
is greatly abbreviated. The C-minor episode is cut, and
this return, led into by the zigzagging upbeat octaves,
resembles the second appearance in the exposition at 0:42 and
3:01 [m. 17]. The hands are reversed from that
presentation, however. The right hand takes the original
long-short-short figures and the left follows them with the
upward-shooting octaves. The left hand makes things even
more intense by adding a high rolled chord on the second beat
of each measure. The theme is expanded by one measure,
the right hand again reaches high, and the emphatic cadence on
the “dominant” is intensified beyond that in the exposition,
tumbling down over left hand octave arpeggios.
7:22 [m. 145]--Transition. Analogous to 0:56 and
3:15 [m. 23]. The march-like “fest und bestimmt” theme
and the non-dotted long-short-short figure in the bass are
heard in the home major key of F, which would be expected of a
second theme. But it follows the exposition exactly,
being only transposed down a third. Thus, it moves to G
minor and then to D major, keys that have not yet been
7:40 [m. 153]--Quieter transitional phrase, analogous
to 1:14 and 3:33 [m. 31]. It begins in G major.
The low and high alternations of the long-short-short figures,
the upward leaps, and the hand crossings follow as
before. The harmony moves through D minor to F major and
the expected half-close. The repetition two octaves
higher follows as expected.
8:01 [m. 161]--Theme 2. It proceeds as at 1:34
and 3:54 [m. 39]. The first phrase is in F
major, the second in A-flat major (creating a connection to
the use of that key in the exposition). The building
chords and widely-spaced left hand alternations lead to an
arrival point on B-flat, analogous to the D-flat of the
8:18 [m. 173]--Grand arrival in B-flat major.
Analogous to 1:51 and 4:11 [m. 51]. A cadence in B-flat
8:28 [m. 178]--Closing passage. Material from the
beginning of Theme 2 with chromatic motion. Analogous to
4:20 and 2:00 [m. 56]. The left hand pedal point under
the contracting alternations is on F, creating anticipation
for a cadence on B-flat. As in the exposition, the
cadence is diverted by a repetition of the entire phrase an
octave lower. Unlike the exposition, where the cadence
in D-flat arrived and was reiterated, the cadence in B-flat is
completely avoided, never arriving. It is instead broken
off, led into a transition to the coda whose eventual goal is
the home major key of F, where the movement will end.
8:43 [m. 190]--Transition to Coda. The aborted
cadence in B-flat is suppressed even more cruelly by a held
note where it should come, creating mild syncopation.
The rocking pattern as the presumed cadence was approached
then continues. The bass pedal point gradually moves up
to F-sharp, then to G, and the top notes of the alternations
move up irregularly. When G is reached in the bass, a
huge crescendo begins. The top notes of the left
hand alternations expand upward as the rocking motion
continues in the right hand. The bass G implies C major,
but C in turn serves as the preparatory “dominant” to F.
In the last two bars of the transition, solid chords in both
hands point to a cadence on C, but C is immediately converted
to the preparatory chord for an arrival on F. The left
hand pedal finally hits C and becomes an octave, leaping up to
four-note chords. This last measure slows down to add
emphasis to the great arrival on F major.
8:56 [m. 200]--The definitive arrival on F major is
indeed triumphant. The four bars that follow are similar
to the huge statement of Theme 1 material in G-flat from 6:23
[m. 119] in the development section. The metric
ambiguity is heightened even more by an addition of the
long-short-short rhythm in powerful left hand octaves on the
downbeat of each implied 2/4 measure. Brahms tips his
hat to this moment in the development by touching on G-flat
halfway through the phrase. Another arrival on F is
expanded into an unexpected fifth bar with highly chromatic
chords marked pesante. This extra measure
disrupts the meter even more.
9:07 [m. 205]--The disruptive fifth bar of the
preceding phrase leads into a dissonant chord at the beginning
of this measure, creating two more implied 2/4 measures that
end on the downbeat. Brahms marks the following passage
“Più animato.” Two loud chords, widely spaced, leap
inward to quieter, clipped chords. These chords are on
the second beat of each measure, creating extreme syncopation
and almost the sense of a restoration of 3/4 with the downbeat
shifting to the second beat. The pattern then
intensifies. The next chord, with a high right hand,
acts as an upbeat to two more huge leaps inward that remain
loud and forceful. These also add new upbeats after
them, creating the impression of two measures in a broad 3/2
rather than four in 3/4. But the proper sense of the
downbeat is restored as another cadence is approached.
9:20 [m. 214]--This cadence truly restores order.
Six full chords descend from on high in the right hand as six
rising bass octaves oppose them in the left. Brahms
notates these as a 6/4 measure, presumably to add emphasis to
the restoration of the metric pulse. The right hand
remains very high to the end. The single 6/4 measure is
followed by a third and final broad F-major cadence. Low
octaves in grace notes add emphasis and anticipation to the
chords. The final F-major chord, with the third (A) on
top, is held two bars, then reiterated three times, the last
also held two bars. The rolled left hand moves lower in
the reiterations, then adds a slower version of the “grace
notes” in an upbeat arpeggio to the last two-bar chord.
9:53 (runoff after 9:43)--END OF MOVEMENT [222 mm.]
2nd Movement: Andante -
Andante espressivo; Poco più lento; Andante molto; Adagio
(Ternary form with extended coda). A-FLAT
MAJOR--D-FLAT MAJOR, 2/4, 4/16, 3/8, 3/4, and 4/4 time.
The movement is headed by the following poetic lines by
Otto Inkermann under the pseudonym C.O. Sternau:
Der Abend dämmert, das Mondlicht scheint,
Da sind zwei Herzen in Liebe vereint
Und halten sich selig umfangen.
(The evening dims in twilight, the moonlight shines,
There are two hearts united in love
And they embrace each other in rapture.)
A Section--A-flat major, Andante espressivo, 2/4 time.
0:00 [m. 1]--Part 1 (a). The theme is of
exquisite beauty. It begins with a descent in thirds,
starting with an upbeat. At the bottom, it turns around
with an expressive trill. The left hand accompaniment
undulates, moving the bass line down with the melody.
The end of the first phrase is accompanied by a wide arpeggio
under a half-close. The second, complementary phrase is
of the same shape, but makes a colorful turn to the “exotic”
key of C-flat major. The end of the phrase works easily
back to A-flat major by way of A-flat minor, which is the
“relative” key to C-flat. The phrase ends in a similar
way to the first one, but it is extended by two measures, with
the arpeggios in the left hand leading to a cadence in A-flat.
0:29 [m. 1]--Part 1 (a) repeated. The
second ending (m. 10b) deviates at the end of the left hand
arpeggio, which adds syncopation leading into Part 2 (b).
0:56 [m. 11]--Part 2 (b). The top line is
marked ben cantando, or songfully. It begins
with an upbeat followed by repeated notes in a dotted
(long-short) rhythm which then descend. Pulsing,
detached chords accompany below the top line in both
hands. The chords and melody are mildly chromatic.
The top melodic line leaps up high before descending, and the
first phrase turns to E-flat major without a cadence.
1:07 [m. 15]--The second phrase, which has the same
contour, begins with the left hand elegantly crossing the
right with the upbeat and then continuing for a measure before
the right hand takes over. The left hand thus does not
play the first pulses. When the right hand takes over
the melody, the left imitates the opening repeated notes in
dotted rhythm below. The leap up is now in a very high
register and enhanced by rolled chords. The phrase makes
another motion on the circle of fifths and ends in B-flat,
again with no cadence.
1:18 [m. 19]--The phrase is extended, including a new
descent in triplet rhythm that is passed between the
hands. The closing gestures are reiterated. The
right hand, still very high, begins to circle around the
closing figure as the pulsations stall on the note D-flat and
the triplet descent is reiterated in the left hand. The
left hand uses the chromatic note F-flat (E)
prominently. The music slows down and becomes quieter,
shifting back home to A-flat. The pulses on the note
D-flat help to re-establish that key, although it vacillates
with its related key of F minor. The extension ends on a
half-close in A-flat.
1:34 [m. 25]--Part 3 (a’). Both the
melodic line and the undulating accompaniment are brought up
an octave, and the right hand plays both, which requires
dexterity. The left hand holds a low octave pedal point
E-flat under the first phrase and a C-flat under the second
phrase. It moves away from these long held octaves at
the arrival back on A-flat, where it again takes over the
arpeggios, which now reach much lower and are more widely
spaced. The right hand, meanwhile, much higher than the
left, adds notes and rolled chords to the arrival on A-flat
and the cadence. The cadence itself is reiterated twice
beyond what was heard in Part 1. The third one is more
final, and the music slows and quiets as the A section
B Section--D-flat major, Poco più lento, 4/16 and 3/8
2:08 [m. 37]--Part 1 (4/16 time). The lovely
upbeat figure repeats a steady note (A-flat) three times,
adding a half-step, then a whole step (G-flat) below it to
transition to D-flat major. The choice of the highly
unusual 4/16 time signature is probably to keep the sixteenth
notes at roughly the same speed as in the A section
while avoiding the faster tempo implied by 2/8. Brahms
marks the music “Äußerst leise und zart” (“Extremely quiet and
tender”). Over a throbbing pedal point D-flat, pairs of
two-note harmonies alternate between the right and left hands,
the hands moving in opposite directions. After four
measures, the left hand pauses. After eight, it
punctuates a cadence with a rolled chord.
2:24 [m. 45]--The next phrase is essentially a
repetition of the first one, but the right hand adds a tolling
A-flat above each pair of two-note harmonies. The
harmony is rolled up to this note. After four bars, the
upper “tolling” note moves to D-flat above the second harmony
of each pair (rather than the first). It then moves back
to A-flat (and the downbeat) above the last chord.
2:39 [m. 53]--The next group of 15 bars is treated as a
single unit. The bass note is no longer a sustained
pedal point, but the pattern of two-note harmonies in pairs
alternating between the hands is maintained. The first
alternations of this phrase are exceedingly beautiful and
evocative. After four bars, a slow crescendo
begins and the key shifts down a step to C-flat. The
bass notes become octaves and alternate between C-flat and
F-flat. After ten bars, forte is achieved and
the harmony, through chromatic motion, moves back to
D-flat. The pattern is finally broken with a right-hand
descent. The last measure leading into Part 2 already
establishes its new 3/8 meter. It is a beautifully
protracted approach to an arrival point.
3:04 [m. 68]--Part 2 (3/8 time). The arrival
point erupts into a heartfelt, ardent, and passionate melody
in triple time. The left hand is very active and moves
in triplet rhythm. It is a combination of octaves and
trills on two notes, D-flat and E-flat. The melody
itself is richly harmonized, adding rolled chords and
eventually its own triplet rhythm in the fifth measure.
The fifth, sixth, and seventh measures all repeat the same
pattern beginning with that triplet rhythm. The seventh
measure slows and diminishes in volume, leading to an
extended, gentle cadence as the left hand trills and octaves
roll on to the reprise of Part 1.
3:27 [m. 77]--Part 3 (Part 1 partially repeated).
The 4/16 meter returns, and the second half of Part 1, the 15
bars from 2:39 [m. 53], is given a full reprise.
The crescendo and the forte are placed later
(in the 11th and 14th measures, respectively), and Brahms
indicates more freedom with the tempo than in the first
playing, but the notes are the same. The first two phrases of
part 1 do not return.
3:54 [m. 92]--Part 4 (Part 2 repeated and slightly
varied). The whole of Part 2 in 3/8 from 3:04 [m. 68] is
also given a reprise, but Brahms does alter the harmony and
melody slightly, replacing G-flats with G-naturals,
anticipating the return of A-flat for the A’
section. This is most notable in the first two of the
repeated patterns beginning with the triplet rhythm.
There, the left hand also shifts from D-flat and E-flat to
E-flat and F with added bass notes on A-flat, further
increasing anticipation for the key of A-flat. G-flat
returns in the last of these, and the cadence is in D-flat as
4:15 [m. 101]--Re-transition. The two-bar cadence
is repeated, but inflected to D-flat minor, the left hand
continuing its pattern on D-flat and E-flat. The cadence
is then further varied and moved lower, still inflected
to minor. But this time it does not arrive on
D-flat. The bass shifts up to E-flat, which becomes the
“dominant” of A-flat. The last measure of the transition
is in 2/4, preparing the return of the main melody from the A
section, which begins on the upbeat into the next
measure. This measure also prepares the accompaniment
for the first part of the A’ section, which maintains
the triplet pattern established in the 3/8 music, but adds
prominent upper notes. These are colorful and chromatic
in this preparatory measure.
A’ Section--A-flat major, 2/4 time.
4:27 [m. 106]--Part 1 (a). Brahms
indicates that the slowing into the opening tempo should
happen very gradually. The right hand is only very
slightly adjusted from the presentation at the beginning, with
notes added to cover harmonies not in the left hand. The
left hand accompaniment now incorporates the triplet rhythm
from the 3/8 music of the B section and includes wide
leaps. There is a constantly reiterated high E-flat in
this flowing triplet accompaniment. A broken octave
replaces the arpeggio at the end of the first phrase.
The high E-flats break during the phrase in C-flat. The
triplet rhythm is incorporated into the arpeggios under the
extension of the last phrase and cadence, and they range
rather widely. In the second half of the last measure,
the triplet rhythm finally breaks in anticipation of Part 2 (b).
4:55 [m. 116]--Part 2 (b). The first
phrase is presented without substantial alteration from 0:56
5:07 [m. 120]--The second phrase is presented without
substantial alteration from 1:07 [m. 15].
5:18 [m. 124]--The extended closing phrase is presented
without substantial alteration from 1:18 [m. 19].
5:35 [m. 130]--Part 3 (a’). Other than the
fact that the accompaniment, now in the right hand, is again
in triplet rhythm (which makes it even more difficult to
negotiated under the melody, but Brahms does remove the
trills), the passage is very close to 1:34 [m. 25]. The
pedal point E-flat and C-flat are present in the left hand as
before. The wide arpeggios under the extension and
cadence are also in the triplet rhythm. At the cadence,
the left hand triplets suddenly move to a droning trill on a
low G and A-flat. Brahms explicitly places the trill in
slurred two-note groups, which conflict with the triplet
rhythm and create great ambiguity. The extension of the
cadence, described below, is greatly expanded from the one in
the first A section.
6:04 [m. 140]--The reiterations of the cadence make an
early turn to D-flat, a turn that is totally unexpected in a
ternary form. The first reiteration uses the harmony of
D-flat minor, not major, while the droning trill, still in
triplet rhythm but in two-note groups, continues below.
The second reiteration returns to A-flat. A third,
moving lower, is again over D-flat-minor harmony.
Finally, a fourth reiteration, even lower and in the tenor
range, is on the “dominant” chord of D-flat, anticipating its
firm arrival. The entire passage diminishes greatly in
volume, reaching ppp on the “dominant” chord.
Under this chord, the first note of each left hand triplet is
replaced by a rest, bringing the two-note slurs in alignment
with the rhythm.
Coda--D-flat major, Andante molto/Adagio, 3/4 and 4/4
6:21 [m. 144]--The gigantic coda takes on the life of a
second B section, and indeed it is in the B
section’s key of D-flat. It has a certain thematic
affinity with the 3/8 music of the earlier section as well,
which becomes more pronounced as it progresses. The
marking “Andante molto” and the 3/4 meter indicate a broader
presentation. It begins very quietly, ppp.
A low throbbing pedal-point A-flat is established that remains
in force for the first two phrases. The melody
itself is heavily upbeat-driven, with rich harmonies and an
ardently passionate character similar to that of the B
section. The first phrase works upward, reaching a
6:46 [m. 151]--The first phrase is repeated an octave
lower, with slightly varied harmonies. A lower line,
beginning with long tolling D-flats, is added below the
throbbing A-flat pedal point. The end of the phrase is
altered to reach a full close instead of a half-close.
7:09 [m. 157]--Still very quiet and in the original
higher register, the next phrase offers contrast, with more
chromatic inflections to the melody and harmony. The
throbbing pedal-point wanders narrowly away from A-flat in the
bass, and the lower line below it is also more
chromatic. After four bars, the pedal point settles on
A-natural and the harmony moves briefly, but
unexpectedly, to the key of F major, which then shifts to F
minor. At this point, a powerful crescendo
begins and the melody begins to work up to its first
climax. A triplet is added to the last two upbeat
figures, including a final bass descent, and the coming climax
is indicated pesante. The F-minor harmonies
quickly move back toward D-flat for the arrival point.
7:36 [m. 164]--The arrival is marked molto pesante
and fortissimo. In very high chords, the
original phrase is stated in full harmonies and extended to
eight measures. The pedal point in the bass is now in
octaves on D-flat and, significantly, in triplet rhythm.
After four bars, the octave triplets move away from D-flat and
chromatic harmonies are introduced. The presentation is
very grand and triumphant. There is imitation of the
upbeat figures in the left hand, which plays these imitations
along with the continuing triplets. The cadence of the
extended phrase does not settle, but pushes forward, the
octave triplets in the left hand returning to D-flat, the home
7:55 [m. 171]--The driving, passionate music presses
forward, extending higher. The pedal point is maintained
in the left hand, but is decorated by wide leaps to other
notes. A second, even more powerful climax is
approached. It arrives with great intensity as the left
hand triplets change to straight sixteenth notes on a thick
“dominant” chord in its unstable third inversion. The
climax, intense as it is, only lasts for one measure, and the
music rapidly settles down in pitch and volume. The left
hand chords return to triplet rhythm and then settle on D-flat
octaves. The cadence is extended over greatly
diminishing volume. In the last measure, the octave
D-flats slow to straight rhythm and introduce halting rests on
the last two 3/4 beats.
8:22 [m. 179]--The tempo is now “Adagio.” The
volume is indicated as ppp. The bass octaves
move down in a true chromatic line with full harmonies.
Over this, the right hand, in the tenor range, plays what
sounds like a statement of benediction. Its last chords
are extended with breathless anticipation. The
“benediction” even ends with a “plagal,” or “Amen”
cadence. The last bar of the “benediction” changes to
4/4 meter (marked as common time). The chord is held for
a full three beats, but an upbeat is added for the final
return of the theme from the A section, which is in
9:00 [m. 187]--The opening figure from the A
section, marked con molto espressione, returns,
complete with its typical accompaniment pattern in the left
hand. But it is in the D-flat major of the coda, where
the movement remarkably ends. For a movement to
unambiguously begin and end on different key centers is
extraordinarily unusual, and this example is almost unique in
Brahms (the Schicksalslied, Op. 54, is another
example). The figure works its way upward, very gently,
but it suddenly erupts in a final outburst of forte
rolled chords that quickly settle down to four reiterated
rolled D-flat chords with the third, F, on top. They are
approached by another somewhat altered “plagal” cadence.
The last chord is held until it fades.
9:49--END OF MOVEMENT [191 mm.]
3rd Movement: Scherzo -
Allegro energico (Scherzo with Trio). F MINOR,
0:00 [m. 1]--Part 1a. The opening approach is a
huge arpeggio on a dissonant “diminished seventh” chord
notated as grace notes before the downbeat. The first
section of Part 1 has two phrases. They establish the
rollicking, swaggering rhythmic sweep that characterizes the
scherzo. The right hand octaves are supported by a left
hand that treacherously leaps from low octaves on the
downbeats up to mid-range chords on the second and third
beats. The first phrase moves from F minor to the
“subdominant” key of B-flat minor in an incomplete
close. The long-short rhythm broken by rests is
characteristic of the scherzo theme.
0:07 [m. 9]--The second phrase is similar to the first,
also beginning with the “diminished seventh” grace-note
arpeggio. It also ends on B-flat minor, but begins in
E-flat minor, approaching from the other direction. The
second half of the phrase becomes suddenly quieter and
light. It reaches a full close with a rolled chord and
0:13 [m. 17]--Part 1b. In the next section, which
begins back in F minor and also has two phrases, the
long-short octaves move to the left hand, establishing a
strong, marching bass line. The right hand plays loud
descending chords against them. The second half of the
phrase again becomes quiet and light, with smooth two-part
writing in the right hand and single detached notes, still in
the prevailing rhythm, in the left. Again, the goal is
0:19 [m. 25]--Mirroring Part 1a, the second phrase
begins in E-flat minor and ends in B-flat minor. The
first four bars are similar to those of the first
phrase. The second half again becomes quiet and light,
but it is extended and based on leaps of a fourth in the top
voice. After four bars of the smooth leaps, the
extension leaps down an octave and reaches another full
cadence in B-flat minor with a descending arpeggio in the
0:28 [m. 37]--Part 2. The bass line moves up by
half-step in octaves, still at a quiet level. Two
half-step shifts are each followed by a high descending right
hand arpeggio similar to the cadences in Part 1. When
the bass octaves reach D-flat, a sequence of arpeggios begins
based on motion in both directions along the circle of
fifths. The left hand plays longer rising arpeggios in a
slower long-short rhythm across two bars. The right hand
continues to play the high, short, descending leggiero
arpeggios derived from the Part 1 cadences. The first
harmonies remain on the “flat” side: D-flat major, A-flat
minor and major, E-flat minor.
0:34 [m. 46]--A chromatic alteration moves the
arpeggios to the “sharp” side: E major, B major and minor,
F-sharp minor. The note “D” is used as a pivot from B
minor to G. The bass stalls on G under four widening
leaps. It begins to function as a preparatory “dominant”
note. At the arrival on G, the volume also begins to
build. It eventually reaches forte, and the left
hand moves from its broad arpeggios to sharply syncopated
dissonances that resolve downward by half step. The
volume diminishes again as the right hand arpeggios move lower
and begin to trail away, the bass remaining anchored to the
note G. The last left hand syncopation abandons the
half-step descent in favor of a more solid establishment of G.
0:46 [m. 63]--Re-transition. The bass on G
suddenly merges into the head rhythm of Part 1, the long-short
figure broken by a rest. This rhythm is interrupted once
by a final descending right hand arpeggio, also on G. It
is then heard again. Finally, the first note is cut off,
and only the clipped “short-long” figure is heard. Three
of these raise expectations for an arrival on C minor.
These expectations are thwarted by a sudden jarring descent,
with right hand octaves following the left hand notes.
The descent, swelling in volume, leads not to C, but a level
beyond that, the home key of F minor and the return of the
Part 1 material.
0:51 [m. 70]--Part 3 (Varied return of Part 1).
The first phrase of Part 1a is played with some alterations.
The grace-note arpeggio, which would be impractical after the
descending approach, is replaced by a full “diminished
seventh” chord harmonizing the first beat. The first
descending right hand octaves are imitated by the left hand in
the third measure. There are other subtle alterations to
the left hand, especially its low bass octaves. The last
four of these descend, rather than ascend as they did before.
0:56 [m. 78]--The second phrase of Part 1a appears to
begin in E-flat minor as expected, even beginning with the
grace-note arpeggio. But the left hand is changed to an
arching pattern in octaves. The phrase stalls after two
measures. The opening gesture is again heard in F minor,
as at the beginning of the first phrase, but with the arching
octaves in the left hand. A third gesture reaches very
high and begins a long, loud, and treacherous octave descent
in both hands outlining another “diminished seventh” chord,
one that seems to move away from F minor. The right hand
follows the left after the beat, and the descending arpeggio
plunges for four bars before moving to a stepwise descent in a
1:02 [m. 87]--The passionate descent lands on a note,
D-natural, that does not belong to F minor. But it
begins a sequence that will firmly establish that key.
Loud octaves on the downbeats descend, then ascend, eventually
landing on C, which acts as the “dominant” to F minor.
Each of these octaves leaps up to a higher chord on the last
beat of the bar. In the left hand, this chord is
rolled. After this eight-bar sequence, an F-minor
cadence is reiterated in the same rhythm, leaping down before
the two last chords, which are supported by solid F octaves in
the bass. The scherzo portion ends with a two-measure
TRIO (D-flat Major)
1:12 [m. 101]--Part 1. In stark contrast to the
main scherzo, the trio section is smooth and hymn-like, played
entirely in warm chords and bass octaves. The first two
phrases support an arching melody with these chords, the
second phrase rising slightly higher. Both phrases hold
the second chord for two measures, then become more
active. Both phrases end on the same half-close.
1:25 [m. 117]--The last phrase of Part 1 is
extended. It immediately takes on a darker color,
turning to E-flat minor and establishing a pedal point low
bass octave on E-flat. The swaying motion of the first
two phrases and the chordal support are maintained. The
passage gently rises and falls. At the extension of the
phrase, both hands become chromatic, and the bass octaves rise
by half-steps from E-flat until they reach A-flat, the
“dominant” of D-flat. The right hand becomes more
active, chromatically winding downward. The first ending
(mm. 129a-132a) prolongs two dissonant chords before moving to
D-flat for the repeat.
1:37 [m.101]--Part 1 repeated. Restatement of the
first two phrases.
1:50 [m. 117]--Restatement of the extended phrase
beginning in E-flat minor. The second ending (mm.
129b-132b) is subtly altered so that A-flat does not act as a
strong “dominant” pulling toward D-flat. In fact, the
beginning of Part 2 is in E-flat minor, the key of the
2:02 [m. 133]--Part 2. The opening music is very
similar to the first phrases of Part 1, but the key is E-flat
minor and the phrase structure is irregular. A six-bar
unit merges prematurely into a longer unit of eight bars,
creating an unsettled feeling. The end of the eight-bar
unit then itself merges into an extension of oscillating
chords using the unstable note F-flat, but otherwise
suggesting the preparatory “dominant” of D-flat. A
dissonant chord is held for four measures in the right hand as
the left hand octaves slowly inch upward chromatically until
they again reach the pivotal note A-flat.
2:18 [m. 154]--The first phrase of Part 1 returns in
D-flat major, with the right hand an octave higher.
2:24 [m. 162]--The second phrase from Part 1 is
expected, but it turns to the minor key. Instead of
arching down where expected, it continues to work up to the
very high register over held bass octaves. These high
chords are breathlessly held over bar lines, and they approach
a cadence in C-flat major.
2:31 [m. 172]--The arrival on the rather remote C-flat
is curiously satisfying, but the bass immediately disrupts
things by bringing back, most unexpectedly, the long-short
rhythm of the main scherzo section. This rhythm works
downward chromatically as the high C-flat chord is reiterated
on the weak third beat of the bar, then held. At the
same time, a powerful crescendo begins. When the
bass again reaches the crucial note A-flat on the scherzo
rhythm, the right hand chord replaces C-flat with C-natural
and the harmony is once again on the preparatory “dominant”
chord of D-flat major.
2:36 [m. 180]--The climax of the trio section makes a
glorious arrival. The chords and bass octaves ring out
like bells in a joyously arching motion. After eight
bars, the music breaks into a descending arpeggio with the
right hand following the left after the beat, similar to the
descent toward the end of the main scherzo before 1:02 [m.
2:45 [m. 192]--The climax continues and becomes
slightly more chromatic. The bass assumes the shape, but
not the rhythm of the main idea from the scherzo
section. The right hand chords again reach very high,
the intensity builds, and a huge cadence in D-flat is
expected. It is prepared, but never arrives, being
cruelly cut off by a pause.
2:52 [m. 203]--Transition to reprise of scherzo.
The rhythm and shape of the main scherzo idea has become
pervasive, and now it is used as a transition to the reprise
and to its key of F minor. The preparatory arpeggio,
heard in grace notes in the main section, is written out and
takes up a measure of its own. The first transitional
phrase, clearly based on the main scherzo idea, is still in
the trio section’s key of D-flat. The second, also
preceded by a measured arpeggio, is in E-flat minor, the trio
section’s secondary key.
2:59 [mm. 211-212 (1)]--The reprise itself arrives by
way of another measured arpeggio that takes the place of the
unmeasured one in the first bar of the scherzo. It is
not a “diminished seventh,” but a tamer B-flat-minor
chord. The last notated measure, m. 212, is equivalent
to m. 1 except for the missing grace note arpeggio and the
first right hand harmony. The reprise is indicated with
a sign leading back to m. 2. From that point, Part 1a
follows as at the beginning with the first phrase moving from
F minor to B-flat minor.
3:05 [m. 9]--Second phrase moving from E-flat minor to
B-flat minor, as at 0:07.
3:10 [m. 17]--Part 1b. Long-short octaves in left
hand and loud octaves in right hand, as at 0:13.
3:16 [m. 25]--Second phrase with ending with smooth
leaps and full cadence in B-flat minor, as at 0:19.
3:25 [m. 37]--Part 2. Bass line moving by
half-steps, then circle-of-fifths sequence of descending
arpeggios, as at 0:28.
3:31 [m. 46]--Arpeggios in “sharp” keys, buildup, and
establishment of pedal point on G, as at 0:34.
3:42 [m. 63]--Re-transition. Establishment of
prevailing rhythm in bass, then motion back to F minor, as at
3:47 [m. 70]--Part 3 (Varied return of Part 1).
First phrase of Part 1a with added imitation in the left hand,
as at 0:51.
3:53 [m. 78]--Stalled second phrase leading to
treacherous descending “diminished seventh” arpeggio, as at
3:59 [m. 87]--Final sequence with loud octaves leaping
to chords, then final chords and pause, as at 1:02.
4:18--END OF MOVEMENT [211 (+100) mm.; m. 212 is equivalent
to the second m. 1]
4th Movement: Intermezzo
(Rückblick) - Andante molto (Binary form). B-FLAT
MINOR, 2/4 time.
Part 1--First Statement
0:00 [m. 1]--The subtitle “Rückblick” means
“Backward Glance” or perhaps more appropriately,
“Reminiscence.” The look back is toward the second
movement, whose main theme is transformed from a love song
into a ghostly funeral march. The identity of the
theme is unmistakable, although it is changed to minor and
placed a step higher, on B-flat instead of its original
A-flat. The descending line begins with an upbeat,
as expected, but instead of a flowing accompaniment, it is
harmonized in rather bare “horn fifth” style. The
left hand bass adds another new element, a drum roll-like
triplet figure that also evokes the Beethovenian “fate”
rhythm and helps establish the key. The first two
gestures begin similarly. The first is a closed
statement in B-flat minor. The second is subtly
shifted down to A-flat major at the end, as confirmed by
the “fate” triplets.
0:21 [m. 5]--The second movement theme had
descended and arched back upward. The upward motion
is now developed in the funeral march. Two such
gestures are played over a powerful crescendo and
increasingly full harmony. The first closes at home
on B-flat after working back from A-flat, but changes it
to major. The second begins forcefully, pesante,
and with an upbeat triplet. It reaches higher and
comes to a powerful close on F minor, making a nod to the
sonata’s principal key. The minor to major pathway
of the descents is thus mirrored in the ascents. The
“fate” triplets confirm the cadences.
0:40 [m. 9]--The cadence on F is reiterated
forcefully in a powerful chordal descent, with pounding
“fate” triplets in the low bass. It first lands on F
minor, as before. Then, in a second gesture of
confirmation that reaches higher for a full cadence, it is
changed to F major, still punctuated by the “fate”
triplets, which leap up an octave. The arrival on F
major is a climactic moment.
0:58 [m. 13]--Everything becomes suddenly quiet
again after the huge arrival. The main descending
gesture of the theme begins again, this time harmonized as
an eerie “diminished seventh.” The “fate” triplets
remain on F, which now appears to function as the
“dominant” of the home key, B-flat minor. This is
confirmed by the second descending gesture. The
triplet drum roll alternates between the low bass and the
tenor register three octaves higher.
1:16 [m. 17]--The descending gestures are reduced
to two-note groups on the upbeats, widely harmonized in
sixths and sevenths over the “fate” triplets in the tenor
range. Two of these reach higher. A third
begins, but it continues beyond the two-note group for a
full descent. This descent has a “deceptive” arrival
on G-flat major where B-flat minor is expected.
1:27 [m. 19]--The volume is now very quiet and
subdued. What follows the “deceptive” motion is a
highly strange and evocative passage of open fifths in
both hands, alternating steadily up and down, with every
voice forming a three-note arpeggio and the hands
constantly in contrary motion. The combination of
the fifths in both hands results in two alternating
chords, both of which feature the foreign note
F-flat. One chord is a “diminished seventh,” the
other is the “dominant” of C-flat, a key that is
suggested, but which never arrives. The resulting
oscillation speeds up and then slows back down, always
remaining quiet and spectral. The last chord is
re-notated so that it can function in B-flat minor (as a
so-called “augmented sixth chord”) instead of the
“dominant” of C-flat, which is never established. A
reiteration is followed by a full-measure pause.
This pause, which breaks things off without resolution,
ends the first section or statement.
1:48 [m. 25]--A very quiet and ominous left hand tremolo
begins on low octave F’s. It occupies the measure
before the upbeat of the theme. Against the tremolo,
the right hand begins the main funeral march theme (the
transformed second movement theme), and plays the first
two phrases as at the beginning, ending on B-flat minor
and A-flat major. The right hand has no
changes. The left hand continues the octave tremolo
through the first descent, including where the first
“fate” triplets were heard. From there, the
remaining “fate” triplets are replaced with tremolo-like
groups of five notes in octaves.
2:10 [m. 30]--The tremolo and its
derivatives end. The left hand returns to the notes
used in the first statement. The upward gestures
against the crescendo are heard as at 0:21 [m. 5],
and the “fate” triplets return in their proper
places. The first phrase ends on B-flat as
before. The second begins as before, with the upbeat
triplet and the marking pesante, but Brahms makes
a sudden harmonic turn at the end. The powerful
close still has the same high top note (F), but the
harmony under it is changed to another bright B-flat-major
chord, confirmed by “fate” triplets, indicating that the
second half will remain in B-flat.
2:29 [m. 34]--The reiteration of the cadence
follows, analogous to 0:40 [m. 9], with the pounding
“fate” triplets, but both climactic arrivals remain firmly
anchored not only on B-flat, but on B-flat major.
The second, very high arrival is almost triumphantly
confirmed by the “fate” triplets.
2:47 [m. 38]--The climax of the movement
arrives. As the “fate” triplets continue to hammer
on the B-flat cadence, the right hand immediately turns
back to minor. An octave on the dissonant note
C-flat in the tenor range hints at E-flat minor, but the
“fate” triplets will not allow the right hand to assert a
new key despite the valiant attempt. Extremely
agitated, passionate chords, still featuring the dissonant
C-flat, work upward, then back down. Brahms
indicates that the speed should increase. The volume
and the speed then both settle back down. An
extended cadence in B-flat-minor, still tinged by the
persistent C-flat, is suddenly cut off in both the right
hand and the triplets.
3:12 [m. 44]--The opening descending gesture of the
movement, at a very quiet level, is played an octave
higher than its original statement. The left hand
and its “fate” triplets do not accompany, so the “horn
fifth” harmonies are bare. It turns toward a
half-close on the “dominant” note F. The left hand,
sounding almost desolate and with no harmony, then plays a
new version of the main descending idea that comes to a
full close on a low B-flat.
3:40 [m. 50]--The “fate” triplets close the
movement in a defeated manner, with both hands in the
bass. Two motions to the “subdominant” chord of
E-flat minor are followed by the final full cadence and
held B-flat-minor chord.
4:09--END OF MOVEMENT [53 mm.]
5th Movement: Finale -
Allegro moderato ma rubato; Più mosso; Presto; Tempo primo
(Rondo form with large triple coda). F MINOR/MAJOR,
6/8 time (with numerous passages in implied 2/2 or 4/4).
FIRST STATEMENT OF RONDO THEME (A)
0:00 [m. 1]--The galloping F-minor theme has a somewhat
ominous quality. It begins in the low range, in full
chords with low bass notes. It has a typical 6/8
long-short swing at the outset, then it adds a clipped dotted
rhythm. The response, which is much quieter (pianissimo)
leaps up to the high register and adds syncopation (entry on
the weakest parts of the measure). After the response,
the music moves back to the low range for a slower, cautiously
questioning rising gesture.
0:11 [m. 7]--Another high syncopated response follows
the questioning gesture, but this time it is supported by very
low bass octaves. Another rising, questioning gesture
comes next, this one in the upper range. The response
this time is a suddenly loud, cascading pattern using the
swinging rhythm of the theme. The pattern is closed off
by the left hand leaping up to two prominent syncopated
octaves. These are dissonant, craving a resolution
toward the “dominant” chord on C.
0:21 [m. 15]--The “dominant” chord arrives forcefully
and immediately moves into two statements of the syncopated
response, first high and harmonized in thirds, then lower,
with bass octave support and in full harmony. The
response is then developed in a large chromatic sequence
marked sempre più agitato. This steadily rises
with ever more colorful chords over left hand octaves moving
up and down by half-step, becoming more and more unsettled and
syncopated until it arrives on a loud, but uneasy F-minor
chord in the preparatory “six-four” position.
0:33 [m. 25]--Transition. The left hand moves to
a low bass octave on the “dominant” note, C. The right
hand breaks into a rapid series of jagged descending
arpeggios. The left hand then enters again with rising
gestures against these arpeggios, first in thirds before
landing on a low F octave, then rising up from that octave and
leaping back down to G-flat, strongly suggesting B-flat
minor. It finally rises to the “dominant” C again.
At this arrival point, the arpeggios become softer, then
actually slower as Brahms indicates that four “straight” notes
are to be played where six notes in 6/8 would normally be
heard. The “dominant” now has another strong pull toward
the home key.
0:43 [m. 33]--Transition, cont. The right hand
quietly hammers an octave on F. Against it, the left
hand plays descending octaves in the rhythm of the syncopated
response. The first group of octaves suggests B-flat
minor/major, but the second, whose final notes are repeated,
is clearly in F again. It makes a late turn from minor
to major. The “hammering” octave is reduced to a single
bare note leading into the contrasting theme.
FIRST CONTRASTING THEME (B) – F major
0:50 [m. 39]--The theme is long and heartfelt, played
in pure and rich F-major chords against murmuring thirds
(sometimes briefly turning to fourths or seconds) in the left
hand. These thirds are approached by a wide arpeggio in
each measure that begins with a punctuating bass note.
Some measures also place a bass note in the middle. The
first phrase is has a wide breadth. Where it might be
expected to close, it is extended, briefly turning to
“dominant” C-major harmony over steadily rising bass notes,
and adding overlapping voices. It is extended by another
five bars in F major, settling down to an extended half-close
for an irregular total of thirteen measures.
1:08 [m. 52]--The second phrase begins like the first,
but its second gesture rises higher. The turn to the
“dominant” happens a couple of measures earlier. The
“murmuring” pattern widens as far as a fifth. It is
followed by another digression to A minor/major. This
happens in eight bars. Three more bars meander back
toward F over the same basic pattern in the left hand.
1:23 [m. 63]--The preceding 11-bar phrase is extended
by a drawn-out meditation in a flowing rhythm. It is
harmonically active, moving from F major to the unexpected key
of A-flat major. It also swells slightly in
volume. A drawn-out, expected cadence in A-flat is
rather brusquely aborted and pushed aside by the preparatory
“dominant” chord in F major or minor.
RE-TRANSITION (Parenthesis in D-flat)
1:34 [m. 71]--A light, rapid arching figure is followed
by the opening gesture of the rondo theme in bass
octaves. These move the music back to minor. The
light figure is repeated an octave lower, followed by the bass
octaves. The opening of the rondo theme is then
transferred to its original right-hand chords in the tenor
range. These alternate twice with the bass octaves, not
quite able to continue with the theme.
1:42 [m. 78]--A completely unexpected diversion based
on the rondo theme, almost like a parenthesis, extends the
re-transition. The key very smoothly shifts to D-flat
major, where a thumping bass pedal point is established with
two in each measure. A transformed, serene version of
the rondo theme is played in the upper register, pianissimo.
The thumping D-flat pedal continues through a harmonic
diversion suggesting F-sharp minor (notated as G-flat).
The bouncing chords then stall on a pattern of “seventh”
chords. These begin far removed from the D-flat pedal
and clashing with it (suggesting D, a half-step above), but
are steadily altered to reach the “dominant” chord.
1: 56 [m. 90]--The D-flat pedal continues in the bass,
as do the bouncing chords. These do not arrive on
D-flat, but continue to wander. A prominent four-note
chromatic descent begins in an inner voice, moving down by one
note every two measures as the harmony changes above it.
The key begins to veer toward the “relative” minor key of
D-flat, B-flat minor. Finally, the bouncing right hand
harmonies reach D-flat, agreeing with the pedal point.
At this point, the thumping bass D-flat decelerates to one per
measure, the bouncing right hand is reduced to a third, then
it is also stretched out.
2:07 [m. 100]--The bass octaves heard at 1:34 [m. 71]
enter in a sudden turn back to F minor. This time they
continue with the rondo theme a few notes beyond where they
did there. They are interrupted by the opening rondo
theme chords in the right hand, but these are cut off by the
octaves as they were before the D-flat digression. The
octaves slide surreptitiously into the full statement of the
SECOND STATEMENT OF RONDO THEME (A’)
2:11 [m. 104]--The theme begins, adding stronger bass
octave support. But after the opening statement of the
rhythm, it skips the syncopated response and moves straight to
the cautiously questioning gesture, specifically the C harmony
immediately preceding 0:11 [m. 7]. It is given in minor,
then repeated in major, slightly thicker, before the theme
continues. Everything remains at the quiet pianissimo
level established in the “parenthesis,” and the “questioning”
gestures slow down as expected.
2:17 [m. 108]--The syncopated response, questioning
gestures, loud cascading descent, and syncopated octave leaps
in the left hand are played as at 0:11 [m. 7].
2:27 [m. 116]--The syncopated response and agitato
chromatic sequence, leading to the F-minor chord in six-four
position follow as at 0:21 [m. 15].
2:39 [m. 126]--Transition with “dominant” octave,
jagged descending arpeggios, rising left hand figures, and
slower, softer arpeggios with “straight” notes, as at 0:33 [m.
2:48 [m. 134]--Rhythm of the syncopated response with
“hammering” octave, as at 0:43 [m. 33]. The bare note F
in the last measure is replaced very subtly by a broad octave
descent in the bass from F to E-flat. It will continue
to move down to D-flat for the second contrasting theme (whose
key was foreshadowed in the “parenthesis”).
SECOND CONTRASTING THEME (C) – D-flat major
2:56 [m. 140]--The theme is noble and filled with
potential for future grandeur, although it is presented in a
subdued way. Full descending chords in pure major are
played against bass octaves. Three descending “waves,”
each one higher, are followed by a “rounding” figure.
The whole phrase is then played an octave higher and at a
stronger volume level, with the left hand doubling the chords
below on the original octave, after low bass grace notes, in
the first two “waves.”
3:15 [m. 156]--A closing phrase is added, creating an
“aab” structure similar to a chorale. This closing
phrase is played forte. It begins with a metric
cross-rhythm. The first four bars are played in a
“straight” rhythm that has the feel of 2/2 (alla breve)
meter rather than the 6/8 flow with its triple grouping.
Quarter notes are grouped explicitly with indications of “2”
or “4” (“duplets” and “quadruplets”) where there would
normally be three or six eighth notes. The effect is
essentially “two in the space of three,” or the opposite of a
triplet rhythm in a “straight” meter. There are two
swelling “waves” in this cross-meter with the left hand
doubling the right. They are followed by jubilant fortissimo
chords that descend to a triumphant cadence. It is
extended by a measure, creating a nine-bar phrase that
overlaps with the following canon.
3:26 [m. 164]--A canon (imitation) begins on
the first phrase of the theme, with the three “waves” and the
“rounding” figure. It returns to a more moderate volume
level. The left hand plays it in bass octaves, beginning
in overlap with the extended cadence. The right hand
follows a measure later in full chords, with the top voice
imitating the melodic line in the left hand octaves. As
the right hand plays the last measure of the “rounding”
gesture, the left hand, having completed the phrase but still
in octaves, plays a brief preview of the closing phrase with
its “duple” grouping.
3:37 [m. 173]--A variant of the closing phrase
begins. In the right hand, the phrase, still including
the “2” and “4” groupings, turns to the minor key in the first
“wave,” then abruptly shifts up a half-step in the second
“wave,” suggesting a motion to D major. The left hand no
longer doubles the right, but adds a low accompaniment in
octaves. It is in the regular 6/8 grouping and includes
ominous “neighbor note” figures on the upbeats as the bass
descends by half-steps. Thus, the hands clash
rhythmically with one another.
3:42 [m. 177]--All of a sudden, the music becomes very
quiet The right hand has the “4” grouping all the way
through the re-transition. It plays off-beat chords on
the second and fourth “beats.” The left hand plays the
ominous neighbor-note figures on the upbeats, still in regular
6/8 grouping. The off-beat right hand chords are
dissonant “diminished” triads. They are in two
descending groups of four, and seem derived from the jubilant
chords that previously ended the closing phrase and were
here cut off. The upbeat figures in the left hand remain
anchored like an ostinato around the note G-flat.
3:46 [m. 181]--The pattern continues, but the bass
neighbor-note figures shift up to G-natural, then A-flat, the
“dominant” of D-flat. The right hand still plays
off-beat chords in its quadruple grouping, but it now becomes
stuck on the “dominant seventh” chord of A-flat major (on
E-flat), suggesting a motion to that key. The bass,
however, is now no longer an ostinato, and it
continues to wander to A-natural, then back to A-flat.
The last measure of the pattern suddenly returns back home to
D-flat through the “dominant seventh” chord on A-flat.
3:52 [m. 185]--A satisfying cadence on D-flat leads to
a canon based on the first descending figure of the
theme, but both the left and right hands are now in the
“straight” quadruple (“4”) grouping. The left hand
leads, and the right hand follows two beats later. The
right hand, however, alternates between following an octave
higher and an octave lower, leaping up and down the keyboard
for each four-note descent and crossing over the static left
hand. After four measures, the lower right hand
imitation moves to a dissonant, wide descent to D-flat instead
of imitating the left hand below. The left hand moves up
to a more “final,” narrower descent to D-flat after this,
where it stays. The upper right hand imitations remain
precise, but the next lower imitation is the more dissonant
version. Finally, in a last alternation, the lower right
hand imitation changes to the more “final” version. The
left hand then has a closing descent, two octaves lower (and
below the last lower right hand imitation), that is stretched
to two measures and restores the 6/8 flow.
THIRD STATEMENT OF RONDO THEME (A”)
4:04 [m. 195]--The upbeat of the theme easily moves
back to F minor from the final D-flat-major descent. The
return is similar to that at 2:11 [m. 104], where the
syncopated response is skipped and the first motion is to the
questioning gesture on the C harmony. The left hand,
however, is different. It takes the pattern of the
descents in the previous canon (albeit in the regular 6/8
meter). These two descents are somewhat chromatic, but
end with a leap down to the “dominant” note, C. There is
a hold (fermata) on the last chord of the questioning
gesture, which has slowed down.
4:12 [m. 199]--Unexpectedly, the music returns to
another canon like the one at 3:52 [m. 185] in the quadruple
(“4”) grouping. This one is more regular. The left
hand still remains static while the right hand imitates first
above, then below. The first descents are down to C, but
the left hand holds long, mildly dissonant notes below all of
its descents. These long notes add harmonic
character. After one high-low alternation, the left hand
pattern changes slightly, moving up and descending to E.
The right hand again imitates this twice, higher and
lower. Then the left hand moves up again and descends to
G, followed by the right hand imitating above and below.
This time, there are two alternations, with the long left hand
note (E) moving down a half-step under the second one.
Then the left hand leaps down two octaves for a final descent
in regular 6/8 meter, similar to the end of the previous
canon. The volume becomes very quiet.
4:25 [m. 209]--A completely new version of the theme’s
opening gesture adds more variety. It is in A-flat, the
“relative” key to F minor, and still uses the descending
octaves from the canons (and ultimately from the second
contrasting theme) in the bass. It is followed by the
questioning gesture in a new, highly chromatic version that
moves toward the C harmony that is expected on this
pause. That harmony arrives with the loud cascading
descent familiar from 0:11 [m. 7] and 2:17 [m. 108].
This is also a new version, in C minor, but it ends on the
C-major harmony that is expected at this point in the rondo
4:37 [m. 216]--A new upbeat, a rushing scale, leads to
the agitato syncopated responses from 0:21 [m. 15] and
2:27 [m. 116]. The first two statements, the one in
thirds and the lower one with bass octave support, are as
before, but the rising and falling chromatic sequence is
replaced by an extension and diversion. This passes
through keys that have been seen before, D-flat and A-flat
major and B-flat minor. It is somewhat less intense than
the chromatic sequence. Like that sequence, however, it
has a rising bass, which moves to chromatic half-step motion
at the end, and its goal is the same: the F-minor chord in
4:50 [m. 226]--Transition. It begins like 0:33
[m. 25] and 2:39 [m. 126], but it adds upper third harmonies
to many of the notes in the jagged arpeggios, making them even
more exciting and virtuosic. The bass is similar at
first, beginning with the rising thirds and motion toward
B-flat minor, but the following harmonies are changed.
The bass octaves continue to focus on B-flat-minor
harmony. Then they alternate with more rising thirds,
but these move to the high register, with the left hand
leaping and crossing over the right. This alternation
happens twice, with the “crossover” left hand thirds moving
4:57 [m. 232]--The harmony abruptly changes to another
familiar home, C, and the thirds stall on an oscillating
motion. The C harmony is colored by a lingering note
from F minor, A-flat. The right hand slows to the
“straight” notes, but now the left hand, crossing back below,
also changes to “straight” rhythm,” the quadruple “4” groups
familiar from the second contrasting theme and the
canons. A measure is added with the right hand moving
from the “straight” notes to a slow 6/8, and the C harmony is
altered to function as the “dominant” of F, suggesting a final
motion back home, though the disruptive A-flat persists.
5:04 [m. 236]--The motion to F indeed arrives, but it
is explicitly F major, and the remainder of the
movement is primarily in the major key. The presence of
A-flat in the preceding transition, with its strong
implication of F minor, makes this rather surprising.
What follows is yet another (the last) version of the canon in
quadruple “4” metric grouping with hand crossing. This
time, it is the right hand that leads and remains static while
the left hand follows above (crossing over the right hand) and
then below. There are three sequences of this pattern,
each a third higher. The higher left hand imitations,
which cross over, are as expected, but the lower ones replace
the actual imitation with a stepwise descent followed by a
downward octave leap. The first of these definitively
establishes F major, as the C-major flavor was still present
in the first imitative descent. In the last sequence, a
long dissonant C-sharp is added below the leading right
hand. The last lower left hand “imitation” is a stepwise
octave descent to F.
5:11 [m. 242]--The rhythm moves back to the regular 6/8
flow, although the right hand still retains some descending
groups of four in that rhythm.
The left hand moves to two note upbeat/downbeat groups that
leap up, crossing over the right hand for a rising step, then
back down to the bass for falling octaves. F major seems
to be in conflict with its relative key, D minor, for two
bars. Then the C-sharp is banished and F major reigns
for now. Brahms indicates an acceleration at this
point. The left hand upbeat/downbeat figures are now
wide leaps. They briefly move closer together and break
off as the right hand reaches ecstatically high, then plunges
downward. This plunge is the approach to the first part
of the coda.
FIRST SECTION OF CODA – F major, Più mosso
5:17 [m. 249]--The left hand suddenly erupts into a
steadily running series of light, but distinct notes that will
continue (occasionally moving to the high register and
shifting to the right hand) throughout this section.
Everything remains in the basic 6/8 pulse throughout, but the
first notes in the left hand runs are three descending groups
of four (again derived from the second contrasting theme) that
go against the 6/8 flow for two measures. After four
measures, the right hand enters with the second contrasting
theme itself, its appearance in the home key of F confirming
its significance. Against the first four-note descent,
the left hand runs again break into two measures of
meter-defying four-note groups, but the longer right hand
notes fit into the 6/8 rhythmic flow. After this, the
left hand returns to regular metric grouping.
5:25 [m. 261]--The repetition of the first phrase is
omitted, and the closing phrase originally heard at 3:15 [m.
156] follows at a louder level. It is no longer
compressed into duplet and quadruplet groupings of notes with
altered values, as it was there. Its notes are actually
lengthened to fit into the regular 6/8 flow, and this
lengthening is compensated by the faster tempo. Against
it, the running left hand notes break into long rising scales
that turn around into descending arpeggios. These sweep
up the keyboard and are passed to the right hand as they
approach the top, at which point the thematic melody is taken
by the left hand. This happens halfway through each of
the two “waves.”
5:31 [m. 269]--The jubilant closing chords are also
doubled in length from their original appearance, again
compensated by the faster speed. They are played by the
right hand, the running notes leaping back to the bass
register. These running notes include significant leaps
up at the end of the first three measures, followed by two
long descents in the next ones. The cadence is abruptly
and unexpectedly broken off.
5:35 [m. 275]--In a brief return to F minor, the
running notes are again passed to the right hand, which plays
mainly arching arpeggios. The left hand returns, most
effectively, to material from the main rondo theme,
specifically the syncopated response in thirds heard at 0:21
[m. 15] and 2:27 [m. 116], and 4:37 [m. 216]. These
begin at their original level, and are repeated there, but
then they work upward twice, moving briefly to B-flat minor
and D-flat major, but remaining in harmonized thirds.
The right hand also works upward to the high register.
All of this swells in volume.
5:41 [m. 283]--F major arrives again, more triumphantly
than ever, and under the continuing rapid figuration in the
right hand, the left hand plays a joyous series of
chords. These incorporate a brief duplet grouping of two
quarter notes in the space of three eighth notes, harking back
to the earlier frequent use of this alteration. All of
these chords prolong the “dominant” harmony, increasing
greatly the anticipation of a new arrival on F. A half
close is stated three times, each one moving lower down the
keyboard, as the right hand cascades downward in an
arpeggio. The last measure of this arpeggio groups ten
notes in the space of six, then leaps down to a low C in the
left hand, prolonging the anticipation.
SECOND SECTION OF CODA – F major, Presto
5:47 [m. 293]--A rapid scale figure on an upbeat,
notated to anticipate the even faster coming tempo, leads to
the confirming arrival on F and once again to the original
series of notes heard in the left hand at 5:17 [m. 249], still
retaining the clashing groups of four, but transferred upward
to the right hand in its high register. The speed is
also faster and the volume level quieter. Against them,
the left hand plays wide, treacherous rolled chords. The
expected arrival of the second contrasting theme does not
happen, however. Instead, the dizzying figuration in the
right hand and the treacherous rolled chords in the left
continue unabated, becoming mildly chromatic and steadily
building in volume. The right hand adds accents to the
strong beats. Finally, the left hand abandons its chords
and joins it an octave below. The key shifts to B-flat
major. The climax, which briefly halts the torrent, is
another sudden duplet disruption, this time syncopated and on
the note E-flat in a high octave.
5:57 [m. 309]--E-flat is used to pivot to a totally
unexpected and remote key, C-flat major. A series of
upward-striving right hand notes, again grouped in clashing
four-note descents, reaches to the very high register of the
keyboard over four measures. The left hand plays longer
chords and low punctuating octaves to confirm the new
key. Both hands then plunge downward, the right hand
from on high in its faster notes, and the left hand in a
slower descent based on the second contrasting theme.
The descent restores the 6/8 flow after the four-note
groups. The passage is quite wild, and is marked con
6:02 [m. 317]--Still in C-flat major, the right hand
breaks into a climactic and jubilantly victorious new theme,
which arches upward twice, supported by descending arpeggios
under it and chord progressions, often syncopated, in the left
hand. It is marked appassionato. The
melody stalls somewhat as the left hand again introduces
forceful four-note octave descents derived from the second
contrasting theme. There are four of these. The
last of them finally starts to move away from the remote
6:12 [m. 333]--The pattern breaks, and the key shifts
to B-flat. The right hand plays thick chords that lead
from B-flat back to F, using several dissonant “suspensions”
in its gradual descent. Brahms indicates that these
chords should be somewhat sustained. The left hand plays
sweeping arpeggios, first in B-flat major and G minor, then on
“diminished” chords as F major is finally approached.
When it finally does arrive, it is confirmed by a huge series
of arpeggios in both hands, again briefly using the ubiquitous
four-note descents. These begin at different points in
each hand, creating more metric confusion. Finally, the
left hand breaks off into rolled chords while the right hand
sweeps down and back up in two huge anticipatory arches.
The upward motion in these groups seven notes into the space
of six (or six in the space of five).
THIRD SECTION OF CODA – B-flat and F major, Tempo primo
6:23 [m. 349]--The second contrasting theme has
dominated the coda. At the close, the main rondo theme
returns, as if to make sure it is not forgotten. The
original tempo suddenly arrives. The return is based on
the syncopated responses originally heard at 0:11 [m.
7]. There are two of them, marked grandioso and
supported by thick harmonies in both hands. They are not
in F, but B-flat, and are followed by four off-beat chords
with the left hand rolled, again using dissonant
suspensions. Two more on-beat chords, preceded by bass
octaves, anticipate a cadence in B-flat.
6:34 [m. 356]--The arrival on B-flat is unstable, and
the following descent reinterprets it as the “subdominant”
chord in F major. This last descent is essentially a
gigantic cadence and ultimate arrival on F major. The
huge chords are supported by the grace-note arpeggios in the
bass that have been so prominent in this wild movement and the
sonata as a whole. The arrival on F is then reiterated
by two “plagal” (or “Amen”) cadences from B-flat to F.
All of these last chords have a rolled left hand. This
closing is vaguely reminiscent of the first movement’s ending,
with the final descent, bass grace notes, multiple chords and
rolled left hand, but the arrival from B-flat and the plagal
cadences are quite different from that ending, as is the
presence of F as the top note of all these final chords.
7:10 (runoff after 7:00)--END OF MOVEMENT [365 mm.]
END OF SONATA
BRAHMS LISTENING GUIDES HOME