TWO RHAPSODIES FOR PIANO, OP. 79
On the heels of the eight short pieces, Op. 76,
Brahms published these two considerably longer ones.
Composed at the peak of the “high maturity,” they are among the
most popular of his solo piano works. The
seething passion and intensity of both, as well as their more
extensive layout, sets them apart. They are also
distinguished by the recipient of their dedication, one of the
composer’s dearest friends and most trusted artistic
confidants. Brahms placed great stock in Elisabeth von
Herzogenberg’s opinions of his works, and regularly submitted
songs and other pieces for her review. His relationship with
her and her husband, the composer Heinrich von Herzogenberg, was
one of the warmest of his most productive years, and their
voluminous correspondence is a treasure trove. Brahms
carefully contemplated his dedication to the vivacious,
intelligent Elisabeth. He originally considered the Ballades
and Romances for two voices, Op. 75, but then reconsidered given
the macabre subject matter of the first and last of these as “unfit for a lady.” That he
chose these Rhapsodies speaks to his opinion of their value.
Brahms and Elisabeth arrived at the title “Rhapsodies” in their
discussions about the pieces. The generic “Klavierstücke”
was inadequate for them. Neither was entirely happy with the
word and its implications of free or improvisatory form, since
both of them have clearly delineated structures, but Brahms
grudgingly accepted it as the best option (and would return to it
for his final piano piece, Op. 119, No. 4). Originally, No.
1 was titled “Capriccio” (although it dwarfs the pieces from Op.
76 with that title) and No. 2 simply “Molto passionato.” No.
1 has an extremely unusual compound form. It is a three-part
piece with a literal reprise of the first section, which is rare
for Brahms. But the outer sections themselves have their own
ternary form that approaches, but does not quite reach, sonata
form. The second theme and the “development” make up the
middle portion, and the reprise is only of the first theme.
The central section is a lullaby-like transformation of the second
theme from the main section (and that theme also returns for the
coda). The more concise No. 2 is in a real sonata form, but
its exposition is very brief and its development section quite
long. The enormous re-transition, which struggles to
restrain its potential energy, is the most exciting passage.
Both pieces are unusually reluctant to define their home keys in
the opening bars, making their eventual arrival that much more
satisfying. The opening of No. 2 has even been described as
having a “roving tonal center.”
Recording: Martin Jones, pianist [NI 1788]
Dedicated to Mrs. Elisabeth von Herzogenberg.
SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut Lübeck)
SCORE FROM IMSLP (from Breitkopf & Härtel Sämtliche Werke)
No. 1: Agitato (Large compound ternary form). B MINOR, Cut
A SECTION--Ternary form
0:00 [m. 1]--Part 1 (a). Theme 1.
The distinctive head of the forceful theme is a held octave
followed by a leap down to a fast ascending triplet
flourish. This is initially presented by the right hand,
and the left hand follows with weighty three-note descending
arpeggios beginning off the beat. After the opening
figure, the theme continues with a generally downward zigzag
motion in steady long-short rhythm. In the third and
fourth measures, the upbeats have strong descents punctuated
by throbbing lower notes. While the second and third
measures end with B-minor chords, there is no strong
establishment of the home key.
0:08 [m. 5]--The key already moves away from B minor
here. The head of the theme is played by the left hand,
transposed up a third to D minor. The right hand plays
two long chords establishing the new key, then continues with
its own three-note figures, which do begin off the beat, but
are harmonized and varied in direction. The theme in the
left hand quickly deviates from its first presentation,
lingering on D minor and its “dominant” harmony on A.
The long-short rhythm dominates, including leaps up to chords.
0:14 [m. 9]--Brahms indicates a buildup from an already
strong presentation. The same harmonic shift occurs,
with a motion up a third, now to F minor. The statement
of the theme’s head in the left hand begins as it had in D
minor, with the long right hand chords above it. In the
second measure, though, the continuation is replaced by
another statement of the opening gesture, in a lower octave
but a half-step higher in harmony. This is F-sharp
minor, the temporary goal. The right hand erupts into
huge chords in that key, supported by large leaps up to chords
from octaves in the left hand using the long-short rhythm.
0:21 [m. 13]--F-sharp minor is strongly asserted with a
marching line in octaves that turns down before steadily
rising. The left hand presents it in a long-short-short
rhythm. The right hand shadows it above, but plays the
first octave of each corresponding left hand group off the
beat, essentially splitting the longer left hand notes.
After two measures, there is an emphatic motion down to a
cadence, still in octaves, with the right hand following the
left off the beats.
0:26 [m. 16]--The cadence merges with a sudden drop in
volume, and a throbbing pulse begins in the lower
register. The note F-sharp becomes a “pedal point,”
reiterated on the downbeats in the bass and off the beats in
the tenor register with the right hand. After the
downbeats, the left hand alternates harmonies with the right
hand off-beat pulses, at first intertwining with the right
hand. In the third measure, the left hand actually
crosses over the right hand for a plaintive chromatic descent
in thirds, then a more hopeful rising line that falters back
downward. In the midst of these, it leaps back to
reiterate the “leading tone” below the right hand pulse.
From the fourth measure, the left hand abandons the low
downbeats on F-sharp.
0:35 [m. 22]--The hopeful line in the crossover melody
briefly suggests a turn to major, which is confirmed on this
closing downbeat. However, the key then immediately and
unexpectedly pivots to D major (the “relative” key to the home
key of B minor). The throbbing off-beat pulse on F-sharp
continues, but it is now the third in the new key. The
left hand moves back down to establish a low bass octave on
D. The right hand plays a harmonized melody above the
pulsations that is derived from the thematic opening with its
distinctive triplet, but now in a transformed, hushed
version. There are colorful borrowings from the minor
key, and then a chromatic ascent in the bass octaves as the
right hand lingers on long harmonies.
0:43 [m. 26]--The distinctive triplet from the theme is
heard again, and at that point, the off-beat pulsations on
F-sharp cease, being replaced by a similar pulsation on a low
bass D. The triplet is then heard one more time, and its
continuation again has a colorful borrowing from the
minor. The music then settles onto a low bass octave and
slow pulsing D-major chords above it, gently closing the first
0:52 [m. 1]--Part 1 (a) repeated. Theme 1,
first presentation in B minor, as at the beginning.
0:58 [m. 5]--Left hand presentation in D minor, as at
1:04 [m. 9]--Presentation in F minor followed by strong
arrival in F-sharp minor, as at 0:14.
1:11 [m. 13]--Marching line in F-sharp minor with the
right hand shadowing the left, as at 0:21.
1:16 [m. 16]--Drop in volume, then throbbing pulse on
F-sharp with left hand harmonies and crossover, as at 0:26.
1:25 [m. 22]--Change to D major and hushed version of
theme’s opening, as at 0:35.
1:33 [m. 26]--Repetitions of triplet figure and quiet
close of first part, as at 0:43.
1:43 [m. 30]--Part 2 (b). Theme 2 (D
minor). The new melody is passionately yearning and
plaintive. It consists of three upward reaches, the
third followed by a longing expansion. It is accompanied
by flowing, downward-arching arpeggios, one for each reach
with a longer one under the expanded continuation. This
first phrase is followed by a second, which is moved up a
fourth., inflected to G minor, then D major. It is
extended by a measure, working downward and slowing to a
2:01 [m. 39]--Development. The closure of
Theme 2 is rudely interrupted by the sudden return of Theme 1,
introduced by three sharp chords over rising bass octaves that
interrupt the brief reverie. The distinctive head of the
theme is presented in a transformed version, with leaping,
pounding bass octaves. It is transformed to major
(specifically B-flat, which also arrives suddenly), and
oriented differently. The major version does have a
consistent minor-key inflection (the lowered sixth,
G-flat). The continuation with the long-short rhythm
moves steadily downward and includes the familiar left hand
2:07 [m. 43]--Suddenly hushed again, even mezza
voce, the music changes key again, this time to the
remote G-flat major (using that note, borrowed from the minor
in the previous B-flat passage, as a pivot). The three
chords that introduced the return of Theme 1 are developed
into a huge buildup, remaining in G-flat. After their
first presentation, they surge chromatically upward,
alternating between the high and middle registers. Bass
chords on the beat are followed by syncopated right hand
chords off the beat. G-flat and B-flat persist as “pedal
point” notes. The alternations become shorter
approaching the climax.
2:16 [m. 49]--The ubiquitous head of Theme 1 appears
again at the climax. The key changes back to B-flat (now
minor), and the figure is passed forcefully between the right
and left hands, both descending an octave on the second
exchange. The entire pattern is then repeated a third
higher, in D-flat major (the “relative” key to B-flat minor).
2:23 [m. 53]--In a harmonically unstable passage
approaching an even greater climax, the Theme 1 material
alternates with heavily syncopated treble chords, all over a
strong bass of marching, leaping octaves. At first the
key seems to shift up another third, but F sounds like the
preparatory “dominant” for B-flat, a key heavily used in this
“development” section. But then things shift up a
half-step and the bass octaves add harmonies in thirds.
F-sharp (the same as G-flat, another heavily featured key) is
heard as the “dominant” of B, the supposed home key of the
piece. But Brahms does not return home just yet.
Instead, the harmonies unexpectedly move again back toward F,
which is now heard as an actual key center.
2:34 [m. 60]--At the massive climax, the thematic
figure is again passed twice between the hands, with a leap
downward an octave in both. F is clearly heard as a key
center here, which is confirmed with a huge arrival on a low F
octave. Then, in a gesture highly uncharacteristic of
Brahms and reminiscent of Chopin or Liszt, both hands sweep up
three octaves in a virtuosic, virtually unmeasured
scale. Then a low chord of G-flat (a half-step higher)
leads into a repetition of the virtuosic scale, beginning an
octave plus a half-step higher. At the top, G-flat is
interpreted as F-sharp, and the right hand holds that
note. It finally becomes the true preparatory “dominant”
for the arrival of B minor and the reprise of the original
2:46 [m. 67]--Part 3 (a’). After emerging
out of the held F-sharp, which is not reiterated, the first
four measures of the reprise are presented as they were at the
beginning and at 0:52, except for the very last chord, which
is moved down a step to help avoid the modulation to D heard
in the first part.
2:52 [m. 71]--Analogous to 0:08 and 0:58 [m. 5], but
the left hand presentation of the theme and the continuation
are now in the home key of B minor, with heavy focus on the
“dominant” harmony of F-sharp.
2:58 [m. 75]--This is nearly analogous to 0:14 and 1:04
[m. 9], and elegantly, it starts in D minor, on the same level
of the previous passage at 0:08 and 0:58 [m. 5] in the first
part. But Brahms makes another change for the sake of
remaining in B minor, which is again subtly carried out.
The descending left hand motion in the long-short rhythm is
narrowed to steps instead of arpeggios, and the harmonies
above finally emphatically establish the B-minor key, as
emphasized in the huge chords that had confirmed F-sharp
before. The first two measures of the marching line from
0:21 and 1:11 [m. 13] are heard in B minor.
3:08 [m. 81]--After Brahms has worked hard to modify
things so that he can remain in B minor, he undermines this by
moving away in an extension of the marching line. This
extension does increase the tension. He adds rolled
chords and other harmonies to the left hand, and the right
hand responses no longer shadow the left hand figures, but
become independent. Brahms veers first toward G minor,
then through the circle of fifths to C minor and F minor as
both hands reach higher, especially the upward-reaching right
hand octaves. He then suddenly refers to the original
cadence motion, bumping things up a half-step to the original
goal of the passage in the first section, F-sharp minor.
3:12 [m. 84]--The extension continues. Brahms
uses the same gesture to bump the key up another half-step to
G minor, where the diversion began. On this level, the
high-reaching right hand figures are stated three times, but
preceded by subtle alterations in the harmony. Brahms
circles back to B minor by adding the note C-sharp (foreign to
G minor) and re-interpreting the note B-flat as A-sharp (the
“leading tone” in B minor). The tension explodes into a
new cascading series of chords, reminiscent of the
F-sharp-minor cadence in Part 1 with the right hand following
the left, but expanded, powerful, and firmly in B minor.
3:21 [m. 89]--Conclusion and transition. The left
hand makes a huge arrival on a low octave B. The
F-sharp-minor and D-major material that closed Part 1 is
omitted. It is replaced by a gentle transition to the
large B section. In the low register, the right
hand responds to the low bass B with a slow rising line.
This has a sense of longing and ends by juxtaposing the
“dominant” above the low B, creating a dissonance. The
first rising line is followed by another with the right hand
following the left an octave above in a more active
placement. Finally, up another octave (in the right
hand), a third gesture is slowed down like the first one, but
with the right hand following the left as in the second.
All is suspended on a held dissonant chord.
B SECTION--B major, Binary form
3:36 [m. 94]--Part 1. The central section is
based on the almost forgotten Theme 2 from 1:43 [m. 30].
It is marked molto dolce espressivo and has the
character of a lullaby, although the tempo does not really
slow down. It is in the major version of the home
key. The melody itself is placed in a middle voice below
a high tolling F-sharp (the “dominant” note). The left
hand has continuous flowing motion. This has some leaps
up from and down to a low B, but it mainly undulates in the
tenor range. The first phrase (an irregular five
measures) ends with a half-close and a brief break from the
3:47 [m. 99]--The second phrase is also five
measures. The first two are slightly varied from those
of the first phrase, but then in the third measure, the
opening gesture is actually moved up a fifth and transposed to
the “dominant” key of F-sharp major. The high tolling
note becomes its own “dominant,” C-sharp. The flowing
left hand reaches higher here, but then quickly plunges
downward at the end.
3:57 [m. 104a (94)]--Part 1 repeated. The first
ending (m. 104a) is equivalent to the first measure, m. 94,
but in order to move back to B major, the left hand is changed
to a generally falling zigzag undulation. The right hand
melody is also changed. Its rise begins a beat later,
and its last note is omitted, creating a slightly different
approach to the second measure (m. 95), where the repeat sign
leads. The first phrase follows as before from after
4:08 [m. 99]--The second phrase follows as before at
3:47, with the motion to F-sharp major.
4:19 [m. 104b]--Part 2. The first phrase of four
measures begins with the second ending. It turns from B
major to B minor, still with the tolling F-sharp above.
Two statements of the thematic opening figures, the second
beginning a step higher, then reaching up another step in the
second measure, lead to another key change, to D major
(“relative” to B minor). The volume swells slightly.
4:28 [m. 108]--The entire five-measure opening phrase
from Part 1 is stated in D major, a third higher than before,
with the tolling upper note now on its “dominant” of A.
That tolling upper note is now given in a new syncopated
rhythmic orientation, with twice as many reiterations.
The orientation of the flowing left hand is quite different as
well, with new placements of wide leaps and other
displacements. At the end, it plunges precipitously from
the lower treble down to the bass.
4:39 [m. 113]--A third phrase is again four
measures. It quickly returns to B major, where the
opening gesture from the second phrase of Part 1 is
given. Instead of moving to F-sharp after that, the main
gesture moves to a higher level confirming B major, with the
tolling note moving up to the keynote, B. The volume
swells slightly again, then recedes for the following
4:48 [m. 117]--A final five-measure unit is essentially
a small coda. It develops a dolce sighing figure
that vacillates between major and minor, placing the notes
D-natural and D-sharp in close juxtaposition. The left
hand stalls and repeats the same wide downward zigzag figure
over and over. The first sighing figure is followed by
another decorated by a slow quarter-note triplet rhythm.
Finally, the triplet rhythm is slowed down even more, to half
notes, with three notes in the measure. This is followed
by a motion to an incomplete cadence that is firmly in
major. The last measure is the first of the two-measure
first ending (m. 121a). It closes things off with the
left hand figure expanding further downward with descending
4:58 [m. 122a (104b)]--Part 2 repeated. The
second measure of the first ending corresponds to the first
measure of the phrase (m. 104b). The only change in this
measure is an accommodation of the left hand to allow it to
leap back up from the very low bass to the tenor range.
The repeat sign goes back to m. 105, where the first
four-measure phrase in B minor continues as after 4:19.
5:07 [m. 108]--Five-measure phrase in D major, as at
5:18 [m. 113]--Four measure phrase returning to B
major, as at 4:39.
5:27 [m. 117]--Five measure coda-like phrase, as at
4:48. The last measure, now the first of the second
ending (m. 121b) adds a lower right hand voice with chromatic
motion that leads into the extension.
5:38 [m. 122b]--To close off the entire central B
section, Brahms draws out the coda with yet another
five-measure phrase. The left hand again stalls on the
wide downward-ranging figure with broken octaves. This
is not identical in each measure, being varied in the
middle. The motion to the incomplete cadence is repeated
with the new lower, highly chromatic voice. Then it
slides down over D-natural, and the motion is repeated again
as the tempo slows and the volume diminishes. After the
incomplete cadence, the right hand moves up to another held
harmony with the “dominant” note at the top. This closes
5:51 [m. 127]--The left hand drops out. The last
right hand chord is reiterated, but now with the minor-key
inflection to D-natural, and held for two measures. This
prepares for the full literal reprise of the A
REPRISE OF A SECTION—Ternary form
5:55 [m. 129]--Part 1 (a). Theme 1, first
presentation in B minor, as at the beginning and at 0:52 [m.
6:01 [m. 133]--Left hand presentation in D minor, as at
0:08 and 0:58 [m. 5].
6:07 [m. 137]--Presentation in F minor followed by
strong arrival in F-sharp minor, as at 0:14 and 1:04 [m. 9].
6:14 [m. 141]--Marching line in F-sharp minor with the
right hand shadowing the left, as at 0:21 and 1:11 [m. 13].
6:18 [m. 144]--Drop in volume, then throbbing pulse on
F-sharp with left hand harmonies and crossover, as at 0:26 and
1:16 [m. 16].
6:27 [m. 150]--Change to D major and hushed version of
theme’s opening, as at 0:35 and 1:25 [m. 22].
6:36 [m. 154]--Repetitions of triplet figure and quiet
close of first part, as at 0:43 and 1:33 [m. 26].
6:44 [m. 158]--Part 2 (b). Theme 2 in D
minor, full presentation in two phrases as at 1:43 [m. 30].
7:01 [m. 167]--Development. Three
sharp chords, then transformation of Theme 1 in B-flat with
minor-key inflection, as at 2:01 [m. 39].
7:08 [m. 171]--Passage in G-flat major with buildup
based on three chords, as at 2:07 [m. 43].
7:17 [m. 177]--Climax with descending patterns of
thematic head in B-flat minor and D-flat major, as at 2:16 [m.
7:24 [m. 181]--Harmonically unstable passage with
heavily syncopated treble chords, moving to massive climax, as
at 2:23 [m. 53].
7:36 [m. 188]--Climax, then sweeping unmeasured scales
on F and G-flat (F-sharp), as at 2:34 [m. 60].
7:48 [m. 195]--Part 3 (a’). First four
measures of reprise, as at 2:46 [m. 67], analogous to 5:55 [m.
7:54 [m. 199]--Left hand presentation in B minor, as at
2:52 [m. 71], here analogous to 6:01 [m. 133].
8:00 [m. 203]--Passage beginning in D minor, but moving
back to B minor, as at 2:58 [m. 75], here nearly analogous to
6:07 [m. 137] and the first two measures of the marching line
at 6:14 [m. 141].
8:10 [m. 209]--Extension beginning in G minor, then
hint at cadence gesture in F-sharp minor, as at 3:08 [m. 81].
8:14 [m. 212]--Continuation and intensification of
extension, circling back to B minor, as at 3:12 [m. 84].
8:23 [m. 217]--Conclusion and transition, now to the
coda of the entire piece. It is similar to 3:21 [m.
89]. The first rising line is a bit longer, like the
second one in the earlier passage, and the right hand does not
follow the left, which now reiterates a single low B without
the lower octave doubling. There is then only one other
rising line, but it is extended and uses a flowing triplet
motion. It still uses the same notes, juxtaposing the
“dominant” above the low B. Because it does not pause,
the dissonance is not as pronounced. It winds its way up
to the treble in preparation for the coda.
8:31 [m. 221]--The coda is based entirely on Theme 2,
specifically its original version first heard in D minor, not
the lullaby version from the B section. Here it
is presented in B minor, and in the left hand above a tolling
pedal point low B. It is very subdued and marked pianissimo.
The right hand, continuing from the transition, plays
wide-ranging leggiero figuration in triplet
rhythm. In the first phrase, it winds up, then back down
over the first two measures. When the left hand melody
becomes active in the last two measures, the right hand
stresses notes on the beats as melodic, creating a subtle
8:41 [m. 225]--The second phrase in the left hand is a
fourth higher, as expected, with a mild hint at E minor.
As in the theme’s initial presentation, it works downward and
is extended by a measure at the end. The right hand
triplet figuration is more complex here. It generally
winds up and back down over the course of the phrase, but the
subtly stressed notes on the beat continue the counterpoint
that was established at the end of the first phrase.
8:53 [m. 230]--In the final phrase, the triplet
figuration moves to the left hand, where it remains anchored
to a wide arpeggio. Over a low B, the arpeggio is in B
major, not minor. The right hand plays the rising fourth
that begins Theme 2. Then the left hand adds a response
below its triplets (which can be briefly taken by the right
hand), adding the dissonant note C-natural, a half-step above
the keynote. The measure is repeated as the tempo slows
and the volume diminishes, fading even more. A third
repetition omits the dissonant response, and the left hand
arpeggio remains on B major. Finally, in the last
measure, the rising right hand fourth is held and the left
hand arpeggio reaches down to a very low sustained octave B.
9:23--END OF PIECE [233 mm.]
No. 2: Molto passionato,
ma non troppo allegro (Sonata-Allegro form). G MINOR, 4/4
0:00 [m. 1]--Theme 1. Beginning on an upbeat, the
texture of the theme is established. The melody itself is a
firm, steady march, but it is decorated by a constantly undulating
accompaniment. This is always in the right hand, even when
the melody rises above it (as it does on the second and third
beats of the first two measures), so the left hand crosses over
the right to play these notes, alternating with low bass octaves
on the first and fourth beats. The entire piece is really in
12/8 (compound) meter, as a triplet rhythm established in the
accompaniment remains in force throughout. Brahms avoids a
firm establishment of G minor. The key center is constantly
roving. “Leading tone motion” on the upbeats suggests first
E-flat major (despite a strong motion to G in the bass), then F
major. When G is finally established in the next two
measures, which slow toward the end, it is G major, not G minor.
0:11 [m. 5]--The pattern of the first phrase is repeated a
third higher, beginning with the leading tone motion in G
major. In the second measure, A major is suggested, and the
last two measures move to B major. Again, the left hand
crosses over the right in the first two measures, and there is a
slowing, now to a fermata, at the end of the phrase.
0:22 [m. 9]--Transition. The transition is centered
on G. It is martial in character, with fully harmonized
fanfare figures in the right hand and leaping octaves in the
bass. Both are still in the prevalent triplet or 12/8
motion. After the first forceful motion, the left hand
octaves break on the third part of each beat. The first two
measures are in G major. The next two, which follow a
similar pattern, are (finally) in G minor, but even this is
transient, leading directly into a one-measure extension that
slows and descends to a fermata on the “dominant” chord in
D minor, the key where both parts of Theme 2 will be set.
0:36 [m. 14]--Theme 2, Part 1. In contrast to Theme
1, this portion has a strongly settled key center (D minor).
The melody itself again begins on an upbeat, still in the
unceasing triplet rhythm. The upbeat gestures are doubled in
octaves. In the first three measures after the upbeat, the
first note is held. The passionate melody is agitated, but
more subdued than Theme 1 or the transition. The left hand
has wide ranging, flowing arpeggios, and the right hand has a
prominent lower voice below the melody. After the first four
measures, the closing gesture is repeated, then fragmented.
There is a large, rapid buildup to a climactic high chord and
descending arpeggio on the preparatory “dominant” harmony.
0:52 [m. 21]--Theme 2, Part 2. The march character
takes hold again, and this time it is more inexorable and driven,
firmly anchored to D minor. It begins quietly and ominously,
however. In the lower voice of the right hand, a stepwise
arching pattern is established that does not move away from its
notes (A—B-flat—A). The upper voice and the bass are
similarly steady. The bass reinforces the middle voice on
the first two upbeats. The upper voice is actually quite
static, and really only moves the harmony in the third and fourth
measures. The bass is more active, and adds a formidable
long-short rhythm in the third measure.
1:00 [m. 25]--The previous marching pattern is stated an
octave higher in both hands. After the first two measures,
there is a tremendous buildup. The cadence figure is
extended by two beats, as is the long-short rhythm in the
bass. Then those last two measures are restated. The
extended version of the imposing long-short bass rhythm is
unchanged, but the right hand harmonies move higher above the
middle voice, which briefly loses the first notes of the stepwise
arching patterns. After this, the climax is reached.
The right hand shoots up two octaves, using the arching figure
without its first note, and the left hand moves up in solid
chords. At last, the tension is resolved in another huge
1:16 [m. 1]--Theme 1. First presentation ending on G
major, as at the beginning. The upbeat is before the repeat
sign, and emerges directly from the preceding arpeggio (in m. 32).
1:26 [m. 5]--Second presentation ending on B major, as at
1:37 [m. 9]--Transition with fanfare figures in G major and
G minor, as at 0:22.
1:50 [m. 14]--Theme 2, Part 1. Passionate melody in D
minor, as at 0:36.
2:06 [m. 21]--Theme 2, Part 2. First presentation of
ominous march, as at 0:52.
2:14 [m. 25]--Restatement an octave higher, buildup,
extension, and climax, as at 1:00.
2:30 [m. 33]--The first part of the development is based
completely on Theme 1. The bass in the upbeat moves up a
half-step instead of the original fourth, and even though the bass
is on E-flat, the key is actually its “relative,” C minor.
The second measure, due to half-step motion in the bass, moves to
F major. The continuation in the third and fourth measures
is varied even more. The general motion is up instead of
down, and the left hand continues to cross over on all the weak
beats. The bass leaps down, then moves up by half-step
again, but at the end, there is a strong arrival on B-flat major
in both the bass and the melody.
2:39 [m. 37]--In a new, suddenly quiet continuation, the
melody becomes more chromatic and even static. The half-step
motion on the upbeats circles back on itself. The middle
voice continues its familiar figuration, but the bass now
reiterates B-flat as a “pedal point,” with the left hand still
crossing over the right. In the fourth measure, the melody
and the middle voice become more closely integrated, with the
melody moving down in an arpeggio over flowing downward
arches. The arpeggio is on B-flat, but now as a “dominant”
harmony. The left hand has an upward arpeggio on the same
harmony, but strikingly in the slower “straight” rhythm (the first
occurrence of such in this piece), creating a two-against-three
2:48 [m. 41]--The upbeat is obscured as part of the
previous two-against-three arpeggio. Both the bass and the
melody make a sudden and bold harmonic motion. Brahms even
changes the key signature to two sharps. The pattern from
2:30 [m. 33] is replicated on a new level, but now at the
prevailing more quiet level. The first bass note is B, but
the harmony suggested above it is G-sharp minor. The second
measure suggests C-sharp-major and the continuation reaches a
strong arrival on F-sharp major.
2:56 [m. 45]--The continuation in F-sharp major closely
follows that at 2:39 [m. 37], with a pedal point on F-sharp.
But the melody now crosses below the middle voice with no
hand crossing. Also, the half-step motion on the upbeats is
subtly altered so that instead of circling, it reaches further
down. The fourth measure still uses the integrated melody
and middle voice with the arpeggio over the arches, as well as the
left hand arpeggio in straight rhythm, but it is unexpectedly on B
major instead of F-sharp.
3:05 [m.49]--The previous passage is varied with the melody
and middle voice (but not the bass “pedal point”) an octave
lower. The B-major arpeggio is revealed as the “subdominant”
harmony in F-sharp, and the upbeat quickly re-establishes the
key. Other than the first measure, which uses a new and dark
“diminished seventh harmony” and has an upbeat moving to the next
measure by whole step, the passage closely follows the previous
pattern. At the end, the descending B-major arpeggio reaches
into the range of the straight-rhythm left hand arpeggio, so the
latter zigzags downward at the end to avoid entanglement.
The harmony is unchanged, including the upbeat leading to F-sharp.
3:15 [m. 53]--In a clever reversal, the roles of F-sharp
and B are reversed, and the former becomes the preparatory
“dominant” of the latter. The following passage is firmly in
B minor (matching the two-sharp key signature).
Theme 1 is abandoned in favor of the ominous closing march of
Theme 2. In a preparatory measure marked mezza voce,
the stepwise arching pattern is heard in the bass, then it is
transferred to its proper place in the middle voice. The
march theme itself is then heard in B minor, seemingly transferred
directly, including the distinctive long-short bass motion in the
third measure. But this is diverted at the end, and instead
of the decisive cadence in the fourth measure, the third measure
is shifted down a step, and there is a strong suggestion of D
major (“relative” to B minor).
3:25 [m. 58]--In another extremely effective harmonic
change, D becomes the “dominant” harmony in the home key of G
minor. This arrives quite unexpectedly with another
wholesale downward stepwise shift, and for half a measure it is
major. The long-short bass motion is given in doubled
(“augmented”) note values, but in its original form, with strong
motion toward a cadence. The arching patterns are also
briefly expanded, but maintain a focus on D and E-flat. The
volume rapidly swells, then just as rapidly recedes.
3:32 [m. 61]--The two-flat key signature returns, and the
previous three-measure pattern is repeated with the right hand an
octave higher. Again, it swells and recedes. The
cadence is stretched out, expanding the pattern to four
measures. The receding volume is continued in the expansion,
3:41 [m. 65]--Re-transition. It is very large,
and based on a combination of Theme 1 and the stepwise arching
patterns from the second part of Theme 2. The ppp
volume is enhanced with the indication sotto voce.
After the upbeat, the arching pattern on D and E-flat continues
from the previous passage and remains in force (with frequent
inflections to E-natural) through the entire long
re-transition. The left hand crosses over the right on the
second and third beats of nearly every measure. Each measure
is derived from the opening of Theme 1. In this first
phrase, on the downbeats and upbeats, harmonized octaves in the
low bass, doubled above by right hand octaves enclosing the
arching patterns (which here remain on D and E-flat), move up and
down, including the chromatic note G-flat, and circle back to a
strong cadence on G.
3:51 [m. 69]--This phrase is similar to the last, but the
octave motion in the right hand and low bass incorporates a new
skip upward, then a leap down to a new chromatic note, this time
G-sharp. At the same time, the first inflection to E-natural
occurs in the arching patterns. Again, a strong cadence in G
minor is reached. The arching patterns are briefly replaced
by broken octaves on D.
4:00 [m. 73]--In this third phrase, the right hand octaves
and the left hand octaves (which are still harmonized) are no
longer doubled, but placed in contrary motion. While the
arching patterns remain on D and E-flat, the introduction of the
note B-natural in the crossing left hand notes on the second beat
of each measure, along with the note A-flat in the octaves of both
hands, strongly suggest a detour to C minor, but again, there is a
strong cadence motion to G at the end.
4:09 [m. 77]--In the harmonically unstable fourth phrase,
the inflection of the arching pattern to E-natural is in force the
entire time, and the note B-natural also becomes constant in the
now-static right hand octaves. The left hand octaves, no
longer harmonized, move downward by half-step. There is an
extremely strong buildup in the second measure (which has the left
hand cross over on the fourth beat and not the third), and at the
beginning of the third measure, which is marked fortissimo,
an unexpected chord based on E-natural (already suggested in the
second phrase) is revealed as the “dominant” of A major. The
volume quickly recedes, and the phrase is extended by two
measures, continuing to emphasize this “dominant” harmony on
E. The right hand octaves drop out here.
4:22 [m. 83]--The final three measures of the re-transition
attempt to re-establish G minor, but the continued presence of
E-natural in the middle voice actually creates a highly unstable
“diminished” harmony. After the upbeat, the arching figures
become a slow trill, with steady alternation of D and
E-natural. This is passed to the left hand as the right hand
shoots upward in a G-minor arpeggio. It then descends in a
zigzag pattern, creating the impression of a 6/4 (as opposed to
12/8) meter. At the same time, the volume recedes more and
there is a slowing to a long fermata in preparation for
4:33 [m. 86]--Theme 1. The arrival of the reprise
after the huge re-transition is a relief, despite the harmonic
instability of Theme 1. Perhaps to emphasize this, Brahms
makes the upbeat a full D-major chord (it had only been an open
fifth before) to strengthen the bass motion to G. After
this, however, the first phrase of the theme precedes as it had at
the beginning and at 1:16, ending on G major.
4:42 [m. 90]--Second phrase ending on B major, as at 0:11
and 1:26 [m. 5].
4:53 [m. 94]--Transition with fanfare figures in G major
and G minor, as at 0:22 and 1:37 [m. 9]. The only change is
at the very end, in the one-measure extension, and it is subtle
but crucial. The downward motion is narrower, and the
closing fermata is on the “dominant” chord in the home key
of G minor rather than D minor. This allows all of Theme 2
to be set in G minor.
5:07 [m. 99]--Theme 2, Part 1, analogous to 0:36 and 1:50
[m. 14]. The passionate melody with the wide left hand
arpeggios is stated in G minor. It follows the exposition
pattern closely, including the buildup and descending arpeggio.
5:22 [m. 106]--Theme 2, Part 2, analogous to 0:52 and 2:06
[m. 21]. The ominous march is stated in G minor, with the
arching patterns on D and E-flat, where they were in the long
re-transition. While the right hand is lower than in the
exposition, the left hand is raised to a higher octave. This
is out of necessity due to the scope of the keyboard. This
brings the hands closer together. Because of this, the bass
must often leave out the upper note of its octaves. The
buildup already begins at the end of the phrase.
5:30 [m. 110]--The restatement, extension, and climax
analogous to 1:00 and 2:14 [m. 25] are significantly altered and
intensified. The passage already begins at a louder level
and continues to build. Although everything moves up to the
higher octave as expected, the arching patterns are moved to
B-flat and C, creating a fuller, richer harmony. In
addition, the harmonies above them are thirds that suggest E-flat
major, making a hint at the opening of the piece. Finally,
the bass octaves already add the forceful rising long-short rhythm
in the first two measures, where it has not been present
before. After these first two measures, the continuation and
extension follow the pattern more closely, but the two measures at
the climax, including the upward reach and plunging arpeggio, are
cut off by the onset of the coda.
5:43 [m. 116]--The arrival is fortissimo, but the
volume quickly recedes. The arching patterns on D and E-flat
become a trill-like alternation, as they did at the end of the
re-transition before the reprise. The left hand plays a wide
ascending arpeggio, then descends in a zigzag pattern that
suggests a 6/4 type of meter. Everything is quite similar to
the passage at the end of the re-transition. The descent
continues through two and a half measures with the right hand
holding the G-minor chord and the inner slow trill.
5:49 [m. 118, second half]--At this point, Brahms begins
one of the most elegant examples of his frequent technique of
“notated ritardando,” using longer note values to create
the effect of a slowing. Here, he even marks it “quasi
rit.” Both the slow trill and the zigzag descent
continue, but they are notated in straight rhythm (which has only
been briefly seen) instead of the prevailing triplets. The
notes are still placed groups of six, however, so the effect is of
slowing rather than a change of metric subdivision. In
actuality, two of these six-note groups are spread over a measure
and a half instead of a single measure.
5:52 [m. 120]--The zigzag descent finally comes to a
resting point in the low bass. The trill-like alternation
slows to six quarter-notes in triplet notation for one measure,
then four straight quarter notes for the next one. This
continues the slowing effect without an actual change in
speed. Finally, the trill comes to a stopping point in the
following measure. It has also faded to almost
nothing. Suddenly, on the upbeat of this penultimate
measure, both hands play a forceful fortissimo “dominant”
chord. The hands leap inward to the last clinching G-minor
chord, which is doubled two octaves apart between them.
6:19 (runoff after 6:02)--END OF PIECE [123 mm.]
END OF PAIR
BRAHMS LISTENING GUIDES HOME