Abstracts of issue 14 (2000)

Nikos Maliaras

Brahms Intermezzi, op. 117. Observations and Thoughts on Certain Fundamental Musical Issues

Brahms reserved his most mature piano pieces for the last years of his life. In his whole life, he resisted the programmatic tendency of other composers of his time and always tried to remain true to his idea of the independence of music. Those pieces reveal a very high level of composition technique, through which Brahms could create a very special atmosphere and convey very intense emotions by purely musical means. The author tries to analyze those three short pieces and reveals certain means used in that direction, e.g.:
  1. The protective octaves that embrace the theme of the first intermezzo, give their place to a metric differentiation, which causes an uneasy feeling.
  2. The identity in melodic pattern and tonality of both themes of the second intermezzo cannot convey the atmosphere of security, due to the unstable harmony, the weakening of metric structure and the disappearance of all thematic material at the end.
  3. The third intermezzo evokes the feeling of disappointment and resignation, by means of the asymmetric five-measure phrases and the fatal strength of the dominant chord, which functions as the dead-end of any new melodic and harmonic attempt.
The low-tone, mediocre dynamics and introverty of emotions of all three pieces can be an explanation, why Brahms gave the title Intermezzo. As a final proposition, in those three pieces one can observe Brahms aspect of the weakening of the role of certain fundamental musical ideas, such as meter and tonality, which were to be totally expelled by musical modernity less than a decade after his death.

Musicology