Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Brahms - Six Pieces For Piano Opus 118

Brahms wrote nothing for the piano that can be called easy. Brahms piano writings abound with technical difficulties, especially for a small hand, and challenge pianist's musicality. The ultimate in what Brahms demands of a pianist can be seen with his Studies For Pianoforte, Variations On A Theme Of Paganini Opus 35, a work of daring virtuosity and extreme technical demands.

Later in his life Brahms began to mellow somewhat. His music became more introspective, with his six piano pieces of Opus 118 being a prime example. Brahms still makes demands on the pianist, but gone is any outwardly flashy virtuosity. But any pianist that has worked their way through them can tell you they are far from simple.

The pieces have no obvious musical connection between each other; each one is a self-contained work. But the mood of each seems to compliment the next, as Brahms well understood.  They were published in 1893 and dedicated to Clara Schumann.

1.Intermezzo in A minor. Allegro non assai, ma molto appassionato - This opening piece is the only one in the set that is in binary form and with its restless nature acts as a prelude or introduction to the rest of the set.

2. Intermezzo in A major. Andante teneramente - A mellow piece that has a middle section that has the melody played in the right hand and as it plays the left hand plays the melody a quarter beat behind creating a canon along with the accompaniment.  The first eight-bar section is repeated, and then it is developed. The music smoothly flows into a repeat of the opening section of the piece. This piece as well as the rest of the pieces are in ternary form

3.Ballade in G minor. Allegro energico - A passionate piece, with a melody that floats above the crashing chords in both hands. A gentle middle section is in B major. The opening section is repeated, but the middle section comes back as a short coda in the minor to end the piece.

4.Intermezzo in F minor. Allegretto un poco agitato - A restless first section leads to a contrasting middle section that moves at a steady pace. The restless beginning returns and plays until it shifts key into the major mode at the end.

5. Romanze in F major. Andante - The melody is carried by the highest voice and doubled in the bass. Other notes add to the texture of the harmony and enrich the melody. The middle section is in D major and consists of a melody that repeats over an ostinato bass. The melody varies each time it repeats until it melts into a series of trills. The beginning returns and the melody is reinforced by octaves in the right hand.

6.Intermezzo in E flat minor. Andante, largo e mesto - Written in the rare key of E-flat minor, the piece begins with dark rumblings that lead to a march-like middle section that swells in tone and harmony. This collapses into the dark rumblings of the beginning. There are a few shafts of light as the major mode is invoked, but the tragedy of the opening returns. The end is near, as the music swells in volume once more before it fades away into the abyss.

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