Tablet - Portrait

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Johannes Brahms

Composed in November 1852 and published in 1853 by Breitkopf & Härtel in Leipzig, the Piano Sonata No. 2 in F sharp minor, Op. 2, is dedicated to Clara Schumann. Although it is the first piano sonata Brahms completed, it may have been first performed in public only as late as February 2, 1882, in Vienna.

The F sharp minor sonata is a study in contrasts between passages of ebullient, youthful passion and moments imbued with the delicacy of folk song. Thematic relationships exist between the different movements, notably the Andante and Scherzo, the main idea of which also forms part of the main themes of the first movement and Finale.

Developmental fragmentation of the first movement's main theme takes place already in the exposition of the first movement, as the transition to the second theme group begins. Numerous appearances of the opening measures of the main theme in the development section make the entrance of the recapitulation difficult to spot, as it begins not on the tonic, but a diminished harmony and proceeds a half step lower than it "should." It is only in the fifth measure of the recapitulation that the theme finds its proper harmonic track.

Brahms tended to compose the slow, central movements of his sonatas before outer ones. The Andante of Op. 2, in B minor, consists of three variations on "Mir ist leide," a German Minnesang; it is one of Brahms' first attempts at variation form. The variations are free, particularly the second, which grows to a powerful climax on the relative major (D major).

Brahms follows Beethoven's example by writing a theme for the second part of the Scherzo that is a variant of the first part, the main idea of which is a 6/8 meter variant of the Andante theme. The D major Trio contrasts with the B minor Scherzo both through the key change and the static nature of the Trio's theme. With the return of the Scherzo, Brahms gives free reign to his developmental tendencies. In a personal copy of the sonata, the composer gives alternate renderings of passages that require a large hand.

Brahms prefaces the Finale with a sostenuto introduction. Dominated by the kind of flourishes he would abandon later in his career, the introduction itself is a fantasy-like elaboration of the theme of the more strictly constructed sonata-form Finale. The theme resembles in shape the main idea of the first movement, though disguised by a greater note values. After modulating to the relative major in the aggressive exposition, Brahms begins the development with harmonically adventurous broken chords that mimic the close of the exposition. The athletic coda is heavily fortified with flashy runs and wide leaps.