Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Johannes Brahms

With its gloomy variant on the Dies Irae serving as its main theme, this is one of Brahms' darkest piano works. Composed in the aftermath of the deaths of his sister Elise and his close friend Elizabeth von Herzogenberg, it is a profound work that has prompted more than a few to speculate Brahms may have conceived it first for orchestra, perhaps as a slow movement to a symphony. But no such other evidence seems to support the notion. Curiously, Brahms dedicated the work to his friend (and possible lover) Clara Schumann and presented it as a gift to her. The work hesitantly opens, the theme first heard in the upper register and immediately provoking an unsettling scale rising from the bass to the higher ranges, then falling back down. While the music has a dark cast, it remains rather gentle and emotionally cold. In the middle section, sunlight briefly emerges with a lively, somewhat chipper theme, which then builds toward some seemingly more permanent relief from the gloom. It only manages to yield back to the main theme, however, now heard in a more noble, more dramatic fashion. It soon returns to its original guise and after a final emphatic statement of it, the piece closes in a subdued manner. This Intermezzo typically lasts about five minutes.