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Three Intermezzos Op.117

Johannes Brahms (b. 1833 - d. 1897)

Paul Lewis

Paul Lewis

Composer
Johannes Brahms (b. 1833 - d. 1897)
Composition Year
1892
Work Movements
1. Andante moderato
2. Andante non troppo e con molto espressione
3. Andante con moto
Artists
Paul Lewis [piano]

Programme Note Writer:
© David Winter

Lullabies for my sorrows is the way Brahms described these exquisite piano pieces which he composed in the summer of 1892. Brahms’ sister Elise had died in June and several of his friends were also ill or dying. Hans von Bulow who might have given the first performance was too ill to do so. So Brahms was in fact in mourning during this summer. No wonder that these short pieces contain much, much more than might be expected in a lullaby.

Brahms added to the manuscript of the first intermezzo a quote from Herder’s translation of a Scottish song. This begins Sleep softly my child, sleep softly and well. Far from being a lullaby the song is about romantic betrayal and the abandonment. Some commentators have linked all three of these Intermezzi to these gloomy Scottish ballads, but their actual influence is unclear.

Like many things in Brahms’ life, these Intermezzi played a role in his long relationship with Clara Schumann, who was also ill at the time.  A long-running dispute over the publication of the music of Clara’s late husband Robert came to a head. On Clara’s birthday, September 13, Brahms wrote to her in bitter terms implying that their relationship was over. Clara immediately replied in a soothing and friendly letter and Brahms responded by presenting her with the manuscripts of both Op.116 and 117.

The four sets of piano pieces Op.116-119 are Brahms’ last compositions for solo piano. In most of them (including all three of these Intermezzi) he abandons the dynamic, turbulent, extrovert style of much of his early piano work. Instead a feeling of calm introspection accompanied by a dream-like sense of deep sadness and regret takes over. These works may seem simple but here is a great composer with unrivalled knowledge of both the classical tradition and later romantic composers using all his skills acquired over a life time of study, performance and composition to create works of astonishing depth and grandeur.

All three are in tertiary form like a minuet and trio. They begin with a main theme, followed by a middle section in which a new (or related) material appears. The main theme returns although the second theme can sometimes re-appear in the coda as well.  This seems simple enough however structural considerations seem unimportant when compared to the extraordinary emotional power of this music.

The first Intermezzo in 6/8 time begins with the beautiful lullaby-like theme. The outer calmness soon changes to reveal darker thoughts as Brahms modulates to E flat minor for the middle section.  Brahms’ direction to the pianist here is Piu Adagio, sempre ma molto espressivo which seems precisely appropriate for this dark dream-like sequence. The darkness throughout these pieces is enhanced by the left hand reaching to the bottom octave of the piano.

In the opening of the second piece there seems to be no distinction between the theme and the surrounding broken chords. The middle section is built around a more serious and passionate idea. The final intermezzo opens with stark minor key octaves. The brighter middle section now uses broken chords inextricably bound up with the melodic material. The opening theme returns with more complex harmonies and a syncopated accompaniment bringing this grand, dark and sensuous music to a quiet and contemplative conclusion.

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Three Intermezzos Op.117

Composer: Johannes Brahms (b. 1833 - d. 1897)
Performance date: Tuesday 5th July 2016
Venue: Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,

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Composer Johannes Brahms (b. 1833 - d. 1897)
Work Title Three Intermezzos Op.117
Composition Year 1892
Work Movements 1. Andante moderato
2. Andante non troppo e con molto espressione
3. Andante con moto
Artist(s) Paul Lewis [piano]
Performance Date Tuesday 5th July 2016
Performance Venue Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,
Event Late Great Show
Duration 00:15:37
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category Solo
Instrumentation pf
Programme Note Writer © David Winter

Lullabies for my sorrows is the way Brahms described these exquisite piano pieces which he composed in the summer of 1892. Brahms’ sister Elise had died in June and several of his friends were also ill or dying. Hans von Bulow who might have given the first performance was too ill to do so. So Brahms was in fact in mourning during this summer. No wonder that these short pieces contain much, much more than might be expected in a lullaby.

Brahms added to the manuscript of the first intermezzo a quote from Herder’s translation of a Scottish song. This begins Sleep softly my child, sleep softly and well. Far from being a lullaby the song is about romantic betrayal and the abandonment. Some commentators have linked all three of these Intermezzi to these gloomy Scottish ballads, but their actual influence is unclear.

Like many things in Brahms’ life, these Intermezzi played a role in his long relationship with Clara Schumann, who was also ill at the time.  A long-running dispute over the publication of the music of Clara’s late husband Robert came to a head. On Clara’s birthday, September 13, Brahms wrote to her in bitter terms implying that their relationship was over. Clara immediately replied in a soothing and friendly letter and Brahms responded by presenting her with the manuscripts of both Op.116 and 117.

The four sets of piano pieces Op.116-119 are Brahms’ last compositions for solo piano. In most of them (including all three of these Intermezzi) he abandons the dynamic, turbulent, extrovert style of much of his early piano work. Instead a feeling of calm introspection accompanied by a dream-like sense of deep sadness and regret takes over. These works may seem simple but here is a great composer with unrivalled knowledge of both the classical tradition and later romantic composers using all his skills acquired over a life time of study, performance and composition to create works of astonishing depth and grandeur.

All three are in tertiary form like a minuet and trio. They begin with a main theme, followed by a middle section in which a new (or related) material appears. The main theme returns although the second theme can sometimes re-appear in the coda as well.  This seems simple enough however structural considerations seem unimportant when compared to the extraordinary emotional power of this music.

The first Intermezzo in 6/8 time begins with the beautiful lullaby-like theme. The outer calmness soon changes to reveal darker thoughts as Brahms modulates to E flat minor for the middle section.  Brahms’ direction to the pianist here is Piu Adagio, sempre ma molto espressivo which seems precisely appropriate for this dark dream-like sequence. The darkness throughout these pieces is enhanced by the left hand reaching to the bottom octave of the piano.

In the opening of the second piece there seems to be no distinction between the theme and the surrounding broken chords. The middle section is built around a more serious and passionate idea. The final intermezzo opens with stark minor key octaves. The brighter middle section now uses broken chords inextricably bound up with the melodic material. The opening theme returns with more complex harmonies and a syncopated accompaniment bringing this grand, dark and sensuous music to a quiet and contemplative conclusion.