Garrick Ohlsson, piano
Three Intermezzi, Op. 117 composed in 1892
Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Andante moderato in E-flat Major
Andante non troppo e con molto espressione in B-flat Minor
Andante con moto in C-sharp Minor
Program note by Harry Haskell © 2018:
The three Op. 117 Intermezzi comprise the second of the four sets of character pieces that occupied Brahms in his twilight years. Clara Schumann, who had long been his most trusted confidante, enthused about the Intermezzi in her diary, describing them as “a veritable fountain of pleasure,” awash in “poetry, passion, rapture, heartfelt emotion,” and “the most wonderful tonal effects.” Brahms himself referred to these intimate, highly personal, fantasy-like miniatures as “monologues,” suggesting that he considered them more at home in the salon than in the concert hall. His close friend Philipp Spitta, a distinguished music historian, advised Brahms that none of his late piano music was suited for public performance; rather, it was “meant to be absorbed slowly, in peace and solitude.”
Laid out in symmetrical ABA form, all three Op. 117 pieces are built on contrasts of mood, texture and tonality. The first Intermezzo is based on a Scottish lullaby, the wistful strains of which sing out in an inner voice beneath a peal of chiming E-flats. The characteristic rocking rhythm is interrupted in the dark, hauntingly ethereal middle section, characterized by billowing arpeggios in the bass. The second Intermezzo plays on the alternation of two basic textures, one linear—a chain of melodic notes embedded in smoothly interlocking figurations—the other chordal. In the third Intermezzo, Brahms uses a turbulent, rhythmically unstable interlude as a foil for the dogged, dirge-like tread of the outer sections.
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