Op. 118 Which Johannes, Brahms or Kreisler?4
Johannes Kreisler: “They [artists] carry their chosen lady in their hearts and wish only to sing, write poetry, and to paint for her. . .” From Kater Murr by E. T. A. Hoffman
The Op. 118 Sechs Klavierstücke were the product of another summer in Bad Ischl, that of
1893. They were completed alongside four other pieces, the Op. 119, and published at the same
time. In fact, Op. 118 No. 1 and Op. 119 No.1 were written on an exclusively different kind of
paper, suggesting that Brahms had composed them consecutively or even contemplated pairing
the two (Cai, 1986:13). Another interesting fact revealed from the holographs is that Op.118 No.
6 begins on the same page where No. 3 ends, suggesting that the 4th and 5th pieces were put in at a
later time (Cai: 53).5 Although Brahms was very meticulous about destroying any document
which would reveal his speculations and compositional processes, Op. 118 is one of the few
manuscripts which survives, showing his doubt until the end as to the titles of the pieces. He had
prepared and inventory list of all the pieces for Op. 118 and 119, with a single title page bearing
the name Fantasien für Pianoforte, then crossed it off along with the whole page (Cai: 60).
After Clavierstücken, he seems to have finally settled on Klavierstücke. According to Kalbeck
(1904-14:3/196), Brahms had rejected the title Phantasien for 118 and 119 because the concept
did not fit the forms of a Ballade or a Rhapsody.
Both collections seem to have been composed with Clara Schumann in mind, since
Brahms sent pieces to her as soon as they were completed, probably with the hope of stimulating
and inspiring the aging woman, both musically and emotionally. We know that Op. 118 was a
special favourite of Clara’s, as she played pieces from it for the composer on their last meeting in