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on, he would be composing for himself alone (Swafford: 578). This is the frame of mind with

which Brahms started to compose his late piano miniatures, Opuses 116-119, the last intimate

monologues written for his favourite instrument, in fact the only one with which he felt fully at

home, as he once wrote to Clara Schumann (Dunsby, 1987).

The late miniatures, twenty pieces in all, are romantic character pieces carrying on the

tradition of Schumann and Chopin, but with many original characteristics, reflecting Brahms’s

late style and highly experimental approach. The collections are not cycles (with the possible

exception of Op. 116, as suggested by Dunsby, 1983) and do not carry literary implications

(except for Op. 117) as many of Schumann’s pieces. At the same time, they are more

progressive and much more compact than many of Chopin’s shorter piano works. Brahms’s

principles of organic unity, motivic economy, tonal fluidity but ambiguity, increasing potency of

ideas, and a concision of structure, with freedom and richness of thought is clearly present in all

of them. Brahms seems to be applying a concept of his favourite poet, Goethe, to music: the idea

that all organic life consists of transformations of a single basic substance (Urstoff), through

procedures such as metamorphosis, evolution, and variation (Goethe, 1790).1 Similarly Brahms

created whole pieces, and even whole opuses (as in the case of Op. 116 and 117), from basic

motivic material or themes consisting of a few notes, further refining a process handed down

from Beethoven, with the help of his own developing variation technique. He stressed the

significance of organicism in works, requesting from his students that they analyse the

relationship between part and whole in works by Classical masters (Notley, 1993: 114) and take

this into consideration when composing. This was a principle which he applied to his own works,

not least in the late miniatures. No matter how unexpected the melodic shifts or ambiguous the

harmonies and rhythms, organic unity and logical structure are always present.

Although they have a strongly conventional ternary form, usually with two contrasting

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