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previous section. The variations are actually diminutions, increasing in melodic elaboration,

reminding one of Chopin’s Berceuse in D-flat major, also with a basso ostinato (constant bass).

This is the only other piece in all of Op. 117-119 (the other is 117/1) which has a change of time

signature and tempo from section A to B, but Brahms makes it clear that there is a common pulse,

with his indication along with the metre change at the transition back to the A section (bar 45). D

major is gradually transformed back into D minor and finally F major in this 3-bar transitory

passage, which prepares the return, with the help of trills (introduced in the B section). The trills

dissolve the preceding metre and reintroduce the short-long pattern along with the original metre.

The number of voices reach 6 in the last phrase, reminiscent of the vocal motets Brahms was so

fond of writing. Cai (1986) suggests that the piece could also be his idea of a mini-Baroque suite

(including a Sarabande and a Musette), where the dance movements are merged rather than


Brahms’s interest in early music manifested itself in many ways in these miniatures, and

the last piece of Op. 118 is no exception. Here we find a 4-bar fixed melody, a cantus firmus

(Ex. 4), which begins as a solo line at the opening, and is stated another 17 times, in original

form, in the dominant minor, and varied in 3rds, 6ths, octaves, and with different accompanying


Ex. 4 Op. 118 No. 6 The ‘cantus firmus’.

The dark key of E-flat minor gives the piece a serious, pensive and pathetic quality and even the

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