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middle section, which starts in the relative major of G-flat and has the heroic attitude of the

Ballade, is clouded with the presence of B-flat minor and the return of the initial key when the

cantus firmus is stated in forte octaves, accompanied by F-9th chords, the same harmony as the

arpeggios

at

the

opening

(Fig.10,

bars

53-4).

This

climactic

statement

of

the

theme

in

the

original key is placed exactly 2/3rds of the way through the piece, giving it further significance.

Like the Ballade, there seem to be two different characters: the pessimistic and the triumphant,

and they come together in the middle section once more, this time with a brighter harmony (A-

flat major), only to sink back into the gloomy theme. Another prominent feature is the series of

descending 3rds, as harmonies (bars 12-15 and repeated 32-35) and as arpeggio passages in

section A, and in octaves in the B section to mark the arrival of the theme. In fact, the cantus

firmus itself outlines a falling minor third (Ex. 4).

Musgrave (2000: 94) seems sufficiently justified in regarding this particular miniature

‘the most poetic of the late works.’ In fact, it had inspired Brahms’s close friend, the Swiss

writer Josef Viktor Widmann to write a poem entitled ‘Op. 118 Intermezzo in E flat minor’

(Avins, 1997: 733), dealing with life’s strivings and death. The main theme has been referred to

as ‘a motive in search of an identity’ (Musgrave, 2000: 97), as it is continuously reharmonized

until it finally reaches a firm cadence in the tonic key at the end. It is this incessant

reharmonization which gives the Intermezzo its dramatic impulse and momentum. It is yet

another significant example of Brahms uniting past and future, having symphonic implications

like the Handel Variations, extreme expressive contrasts, a control of counterpoint, developing

variation, and an original tonal plan, moving through the minor dominant, a series of mediant-

related keys, and two successive Neapolitans before it comes to rest in the tonic in the last two

bars. The final cadential progression, the texture including bare octaves, and the prominent

presence of the minor dominant are all features which link this to the C-sharp minor Intermezzo

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