a contrast and counterbalance to the three Intermezzos. As Musgrave has pointed out (1985:
263), there is an intensified use of variation with a greater concentration in the Op. 119
Intermezzi. Pitches and pitch groups seem to provide the motivic material, taking Brahms’s
compositional style one step further and closer to the early miniatures of the 20th century. The
themes, which again consist of short motives, contain large-scale harmonic implications in all of
the pieces, pointing to both overall tonality and subsequent tonal processes. This was probably
what Brahms meant when he advised his composition student Jenner in the early 1890s to ‘make
a diligent study of Beethoven’s sonata themes and observe their influence on the structure of the
movement.’8 Although he had used similar techniques in the previous opuses of piano pieces,
there is a more refined style in Op. 119, where Brahms experiments with ternary form in yet
newer ways, focussing on expansion and symmetry. Thirds play an important role once again, in
thematic material and local as well as large-scale harmonic structure.
A lot has been written about the first Intermezzo, and rightly so, as it is fascinating with
the ambiguous opening tonality, the theme consisting of falling major and minor thirds, and the
continuous opposition between diatonicism and chromaticism, along with the tension between B
minor and D major. Although some or all of these elements are found in previous works (Op.
116/1 and 4 contain the chromatic progression found at the beginning of the B section, shown in
Fig. 12), this particular example seems in some ways to be the most experimental and forward-
looking. Dunsby (1981) has pointed out that the kind of progressive features of Brahms’s music
which Schoenberg wrote about are to be found to a greater degree in this particular piece.
Newbould (1977) has even suggested that the piece is actually a chaconne, with a repeating
ground (first a seven-note bass progression), and carries the same rhythmic pattern as a Baroque
Sarabande and Bach’s D minor Chaconne for solo violin (Newbould: 43). It is interesting that