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providing links between sections. The return to the main theme in the A sections is achieved

unconventionally through C-flat major, which can be interpreted as 3rd-related, VI of E-flat

minor, or the Neapolitan of the dominant. This key plays a significant role in the coda and the

final cadence, this time definitely assuming the role of the sixth degree. All of these tonal

relationships are reflections of Brahms’s long-term logical thinking.

It is probably not a coincidence that Brahms chose the key of E-flat to make his final

statement in pianistic writing. Throughout his life, he strove to carry on and revitalize the

tradition of classical German music, handed over by the first great Romantic composer, a man,

who like Brahms himself, had left his homeland to lead a solitary life in Vienna. This man was

Ludwig van Beethoven, to whom Brahms had paid homage in his first published work, the Op. 1

Piano Sonata in C. Charles Rosen put forth the idea that the similarity of the sonata’s opening

rhythmic motive to Beethoven’s Hammerklavier signified ‘an aspiration to the sublime in the

academic sense’ (Notley, 2000: 253), and this is exactly what Brahms had from the beginning of

his musical life. He had quoted Beethoven again in the last movement of his first symphony,

which had taken him fourteen years to perfect, due to the great responsibility of following such a

master. In his compositions, Brahms had further distilled the Beethovenian techniques of motivic

unfolding of a theme’s potential and the creation of logical formal connections. Using the key of

the Eroica Symphony (and the Emperor Piano Concerto No. 5), which was a symbol of triumph

and a turning point in Beethoven’s artistic life, could have implied a triumphant ending for

Brahms. But why end the heroic Rhapsodie in the tonic minor? Maybe at the same time, it was

meant to make a reference to his first romantic piano piece, the E-flat minor Scherzo of 1854 or

to bring together the last three opuses through use of a common key, which had began Op. 117 as

major, concluded 118 as minor, and in 119, would find its final identity.10 Or maybe, Brahms

still felt that he did not measure up to Beethoven and expressed a lesser, more sorrowful triumph.

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