orchestral effect) and in tonal relationships, within a piece and across whole opuses. This also
manifests itself as chains of descending thirds, both as thematic material (as in Op. 119/1) and as
tonalities (as in Op. 118/6). This preoccupation with thirds appeared in the very first works of
Brahms (Piano Sonatas No. 1 and 3), and continued throughout his life, as in the Piano Concerto
No.1, the Fourth Symphony, and the Four Serious Songs.
suggests that it may have been used to represent various events such as moonlight (as in the lied
Mondenschein Op. 85/2) or death (Serious Songs) or possibly to allude to major changes in his
life. The late piano miniatures are his last experiments with pianistic textures, having orchestral
implications, much like the Handel Variations. Perhaps the use of the ‘third’ in this case implies
an accumulation of all aspects of his compositional life: the architectural, the contrapuntal, and
the lyrical. The pieces also bring together all aspects of his personality and character: logic,
coincides with the retrospective period in his life, when he seemed to sense that the end was
coming and felt the need to say his last words.
After the piano miniatures, Brahms returned to the clarinet, composing the two Clarinet
Sonatas, Op. 120, published in 1894, the same year as the 49 Deutsche Volkslieder, which were
his arrangements of beloved German folk songs with piano accompaniment. The Volkslieder
marked another return to his youth, as the last of the songs was one he had included in his Op. 1
Piano Sonata, leading to his famous remark to Clara: ‘ It ought to represent the snake which bites
its own tail, that is to say, to express symbolically that the tale is told, the circle is closed’
(Swafford: 596). 1895 was the first year since 1872 that Brahms did not publish anything. He
may have been working on the Chorale Preludes Op. 122, which were published posthumously.
The Four Serious Songs, Op. 121, which ‘extended the Lied tradition to accommodate the