art song for alto and tenor in 1877. Fiske (1968 :1110) argues that the first Intermezzo of Op.
117 was actually the third instance in Brahms’s career when he changed into piano music, what
he had begun as a Scottish Volkslied. This piece was a particular favourite and he is reported to
have played it frequently for close friends (Niemann, 1946: 241).
Inspiration from a common source and being composed at the same time are not the only
aspects which tie together the three Intermezzi. They also exhibit close tonal and motivic
relationships and the central one seems to act as a unifying bridge with its juxtaposition of
textures from each (as examined in Fig. 1). Numbers 1 and 3 have similar textures, with themes
confined to inner voices accompanied by repeated pedal notes, and presented also in bare octaves.
In fact, the third Intermezzo has a ballad-like character, beginning somberly and ‘sotto voce,’
the first hint of harmony coming in the fourth bar. The initial presentation of a theme in bare
octaves as in No. 3 is also found in the first of the Four Serious Songs, Op. 121, the penultimate
works of the composer, completed in 1896, inspired by Clara’s last fatal illness (Ex. 1). With its
serious and pensive character, the C-sharp minor Intermezzo may have foreshadowed these last
profound songs, with their premonitions of death and testaments of the faith in love and
Ex. 1 Vier ernste Gesange, Op. 121, No. 1.