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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

humanity.

Ex. 1 Vier ernste Gesange, Op. 121, No. 1.

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