This is the first, but in all likelihood not the last, post I’ll make about a piece of music by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), who has long been a favorite of mine.
Late in his life, Brahms composed 4 sets of pieces (Op. 116-119) for solo piano. In the liner notes for a recording he did of Op. 117, 118 and 119, the Austrian pianist Paul Badura-Skoda referred to them as “late autumn harvest fruits” and goes on to note that “with these last collections…., Brahms takes leave of pianistic composition, and at the same time attains a pinnacle. His creative energy is undiminished.”
Op. 118, No. 2, the Intermezzo in A major, is my favorite among these pieces; I find it almost unbearably beautiful in places…a string of memorable moments placed end to end.
The page of music below starts 1:07 into the recording provided, which is by the wonderful Romanian pianist, Radu Lupu.
My moment begins at 1:14, at the forte (red rectangle) in the first line. This is followed first by a descending scale in the right hand (orange bar), then by another descending scale in the right hand (blue bar), but this time in a minor key, to be played calando, i.e., more slowly and quietly. At 1:28 there is silence, and then, at 1:29, we hear the right hand play G#-A-F# (yellow box)…what Lupu does with these notes, to me, is nothing short of exquisite: I hear sweetness, and tenderness, but also a sense of sadness and rue. This is what I aim for when I play this piece; I don’t think I’ve accomplished it yet, but boy is it something to strive for.
Trivia tidbit for the medically inclined: Brahms was very good friends with Theodor Billroth (1829-1894), the pioneering abdominal surgeon. Billroth played both piano and violin quite proficiently and participated in rehearsals of many of Brahms’ chamber music pieces before they were performed publicly. Brahms often sought Billroth’s opinions on his compositions before publication and even dedicated the two string quartets of Opus 51 to Billroth.