This was the first Brahms I ever learned to play. It looked to me like a relatively easy piece, simply because it doesn’t have all that many notes — but I was wrong: never having played Brahms, I didn’t recognize the difficulty that was there. Brahms doesn’t always divide his music into clear layers of melody and accompaniment; he’ll have bits of melodic thread appearing in different voices, different layers. None of these threads is complete in itself, but they form a complete whole that doesn’t emerge from any single place. Much like Renaissance polyphony, the “foreground” of the music emerges from a delicate interplay of layers.
So yes, not many notes, but this piece turned out to require a great deal of care in fingering and voicing, to give just the right weight to each note, and the right shape to the many parts. After I “got it” with this one, I found it much easier to work my way into other Brahms. Playing music requires a certain empathy with the composer; it is much like making friends.
Though it proved a bit tricky to learn, it’s certainly not tricky to listen to: the music is pure bliss, and though it passes through many landscape-changing shades of light and dark, nothing breaks the floating bubble between the first note and the last.