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Brahms Intermezzo 117.2

When I first saw the sheet music for today’s piece, I was a bit boggled. I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered a piece that sounded less like it looked! You might figure it for some sort of virtuosic toccata thing, all flash and texture, but no, it is slow, minimal melody with a lush, dark accompaniment.

The notation makes a little more sense if you think of Bach’s preludes. Do I grow predictable claiming everything is full of Bach? Very well, I grow predictable. This one is full of Bach: the layering; the figuration built out of a series of surprising chord changes, and the sense of counterpoint hidden in those changes; the walks around the circle of fifths.

Really, I don’t know how the twentieth century managed to stay so obsessed for so long with the idea of newness at all costs; all that paranoia about being derivative was really overblown, and I hope we’re growing out of it. The best art, it seems to me, always derives from the past, and escapes imitation through synthesis, not through obsessive novelty. More on that train of thought some other time.

Learning this, I felt like Brahms was searching in some of the same places I am in my own music: the piece is perpetually ambiguous and unresolved, yet within that ambiguity is a deep sense of order, an abundance of logical patterns. It’s a powerful tension, simultaneous ambiguity and order. The effect is strongly emotional, but it’s hard to name exactly what the emotion is. I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader (one with no right answer)!

Intermezzo Op 117 No 2
Paul Cantrell, piano

This is the second in a set of three pieces, the first of which was the first piece I posted in this blog. I don’t play the third yet, though I certainly mean to in the future — it is also a marvelous piece, and the three together are one of my favorite sets.