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About this Piece

After an early focus on works for solo piano, including the three sonatas that Robert Schumann described as “veiled symphonies,” Brahms tended to employ his chosen instrument, the piano, in collaborative works, producing a variety of duo sonatas (with violin, cello, and clarinet), piano trios, piano quartets, and one piano quintet, as well as two more trios (one with horn and one with clarinet). His final efforts for solo keyboard were published in four sets of shorter works (Opp. 116-119), which appeared between 1891 and 1893.

These four sets of late solo piano pieces are all in effect abstract instrumental songs, though unfailingly idiomatic. (So much so, that he abandoned his attempt to orchestrate the immediately popular Intermezzo, Op. 117, No. 1.) All are in the A-B-A song form typical of character pieces and are as highly concentrated as his greatest songs.

Only the first of these groups (Op. 116) has a continuity that argues for continuous performance. The other sets range widely in tone and temperament, by turns reflective and pensive, then agitated and restless. The individual pieces carry different titles, but more than half are designated cryptically as intermezzos, including all three of Op. 117, all but two of the six in Op. 118, and three of the four in Op. 119. These intimate works are the offspring of a composer whose greatest love was music itself. —Adapted from the notes by John Henken and Dennis Bade