No 1: Andante moderato
No 2: Andante non troppo e con molto espressione
No 3: Andante con moto
The second Intermezzo, in B flat minor, wrings music of plaintive delicacy from a simple falling arpeggio figure that melts, with fluid grace, through a succession of tonalities: and the piece traces a miniature sonata design, with a more smoothly flowing second subject in D flat. Development and reprise merge into one another through spiralling arpeggio figuration: the coda finally imposes tonal stability in the shape of an uneasy pedal F, over which the second idea dies away.
Like the first piece the third Intermezzo, in C sharp minor, evokes a ballad character, though this time without a specifically indicated subject. This is a comparatively spacious movement, beginning sombrely and sotto voce with a quintessentially Brahmsian theme presented in severe octaves. On later appearances this melody becomes an inner voice against a rich harmonic background; there is a strongly contrasting middle section in A major, whose gently syncopated figuration and octave displacements create a twilit world of almost impressionistic gleams and half-lights. At once one of the darkest and most beautiful of Brahms’s late piano pieces, it is now believed to be an unacknowledged setting of another of Herder’s translations of Scottish poems, a love-lament beginning ‘Oh woe! Oh woe, deep in the valley …’, which Brahms had copied out on the same sheet as ‘Lady Anne Bothwell’s Lament’. But all three of these pieces seem to have had some secret significance for him: they were, he told his friend Rudolf von der Leyen, ‘three lullabies for my sorrows’.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2006