This was my first Brahms piece. Listening to it again brings back good memories. I remembered feelilng overwhelmed by the big chords and the amount of sound that was produced. My teacher in college kept telling me that I need to have an image of Brahms in my head when I play his music: a fairly big guy with a big gut and with arms the size of a tree trunk. I will always remember that.
This is, in my opinion, a very good starter into Brahms' works. It is not too terribily difficult but has all the "Brahmsian" characters in the music: big, thick chords, hemiolas, big, rolled chords, polyrhythms, rich harmony, and some large stretches (though not as many compared to his other works). These are four intermezzi-like pieces. Each is in ABA form with a contrasting B section differ from the A section in key, tempo, mood, and character. The first one is stately and regal, somewhat solemn and serious. The second one, a lullaby, develops into a stormy and restless B section with a fairly difficult Molto staccato e leggiero section with quick grace notes. The third one, actually marked as "Intermezzo" by Brahms, sounds like the Scherzo movement of a sonata, is quick in tempo. The last one, begins with series of song-like descending arpeggios, progresses into the middle section which is meandering in nature with its relentless polyrhythms that go through many modulations, creates harmonic ambiguity and uncertainty of direction.
1. Intermezzo - definitely a good starter for the set. It surprised me how short the piece is. There is not a contrasting section and the whole thing is simply two pages long. One of the prominent things that I noticed is the left arpeggios and how low they are in the register, which is a great contrast to the right hand passionate melody.
2. Intermezzo - the one everybody loves and wants to play. I have already taught it twice this year! No doubt, one of the most beautiful pieces ever written. The recording I heard, performed by Idil Biret, was too fast for my taste. Though I like everything else she does.
3. Ballade - typical Brahms: thick textures, left hand octave leaps, contrasting B section.
4. Intermezzo - interesting feature: emphasis on the second beats for the first seven measures, then emphasis on the first beats for four. It plays tricks with listeners' ears.
5. Romanze - lullaby in 6/4. In the beginning, we feel the music in 3. By measure 8, we feel it in 2 because of how it is grouped (three sets of two-note slurs).
6. Intermezzo - this huntingly beautiful piece seems to be narrative in nature: a story of something sad and tragic that has happened. The opening has a recitative quality that meanders, which is created partly through harmonic ambiguity. In the middle section, things lighten up a bit: major key, quicker rhythmic motion, staccatos, more light-hearted in general. Brahms then seamlessly take us back to deep grieving and solemn. This is perhaps my favorite piece out of the entire set. It is very different sounding from the rest of the set. It is music that speaks to the soul.