Brahm's Intermezzo No.3, Op.119 in C Major Analysis

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MTO 13.3: Ricci, The Progress of a Motive in Brahms's Intermezzo op. 119, no. 3

Volume 13, Number 3, September 2007 Copyright © 2007 Society for Music Theory

Adam Ricci*
The Progress of a Motive in Brahms’s Intermezzo op. 119, no. 3*

ABSTRACT: Brahms’s Intermezzo op. 119, no. 3 is structured around a motive with two components—one melodic, one harmonic—that operate sometimes separately and sometimes together. The global harmonic trajectory of the piece is embodied in the combination of these two components; local harmonic motion proceeds through an expanded LR-cycle, with periodic short cuts from one zone of the cycle to another. The A section unfolds a double-tonic complex while introducing chromatic pitch classes in a carefully planned order; the B section is densely chromatic, featuring interlocking transpositions of the harmonic component. Rhythmic transformations of the motive are also addressed, including a previously unnoted motivic connection with op. 119, no. 2. KEYWORDS: motive, Grundgestalt, Brahms, double-tonic complex, Intermezzo Received January 2007

[1] Johannes Brahms’s skill with motivic development is well known. Beginning with Arnold Schoenberg’s famous essay “Brahms the Progressive,”(1) analysts have demonstrated time and time again the masterful ways in which Brahms manipulates his motivic ideas. [2] Motivic development is especially concentrated in the late piano music op. 116 through 119, written in 1892 and 1893. About op. 118, no. 6, for instance, John Rink (1999, 97) writes that “to characterize [this piece] as a motive in search of a tonic would hardly do justice to the tremendous dramatic impulse generated by Brahms’s incessant reharmonizations of the almost ubiquitous melodic shape.” Notable about many of these pieces is the extreme economy of material: the way in which a single idea is transformed in myriad ways.(2) [3] Among the op. 119 pieces, No. 1 has received the most analytic attention.(3) Op. 119, no. 2 has also been studied at length, particularly for its re-casting of a six-pitch motto introduced in the A section in the B section.(4) The literature on Nos. 3 and 4 is relatively scant, however, quite possibly for opposite reasons: whereas No. 4 is the longest, weightiest and most complex in the set, No. 3 is, at least on the surface, the most innocuous. No. 4 is treated in a recent dissertation by Samuel Ng and a paper by Frank Samarotto;(5) the only relatively comprehensive analysis of No. 3 is in a dissertation by Camilla Cai.(6) The lighthearted mood of No. 3 masks an underlying sophistication: the piece is remarkable, not only for its economy of material, but also for its use of a doubletonic complex and its serial ordering of chromatic pitch classes, two musical procedures not usually associated with the music of Brahms.(7) That the motive is exclusively diatonic places the chromaticism into especial relief. [4] Like many of the late piano pieces (and like the first two in op. 119), the Intermezzo is in ternary form, as shown in Example 1. Section A1 is in two nearly identical parts, each of which progresses from C major to A major; the B section moves from A major back to C major; and section A2 is exclusively in C. [5] In its first appearance, the motive embodies these two keys, which in section A1 form a double-tonic complex. Before examining the double-tonic complex in more detail, we must first examine the motive itself. It consists of the melodic cell and harmonic progression given in Example 2. The melodic cell, labeled “J”, consists of the interval pattern ascending 3rd, ascending 2nd and descending 2nd. A clef is omitted from the first part of the example because J appears in different scale locations in different parts of the piece. J’s first occurrence begins on . [6] The harmonic component of the motive is dubbed “DOWN-THIRD-UP-FIFTH” after its constituent root motions. In all statements of this harmonic progression, the descending third is...
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