Analysis of Brahms’ Intermezzo in A Major (Op. 118 No. 2)

Analysis of Brahms’ Intermezzo in A Major (Op. 118 No. 2)

This is my analysis paper on Brahms’ Intermezzo in A Major (Op. 118 No. 2)

Here is the Audio for this piece:
Intermezzo in A Major (Op. 118 No. 2

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Here is my harmonic (roman numeral) and form analysis: [click to view full size image]

In this analysis of Brahms’ Intermezzo in A Major (Op. 118 No. 2), I will be going over extended form, motivic, phrasing, sectional/harmonic relations, and how they are developed over the course of this piece. Looking at the piece from a broad perspective on form it’s clearly ternary or a three-part form. Sections A is (m1-48), section B, (m49-76) and section A’, (m76-116). Both the A and B section of the piece contain their own thematic and motivic elements, but most importantly they contain their own internal forms. B is shorter in length although when looking at the background form you will notice that it has it’s own ternary form.

B Section internal form:

a – (m49) a’ – (m53) b – (m57) b’ – (m61) a – (m65)

Also, more in depth of the background form, section B is an expansion of the line from Section A. Here is the background form of the entire piece:

Looking at this we can also expect to see internal forms in section A as well. Section A contains a two-part or binary form with a coda.

A Section Internal Form:

a – b – coda
a – (m1-16) b – (m16-38) coda – (m. 38-48)

Part “a” is the introduction or exposition of the theme which leads into a perfect authentic cadence into the key of E major. At measures (m9-16) it becomes apparent that Brahms used the same material from the beginning and further develops this theme making it clear that this will be the motivic material that will be developed throughout the rest of the piece. This functions similarly to an Exposition that is repeated before a developmental section in a sonata. Repetitious passages like this help to continue growth and development of material not only in this specific passage but generally speaking as well. Beginning at part “b” (m16) E is held out and prolonged right up until (m29) you can see the extensive use of the dominant pedals in this section. The coda (m38-48) is a variation of (m17-23) in the key of A instead of E. It recapitulates elements from (m17-23) and contributes to the development and the expansion of the form. Here is an illustration of Section A; Expanded:

Illustration of Section B (m49-56)

Section B (m49) begins in the key of the relative minor; f# minor. The perfect authentic cadence at (m64) brings us to the parallel major. The key is now F# major instead of f# minor and the line descends only to c# (f#, e#, d#, c#) in order to stay true to the canonic method.

Transition back to A’ (m74-76)

(m74-76) is transitional material to bring us back to section A’ that moves from VI to V to I.  The illustration demonstrates how there is an interruption that happens descending from Mi.  Brahms doesn’t bring us back to do, but he interrupts it by the bringing back the ascending motions of the opening measures of the piece.

Brahms’ has some interesting phrasing between each of the sections. The material up until (m24), the music is divided into four-bar phrases, but then in the next couple of measures starting at (m25) the phrases seem to last for six measures instead of four. The chromaticism in this phrase prolongs and delays it for an extra two measures. Looking further at (m43-48) there is yet another six-bar phrase that prolongs the final cadence. These last two measures of this phrase can be known otherwise as a “suffix” This is more philosophically related to the ideals of “musical sentence” (see below)

Musical sentenceIn western musical theory, the term sentence is used in connection with musical spans towards the lower end of the durational scale; i.e. melodic or thematic entities well below the level of ‘movement’ or ‘section’, but above the level of ‘motif’ or ‘phrase’.

Also, with the change in phrasing you could also expect a shift in meter. At (m16-18) the accent is displaced to the third beat. Even though the meter is in triple time, the strong – weak – weak pattern that is commonly associated with 3/4 time is displaced by two beats. See illustration below:

m16 – m18 (strong beats are indicated in bold)

| 1 2 3 | 1 2 3 | 1 2 3 |

Brahms also brings us the use of canon as well as more meter shifting. In measures (m57-64) we have canonic material where phrasing is metrically displaced again but is now aurally heard in 4/4 time. See illustration below:


For motivic material, we can find the three motives in the first three measures of the piece that Brahms will use throughout the piece to further develop them.

Here is a broken-down illustration of the three motives:

Looking back at (m1) above you can see that Brahms immediately re-works M1 in the same measure it was initially introduced. In the next couple of bars up until (m12) there is more chromatic movement in the inner and outer-voices that surround this motive.

Here is M1 expanded:

M1 continues to appear further developed and more specifically in (m31-38) in the bass. It does happen to have the same pitches as it was first introduced, but now it is functioning harmonically as the sub-dominant or IV. M1 happens during a tonic pedal starting at (m30) where you can see this same passage used in the bass repetitively. Moving on in (m34) you can hear the same motif in a much higher register, but inverted as well. Looking at the “coda” (m38) there is a reoccurrence of the other motives in this section that also ends with M1 in a different voice at the cadence.

In the B section the contrast in texture is apparent through the difference in mode. Changing from Major to the relative minor. It becomes clear that the B section contains more diatonicism in the harmony than the A section. Exceptions would include (m61-64) using inner-voice chromaticism. Much of the development of motive, phrasing and meter occur in the B section. M1, M2, M3 are further developed as well with ornamental embellishments of the motives (m49-52) This idea is also present with motives being expanded through voice exchanges. (m73-74) The motives cross between the inner-voice to the outer-voices also consider the arrpagiated passages and ornamental figures that Brahms adds to the motives.

At the rate of the expansion and development of the piece, you could easily expect this to continue in the next and final section. A’ starts similarly first A section, but right away (m78) the texture music changes slightly. When the piece leaps up to the high a, it continues to stay there and goes down, instead of going an octave below and ascending like in (m2) Reversing the direction, with a shortened reoccurrence of part “a” is shortened by 8 measures brings the piece towards part “b” and the A Major coda. Which happens just as it did in the first A Section.

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