The Music Plays On

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Johannes Brahms with the soprano, Alice Barbi, 1892

Johannes Brahms wrote both piano pieces, the Fantasies, Op. 116 and his Three Intermezzi, Op. 117, during a short stay in the Austrian resort town of Bad Ischl in 1892. Upon completion, Brahms sent the intermezzi to his lifelong friend, Clara Schumann, who exclaimed, “in these pieces I at last feel musical life stir once again in my soul.”

All three are around five minutes in length and are suffused with melancholy, perhaps even grief. Brahms called them, “three lullabies for my sorrows,” and from the moment one opens the score it is easy to see the intent of this music. Inscribed above the first intermezzo, is Johann Gottlieb Herder’s translation of the opening lines to the 17th century Scottish song, Lady Anne Bothwell’s Lament.

Schlaf sanft mein Kind, schlaf sanft und schön! Mich dauert’s sehr, dich weinen sehn.

Baloo, my babe, lie still and sleep; It grieves me sore to see thee weep.