Progress Report 2: Brahms

[Updated to correct an error pointed out by my smart brother.]

Here I talked about my resolution to learn Brahms’s Intermezzo in E-flat Major. I’m hard at work! Technically, it’s not especially hard. The sheet music I’m using for the piece grades the difficulty of pieces from 1 to 10, and this one gets a 5 — middle of the range. But, you know, my fingers aren’t what they used to be…

The piece is in standard ABA format. The middle section is in G-flat Major, which is also pretty standard. The problem is that G-flat Major on the piano has six freakin’ flats. Here’s what the beginning of the middle section looks like:

This is not hard music to play, unless you’re out of practice playing music with six flats, in which case you’re continually stumbling when you go to play a C and you realize that you should be playing a B, because the C is flatted in this key, and C flat is B. Right?

It also doesn’t help that Brahms has a pretty rich harmonic language going on here, so by the fifth measure of the middle section he’s temporarily turning those C-flats into C-naturals, and you have to remember that too.

The right thing to do is to just go ahead and memorize the piece so you’re not stuck trying to sight-read it. But, you know, that’s a lot of work. And I’ve got a novel to finish.

7 thoughts on “Progress Report 2: Brahms

  1. Hold on there, Rich. Six flats is G flat major. C flat major has seven flats. The only reason I know this is because I used to play a tune by Thelonius Monk, Round Midnight, that is in e flat minor.

    My fingers are basically ok despite a touch of arthritis. The one thing I cannot do now is memorize.


  2. Which leaves open the question of the tonal relationship between the A and B sections. Classically, it had to be a “related” key, e.g. dominant or relative minor. Bach for example always ended his A sections in the dominant and the B sections in the tonic. What is the relationship between E flat and G flat? Of course this is late Brahms, and probably the classical rules were relaxed.


    • It’s the mediant. Wikipedia sez: “Tonicization of III in major is quite rare in classical harmony, compared with, say, modulation to the V in major, but mediant tonicization in major is an important feature of late romantic music.” The intermezzo was written around 1890 — late romantic.


  3. 6 flats? Yikes! I go out of my way to avoid playing music with 4 flats, let alone 6. That’s cruel punishment inflicted on the piano player. Brahms wrote in that key to inflict pain on the piano player.


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