CELLO SONATA NO. 1 in E MINOR, OP.
Recording: Yo-Yo Ma, cello and Emanuel Ax, piano [RCA Red Seal
Dedicated to Dr. Josef Gänsbacher.
considered a violin sonata in A minor for inclusion among his
earliest publications, but the piece was rejected and
destroyed. This cello sonata is the earliest published
work for solo instrument and piano, and the only example from
the period of first maturity, which is rich in other chamber
music genres. Brahms appreciated the cello’s qualities
as a melodic voice, and had given it the opening themes of the
B-major Piano Trio and the B-flat-major String Sextet.
It was composed for and dedicated to Josef Gänsbacher, a
singing teacher and amateur cellist. It comes from the
time when Brahms was transitioning to full-time residence in
Vienna. The sonata is known for its generally somber
character and consciously archaic elements. Brahms, like
Beethoven, emphasized the equality of the two instruments by
publishing it as “Sonata for Piano with Violoncello.” He
had originally written a slow movement, but rejected and
discarded it before publication, settling on the unusual
three-movement design with the scherzo-type movement (in this
case a minuet) in the middle. The most original movement
is the finale, much of which can properly be described as a
fugue, but which has a non-fugal second theme and certain
elements of sonata form. The main fugue theme, or
“subject,” is explicitly related to that of Contrapunctus 13
from Bach’s “The Art of Fugue.” There also seems to be
some homage to Beethoven, who wrote a fugue as the finale for
his late D-major cello sonata, Op. 102, No. 2. The
middle movement also has a retrospective character. In
addition to the minuet dance rhythms from an earlier era, the
movement contains austere modal elements reminiscent of
Renaissance harmony. The central trio section is more
“romantic” in character, and skillfully uses the minuet’s
opening gesture as a departure. The more expansive
opening movement relies heavily on the cello’s low register,
especially in the very broad opening theme. This theme
also has a certain affinity to Bach’s “The Art of Fugue,” in
this case the inverted form of that work’s main subject as
seen in Contrapunctus 3 and 4, but this connection is more
tenuous than that of the fugal finale. The extensive
second group closes with a striking lullaby. The
exposition repeat is less effective than usual in Brahms
because of the somewhat literal recapitulation. The
major-key ending provides respite from the sonata’s severe
overall mood. After it was rejected by the publisher to
whom it was first offered, Brahms sold the sonata to a second
firm, stating that the piece was “certainly not difficult to
play” for either instrument. This is surely one of the
most disingenuous statements ever made by a major composer
about his own work. The piano part is thick and active
throughout, becoming downright treacherous in the finale’s
main fugue sections, and a wide range of cello technique is
SCORE FROM IMSLP (First Edition from Brahms-Institut
SCORE FROM IMSLP (Later Issue of First Edition with
SCORE FROM IMSLP (from Breitkopf & Härtel Sämtliche Werke)
1st Movement: Allegro non troppo (Sonata-Allegro
form). E MINOR, 4/4 time.
0:00 [m. 1]--Theme 1, Part 1. The cello begins
in its lowest range and presents the expressive, melancholy
melody, which starts on its low E. The piano
accompanies with simple chords on the weak beats. It
rises with a prominent dotted rhythm (long-short) and then
moves to a characteristic turn figure. Rising higher,
the cello melody turns toward the harmony of the “dominant”
key, B major. After two wide downward leaps of an
octave and a ninth, it reaches a cadence on B. The
piano continues its chords on weak beats.
0:25 [m. 9]--Theme 1, Part 2. The cello line,
now marked dolce, moves to the higher register in a
continuation of the melody. The dotted rhythm is still
prominent. The piano continues to play chords on the
weak second and fourth beats of the measure, defining the
harmony. At first, the key seems to veer toward the
“relative” major key, G major. After a slow triplet
rhythm, the cello soars even higher and the harmony moves
back to E minor as the volume builds. As the cello
reaches its highest note, the piano finally breaks its
steady chords, rolling and holding a dissonant “diminished
seventh.” The cello, exposed, winds and settles back
down, leading to the next phrase.
0:53 [m. 21]--Theme 1, Part 3. The piano takes
the opening melody, doubling it in high octaves between the
hands with some harmonic decoration. Meanwhile, the
cello continues its downward line, utilizing some broad
triplet rhythms and working back to its original low
register. After the turn figure, the piano’s upward
line suddenly builds, making a harmonic move toward C
major. The cello follows with its own upward line,
culminating in a large leap and further moving the harmony
toward F. Another such exchange follows on F with the
piano lower and the cello higher. The piano settles
into rising arpeggios doubled in octaves and moving back to
E minor. The cello returns to its low register and
reaches a close in E minor.
1:18 [m. 33]--Transition. The piano holds its
cadence chord while the cello moves up to the note G.
This note is used to pivot to C major, and the piano
confirms the motion. On C, the cello begins to
elaborate dreamily on the main melody. The piano
breaks into rippling high triplet figures in the right hand
and colorful chords, also in the treble range, in the
left. The harmony and melody are both very chromatic,
and the inflections toward the minor key are strong enough
that it is really a C major/minor mix. After four
bars, the cello moves to octave leaps, the minor-key
inflections disappear, and a weak cadence is reached.
1:38 [m. 42]--The piano left hand moves to the bass
and establishes a “pedal point” on C, leaping down the
octave. The triplet rhythms move to the right hand and
are all downward. The key wavers between C and F
major. At the same time, the cello begins a sequence
based on a motion down a step, a repeated note, and a motion
up a step. The first two times, the pattern, building
in volume, leads to a held note and a yearning downward
motion. This echoes the last cadence hidden in the
piano triplets. After four bars, the held notes are
omitted and the simple arch pattern prevails. At that
point, the hands of the piano reverse roles. The right
hand takes the “pedal point” octaves in the high range while
the triplets, now rising, move to the bass.
1:54 [m. 50]--At the end of the last passage, both
instruments introduced chromatic notes suggesting C or F
minor. But the piano bass touched on the foreign note
F-sharp, which now becomes the new “pedal point.” It
moves back to the bass, and the triplets go back to the high
treble, again descending. The cello continues to surge
forward on the same pattern. After four bars, the
pattern halts with a sharp chord. Both hands of the
piano and the cello begin to outline a chord on F-sharp in
rising arpeggios, but descending notes in the cello, then
the piano, reveal this harmony as the preparatory “dominant”
of B minor, the key of Theme 2.
2:09 [m. 58]--Theme 2. It begins with a canon
between the cello and the piano right hand. The cello
leads, beginning with an upbeat and repeatedly outlining the
chord of the new key (B minor). The piano follows in
imitation. The line is harmonized using the notes of
the chord. The left hand also uses these notes in
downward arpeggios. The canon continues until the
cello breaks free with a more passionate melody. At
first, the piano accompaniment retains the rhythm and
syncopation of the canon, but then supports the cello
melody. After an expressive turn, the cello works to a
cadence on F-sharp (the “dominant” of B minor).
2:26 [m. 66]--The piano right hand, in the middle
range, returns to B minor and starts to outline the chord
again. The volume is suddenly hushed. The left
hand follows, but not in canon. Instead, it begins a
low murmur with stepwise motion. The right hand
continues to outline the chord. After three bars, the
cello enters and joins the piano bass on the low
murmur. The piano then begins a more subdued version
of the passionate melody. The cello works downward,
playing in counterpoint. The piano begins to play in
octaves, and its melody stalls, then trails down to a
halting cadence with a descending fifth. The last
cadence motion is repeated an octave higher, and the cello
follows it a beat later in another brief canon.
3:00 [m. 79]--Closing theme. With an
atmospheric change to B major, the piano right hand begins a
gentle, almost lullaby-like melody. Meanwhile, the
cello and the piano bass continue to play the descending
fifth, the piano bass beginning on the upbeat and the cello
following on the downbeat.
3:10 [m. 83]--After four bars of the lullaby melody,
the cello takes it over and the piano right hand briefly
continues the imitation of the bass, which moves away from
the fifth and reaches an octave. This imitation only
continues for two measures, and then the right hand
harmonizes the cello, leaving the piano bass alone on the
octave. The cello statement is much more chromatic,
but remains in major. At its cadence, the piano bass
returns to the fifth, and the melody reaches a full close,
the piano right hand moving above the cello.
3:24 [m. 88]--Transition. The cello drops out,
and the piano right hand, in the tenor range, plays
descending thirds, moving to the home key of E minor.
The bass subtly shifts toward broken octaves on C and B to
help facilitate the move back. The right hand thirds
repeat their last motion, setting up the repeat.
3:32 [m. 91a (1)]--Theme 1, Part 1, as at the
beginning. The last measure of the first ending is
identical to the first measure of the movement.
3:55 [m. 9]--Theme 1, Part 2, as at 0:25.
4:22 [m. 21]--Theme 1, Part 3, as at 0:53.
4:47 [m. 33]--Transition with theme in C major/minor,
as at 1:18.
5:08 [m. 42]--Pedal point on C and buildup with
stepwise arching pattern in cello, as at 1:38.
5:24 [m. 50]--Pedal point on F-sharp, then arpeggios
leading to second theme in B minor, as at 1:54.
5:39 [m. 58]--Theme 2, beginning with canon on
B-minor chord, then passionate melody, as at 2:09.
5:56 [m. 66]--Softer murmuring motion in bass, then
motion to cadence, as at 2:26.
6:29 [m. 79]--Closing theme. Lullaby-like
melody in piano with continuing bass fifth canon, as at
6:39 [m. 83]--Chromatic cello statement of B-major
lullaby melody, as at 3:10.
6:53 [m. 88]--Transition, as at 3:24. At the
second ending (m. 90b), the piano bass makes a subtle change
by staying on the broken C octave instead of moving to
B. The right hand has the same notes, but the last
third is notated as an augmented second instead of a minor
third. These subtle changes help to make the harmonic
change to G major (and minor) instead of E minor. The
development begins in G.
7:02 [m. 91b]--The cello makes the opening gesture of
the main theme in a mixture of G major and minor, supported
by middle-range harmonies in the right hand and the
continuing broken octaves in the left. The piano right
hand moves up and echoes the gesture with chordal
harmonies. It then moves an octave higher, and altered
harmonies immediately change the key to B-flat major.
The cello takes over the bass rocking motion, with varying
wide intervals. The piano chords seem very bright
after this change to B-flat. They continue, adding a
gentle decorative turn figure in the left hand, to an
7:22 [m. 99]--The previous pattern is repeated and
varied. The piano begins with another Theme 1 gesture,
adding minor-key elements. The cello echoes it, and
the rocking motion moves to the piano bass. The same
harmonic motion also follows, from B-flat to D-flat (using
the same key relationships). This time, the cello has
the top melodic note of the chords as well as the gentle
decorative turn, the right hand adds internal motion, the
rocking motion remains in the piano bass, and the expressive
cadence arrives in D-flat.
7:41 [m. 107]--The cello establishes a “pedal point”
on D-flat, leaping up and down octaves on the note.
Meanwhile, the piano bass begins Theme 1 in that key, mixing
major and minor again. The right hand has the rocking
motion, now in close harmonies. After four measures,
the cello leaps up, taking over the Theme 1 material.
But it then leaps back down to a low F, anticipating the
next harmonic motion.
7:55 [m. 113]--With another leap up against octave
motion in the piano bass, along with steadily building
volume, the cello makes the shift to F major. At this
point, the rocking motion in the piano right hand becomes
wider and changes to full chords, some with colorful
chromatic notes. The piano bass quickly establishes
another “pedal point,” now on F, and the cello utilizes a
yearning figure from the main theme to further establish F
as the new key center. The intensity builds to a
8:06 [m. 118]--At the climax, the piano, in full
harmony with leaping bass, takes over the yearning figures
just played by the cello. The harmony freely shifts
between major and minor. The cello now begins a new
and powerful motion in wide downward leaps from a high F
down two octaves to a low F. These leaps are decorated
with grace notes, creating arpeggios. These maintain
the harmony on F, but also shift between major and minor,
following the piano. The climax is sustained until
both instruments reach an arrival point.
8:25 [m. 126]--The arrival point is a huge statement
of Theme 2 in F minor, which wins out over major. The
piano, fully harmonized, leads the initial canon in both
hands, and the cello follows in its low register. The
piano continues with the passionate melody and moves to the
expected cadence on the “dominant” (C major), with the cello
adding wide upbeat figures, including an emphatic triple
stop at the end of the phrase.
8:42 [m. 134]--Suddenly quiet, a harmonically
adventurous version of Theme 2 begins, again with the piano
leading. The piano seems to return to F, major this
time, while the cello line appears to outline C minor.
The canon is now merely rhythmic, as the notes and intervals
are different in piano and cello. The piano reaches a
descent in double thirds in both hands while the cello has
an isolated plucked note. This appears to move to G
minor. The “non-canon” version of Theme 2 begins
again, with both instruments appearing to linger on the
“dominant” harmony in C major (the expectant “seventh”
chord, now on G).
8:57 [m. 141]--Re-transition. A cadence is
averted, and the piano right hand begins a series of
descending arpeggios in triplet rhythm on colorful and
mysterious “diminished seventh” harmonies. The right
hand plays bass notes leaping up to “diminished”
chords, but the combination of these chords with the bass
notes results in more stable “dominant seventh”
chords. These move down the circle of fifths, from E
to A to D. Meanwhile, the cello plays descending
lines. The fourth bar is a repetition of the third
one, except that the piano left hand joins the cello line
instead of playing the bass note leaping to the chord.
9:06 [m. 145]--The piano bass establishes a low
“pedal point” on B, the “dominant” note that prepares for
the return of E minor, the home key. It holds a low B
then leaps up an octave on the upbeat. The right hand
plays a wide arpeggio, still in triplet rhythm and still on
a “diminished seventh,” and stays on this harmony. The
cello fills in between the piano bass motion by playing its
own plucked descending octave on the second and third beats
of the bar. After three bars, the right hand arpeggio
begins an arching motion in the treble and the cello drops
its plucked octaves.
9:14 [m. 149]--The cello plays a mysterious minor-key
version of the closing lullaby theme. The piano
continues its pattern with the pedal point and the
arpeggios, but the arpeggios change harmony with the
melody. The lullaby tune appears to begin in B minor
before changing to E minor, but it avoids a cadence.
After the first phrase, the piano right hand takes over the
melody in octaves. The triplet rhythm moves to the
left hand, but the arpeggios now tumble down the
keyboard. The low “dominant” pedal is maintained
on the downbeats. The cello adds slower lines
beginning off the beat. The melody still avoids a
9:33 [m. 157]--The melody stalls on the fourth
bar. The left hand arpeggios slow down to a straight
rhythm, and the right hand is reduced to descents in
thirds. The slower piano arpeggio turns around and
ascends up the keyboard. The cello line descends
against it, leading into the return of Theme 1 in E minor.
9:48 [m. 162]--Theme 1, Part 1. The cello
melody is as it was at the beginning and at 3:32, but the
piano right hand adds melancholy descending arpeggios
beginning after the downbeat. The left hand retains a
vestige of the former block chords.
10:09 [m. 170]--Theme 1, Part 2. The cello
melody continues as at 0:25 and 3:55 [m. 9]. The
intensity builds as before. The piano right hand
continues with the decorative descending arpeggios.
These become shorter when the cello reaches its highest
note. In the winding cello descent that follows, the
piano adds a longer descending arpeggio, extending into the
first measure where the cello had previously been
exposed. The left hand plays the dissonant “diminished
seventh” chord that had been rolled here before.
10:36 [m. 182]--Theme 1, Part 3. Here neither
instrument has changes from 0:53 and 4:22 [m. 21].
11:00 [m. 194]--Transition. A very subtle
change brings the transition where it needs to go in order
for the recapitulation to end in the home key instead of in
B. Against the held cadence chord in the piano, the
cello moves down to C instead of up to G. The piano
motion following this is higher than the cadence chord
rather than lower, but it otherwise follows the
pattern. These changes cause the key to pivot to F
major (and minor) instead of C. From that point, the
transition follows corresponding to 1:18 and 4:47 [m.
33]. Because it is higher, the right hand takes some
of the harmonic notes along with its rippling
triplets. The cello octaves, however, are actually
able to be set lower because the low notes are in
the instrument’s range.
11:21 [m. 203]--Pedal point on F and buildup with
stepwise arching pattern in cello, analogous to 1:38 and
5:08 [m. 42].
11:37 [m. 211]--Analogous to 1:54 and 5:25 [m.
50]. The pedal point is now on B (the “dominant” note
in E minor or major), and the arpeggios lead to the second
theme, now in the home key of E minor. The first
rising cello arpeggio on B is set an octave lower than in
the exposition, but then moves back up.
11:53 [m. 219]--Theme 2. Now in E minor,
analogous to 2:09 and 5:39 [m. 58]. Canon and
passionate melody, with the cello noticeably higher than in
12:10 [m. 227]--Analogous to 2:26 and 5:56 [m.
66]. The piano right hand and the cello essentially
reverse roles through this passage with the murmuring bass
motion. At the outset, the cello includes double stops
to approximate the piano harmonies. At the point where
the piano began to play in octaves in the corresponding
exposition passage, the instrument is also set in octaves
here on the material that had been played by the
cello. At the cadence motion and brief canon, the
cello and piano right hand return to their original
12:45 [m. 240]--Closing material in E major.
The key signature changes to the four sharps of E major, and
the major key remains in effect until the end of the
movement. Lullaby-like melody in piano right hand with
bass fifth canon in piano bass and cello, analogous to 3:00
and 6:29 [m. 79]. The bass in both instruments is set
lower, and the piano bass adds resonant octaves.
12:55 [m. 244]--Cello statement of lullaby melody in
E major, analogous to 3:10 and 6:39 [m. 83]. The cello
makes an octave shift upward halfway through the statement,
and the piano bass abandons the low E octave. It
settles on broken octaves on B, the “dominant” note.
13:09 [m. 249]--The transition from 3:24 and 6:53 [m.
88] is transformed into a closing phrase for the melody that
reaches a full cadence on E. This corresponds to the
beginning of the coda. In this closing phrase, the
cello continues, moving back to its middle register and
settling down with great warmth into the cadence and the
13:19 [m. 253]--At the cadence, the cello takes over
the low rocking motion on a fifth. The piano, in
full harmony, plays the opening of the main theme in a
major-key version colored by chromatic notes, including some
from the original minor-key version. It is played
first in the high register, then an octave lower, dolce.
Following this, the rocking motion, now on octaves, moves to
the piano bass. These broken octaves work upward
chromatically, supported by chromatic harmonies played by
the right hand in the tenor range. The cello,
meanwhile, echoes the thematic fragment in long notes that
expand to a larger descent over the piano motion. This
is rounded off by a yearning upward leap and a faster
descent to a cadence.
13:43 [m. 262]--In a parallel passage, the rocking
motion now moves to the piano right hand, harmonized in
thirds. It is very chromatic, and it leaps by octave
or sixth. The left hand, in octaves, plays the same
opening gesture from Theme 1, with the second statement an
octave higher rather than lower. The cello, having
paused for this, now enters. The piano bass takes over
the descent in long notes that the cello had played.
The rocking thirds in the piano right hand begin to descend
with the bass, and the cello line consists of slurred
half-steps. The original scoring returns at the end,
with the yearning leap in the cello.
14:06 [m. 271]--The yearning leap with descent leads
into an extension based on that gesture. A wide leap
up a tenth in the cello turns around to make a very long
descent, all over rocking octaves in the bass and a steady
descent, also in octaves, in the right hand. The right
hand harmonizes the cello in thirds. Finally, after a
small swell, Brahms settles back into the last two bars of
the warm cadence that preceded the coda.
14:29 [m. 279]--The final cadence arrives on a very
subdued pianissimo. The cello plays the third
of the chord, G-sharp. The piano right hand, in the
tenor range, completes the chord with the open fifth
E—G. The left hand continues the rocking octaves,
which now move down to the low E. The measure is
repeated twice for a total of three statements. On the
third and last of these, the piano bass holds the octave.
14:50--END OF MOVEMENT [281 mm.]
2nd Movement: Allegretto
quasi Menuetto (Minuet [Scherzo] and Trio). A MINOR,
0:00 [m. 1]--Part 1. The piano leads into the
minuet with a rhetorical introduction in triple octaves
beginning on an upbeat descent. The cello enters on the
next upbeat to play the actual minuet melody. It is
characterized by a long-short-short-short rhythm, lilting
upward leaps, an arching shape, and a melancholy mood.
It becomes harmonically unstable as it works up and back
down. The piano accompaniment, which is largely doubled
in octaves between the hands, with both in the high treble,
uses the rhythm of its introductory figure for its
characteristic falling short notes and repeated (or
descending) longer notes.
0:13 [m. 9]--The cello melody suddenly arrives on a
shape like the brief piano introduction figure. The
piano itself changes to block chords arriving on preparatory
“dominant” harmony. The cello repeats the introduction
figure, then leaps down an octave to twice emphasize the
“dominant” arrival. The harmonic motion here has a
“Phrygian” modal character, with half-steps moving down to the
dominant note E. The length of the whole melody is
irregular unless the introductory measure is counted,
resulting in 14 bars.
0:22 [m. 15]--Part 1, varied repeat. The
instruments reverse roles. The cello, reasserting the
A-minor key, plays the rhetorical introduction. The
piano now plays the minuet melody, adding bass support in
octaves or fifths on the downbeats and upbeats, as well as
harmonies from the previous accompaniment. The cello,
meanwhile, plays the falling lines, now extended to four short
notes landing on a longer upbeat. After five measures,
the familiar pattern of two short notes followed by two longer
notes briefly returns for two. At the same time, the
piano bass octaves stop resting on the middle beat.
0:35 [m. 23]--The return of the introduction figure
with Phrygian motion to the “dominant” remains in the
piano. The cello here simply contributes to the
supporting harmonies along with the piano bass, which is now
in active single notes. The piano right hand does not
leap down an octave while reiterating the arrival.
0:44 [m. 29]--Part 2. The piano begins the
introduction figure again in triple octaves, but changes the
note C to C-sharp, creating a brief turn to A major.
When the cello enters, it repeatedly plays the opening of the
minuet melody over the expected falling short notes and
repeated long ones in the piano, which is again mostly doubled
in octaves. The figure moves harmonically and
melodically in a sequence before an arrival on C minor.
There, the cello reaches up in a short arpeggio, then a longer
one while the piano continues its falling patterns.
0:58 [m. 38]--With the establishment of C minor as a
temporary key center, the piano begins a graceful (grazioso)
decorative melody with close harmonies over wide
arpeggios. The cello adds a descending chromatic line
leading to its own imitation of the decorative piano
melody. At that point, the piano reverses roles and
imitates the cello’s descending chromatic line. With
each instrument imitating the other, the counterpoint becomes
complex and C minor begins to mix with C major.
1:10 [m. 46]--The piano begins to build with the
melody, now beginning in C major, and the cello abandons the
imitation, turning instead to the introduction figure.
The left hand continues to anchor the harmony with wide
arpeggios. The harmony becomes active, turning away from
C. Two harmonies, G minor and a “dominant” chord on E
(preparatory to the return of the home key center, A) begin to
fight for predominance. The cello, meanwhile, plays
rising octaves. The piano melody now becomes more
urgent, with the “dominant” harmony struggling to overcome G
minor and the cello, in its low range, helping with that
effort. It finally breaks through on a trill-like motion
in piano octaves.
1:28 [m. 59]--The “rounding” typical of the minuet or
scherzo form arrives with the return of Part 1 in A
minor. The trill-like motion melts into the downbeat of
the introductory gesture, and the cello begins the original
minuet melody. The falling figures in the piano are more
embellished, with the left hand continuing the right hand
descent and the notes adding harmonies in thirds and
fourths. At the melody’s sixth and seventh bars (seventh
and eighth counting the introduction), the cello line is
changed to allow it to arrive at home on A instead of on the
“dominant.” A mild surge in volume underscores the
1:39 [m. 67]--The cello, as expected, turns to the
introductory gesture and states it twice, landing on A.
The piano accompaniment is changed, as the right hand plays
chords after the beats and is led by the left hand.
Then, in a cross rhythm, the cello further fragments the
introductory melody, extracting a two-beat unit and using it
in a downward sequence. Three statements create three
implied 2/4 measures against two notated 3/4 measures.
The off-beat right hand piano chords are highly chromatic and
descend by half-step against a rising, detached line in the
bass on the beats. The following downbeat restores
1:49 [m. 74]--The piano has a last statement of the
original introductory figure, now played with rolled chords in
the left hand and with plucked chords in the cello. To
close the minuet portion, a final cadence is added two octaves
lower in the piano with a faster repetition of the plucked
TRIO (F-sharp minor)
1:55 [m. 77]--The trio section is set in F-sharp minor,
the “relative” minor key of A major, an oblique
relation to the minuet’s A minor. Starting on the
upbeat, the last beat of m. 76, the piano has a very brief
prelude introducing its figuration that will prevail
throughout the trio section. The smooth melodic line
will be decorated with a lower note after the first half of
each beat. The melodic notes on the second half of the
beat do not have the decoration. This lower note usually
stays static for at least a full measure. Here in the
prelude, there are only two halting figures. They are
very clearly identifiable with the first four notes of the
minuet’s introductory gesture.
1:59 [m. 79]--Part 1. The introductory figure is
used to begin the flowing melodic line. The cello
doubles the piano’s top line, and the lower-note decorations
continue as introduced in the “prelude.” The left hand
has wide rising arpeggios following the rhythm of the
melody. After two melodic “waves,” each of two measures,
there is a cross-rhythm with three groups of four melodic
notes played over two measures, creating three implied 2/4
measures. The left hand arpeggios confirm this.
The music also builds at this point, and it turns to the major
key. After this, the rhythmic order is restored over
three measures that settle down. These lead smoothly
back into minor and to a restatement of the halting “prelude,”
with the left hand completing its arpeggio on the first
gesture and the cello continuing to double the top right hand
2:19 [m. 79]--Part 1 repeated.
2:39 [m. 90]--Part 2. The first section of Part 2
has a similar structure to Part 1, except that it shifts at
the outset to A major, the “relative” key to F-sharp minor,
instead of to the home major key. The cross-rhythm is
present in the expected place. The passage remains in A
major until the final “settling” measures, where it moves back
to F-sharp minor. The “prelude” figures at the end are
changed. The first one has a higher upbeat approach, and
the second one leaps to a lower downbeat after the higher
upbeat, creating a larger arc. On this second prelude
figure, the cello stops doubling and begins a wide rising
2:58 [m. 101]--The right hand piano figures now no
longer double the cello. At this point, after the
upbeat, there is another cross-rhythm with groups of four
melodic notes (confirmed by the left hand piano
arpeggios). The right hand figures become fragmented,
placing a rest on the weak “beat” of the cross-rhythm.
As before, there are three implied 2/4 measures. The
tension builds across this passage, and then the cello
restores order with a triplet figure and a cadence. The
piano figures now create a counterpoint in contrary motion to
the cello melody. After the cadence, the cello moves
back up, leading into a repetition.
3:06 [m. 105]--The passage with the cross-rhythm,
triplet figure and cadence is repeated. The cello and
piano left hand are the same, but the piano right hand has
major changes. Its motion is continuous, without the
cross-rhythm rests, and for the only time, it leaps up rather
than down to its off-beat decorations. Throughout the
trio section, it had previously jumped down to these.
This heightens the tension.
3:13 [m. 90 (last beat of m. 108a)]--Part 2
repeated. First section largely in A major, as at 2:39.
3:32 [m. 101]--Cross-rhythm, triplet figure and
cadence, as at 2:58.
3:40 [m. 105]--Repetition with changed piano right
hand, as at 3:06.
3:46 [m. 108b]--Transition to minuet reprise. In
the second ending, the piano continues after the cadence,
introducing a rippling triplet rhythm that replaces the
off-beat decorations with a smoother undulation. The
left hand continues its wide arpeggios in straight
rhythm. The cello repeats the triplet rhythm, stretching
out the cadence. After the second sequence of the
triplet rhythm, a mild syncopation leads to a full cadence on
a low F-sharp. After being held for some time, this note
descends by half-step to E, the preparatory “dominant” for the
minuet’s A-minor key. A rising piano arpeggio leads into
two slower anticipations of the first two notes from the
minuet’s distinctive introductory figure. These
seamlessly lead into the reprise.
MINUET [SCHERZO] REPRISE
4:04 [m. 1 (last beat of m. 115)]--Part 1.
Opening melody with piano introduction beginning on the
upbeat, as at the beginning.
4:17 [m. 9]--Motion to “dominant” with introductory
figure and “Phrygian” character, as at 0:13.
4:26 [m. 15]--Part 1, varied repeat. Piano
statement of opening melody, as at 0:22.
4:39 [m. 23]--Return of introduction figure and motion
to “dominant,” still in the piano, as at 0:35.
4:48 [m. 29]--Part 2. Motion to A major and C
minor, as at 0:44.
5:02 [m. 38]--Grazioso melody in C minor, as at
5:14 [m. 46]--Buildup, then competition between G minor
and “dominant” of A minor, as at 1:10.
5:32 [m. 59]--Return of Part 1 with more active piano
remaining in the home key, as at 1:28.
5:43 [m. 67]--Return of introductory figure in A minor,
then cross-rhythm, as at 1:39.
5:54 [m. 74]--Last statement of introductory figure
with rolled and plucked chords, then final cadence, as at
6:02--END OF MOVEMENT [115 (+76) mm.]
3rd Movement: Allegro
(Combination of Fugue with Sonata form). E MINOR, 4/4
Fugue Exposition (Theme 1, Part 1)
0:00 [m. 1]--The first of the three “voices” to present
the fugue “subject” is the piano left hand. The
“subject” begins with a call to attention in the form of a
descending octave. The right hand supports this, and
this descending octave is actually spread over four octaves of
the piano since both hands play it in octaves. After
this, the left hand takes over with the subject, which is
mostly in triplet rhythm, to the extent that the meter of much
of the movement seems to be 12/8 rather than 4/4. The
theme contains upward runs, downward leaps, and syncopated
notes. It is four bars long and ends with an arching
0:08 [m. 5]--The cello is the next “voice” to play the
subject, which it does in the expected “dominant” key of B
major (the typical placement of the second entry). At
the same time, the piano left hand continues by introducing
the first “countersubject,” a jagged figure in “straight” 4/4
rhythm. It has a descending shape, is played with
detached notes, and begins on an off-beat. The jagged
figure is played twice, then used to introduce a more
continuous jagged motion, now moving upward. The
conflict between straight and triplet rhythms helps to
differentiate the subject from the countersubject.
0:16 [m. 9]--Shifting back to the home key, the final
fugue “voice” enters, the right hand of the piano. It
plays the subject, playing the opening downward leap with
octave doubling, then continues as had the left hand.
The cello now plays the first countersubject with the jagged
figures, with some minor alterations, and the piano left hand
introduces a second countersubject. It has distinctive
rising leaps up to trills, then more octave jumps.
Continuation of Fugue (Theme 1, Part 2)
0:24 [m. 13]--In a brief “episode,” elements of the
subject and countersubject are passed between the
voices. The running triplets from the subject begin in
the left hand, then move to the right hand and the cello in
harmony, and finally are left to the right hand alone.
The leaping octaves from the countersubject material are heard
first in the right hand and cello, then in the left hand
alone, and finally in both the left hand and cello. The
key touches on the “dominant” B major again before moving back
0:29 [m. 16]--In another full statement of the subject
and both countersubjects, the piano left hand has the subject
again, in the home key as before. But it is played an
octave lower than the first statement. The first
countersubject, with the jagged lines, is in the right hand
and played in octaves, and the second countersubject, with the
leaps up to trills, is played by the cello.
0:37 [m. 20]--In another transitional “episode,” the
subject is absent, but both countersubjects are present.
The right hand plays the second one, with the leaps and
trills, in octaves. The left hand plays a line in rhythm
with this, but in contrary motion. The cello has the
first countersubject, with the jagged lines. It begins
in the “dominant” key, B major, then shifts up to C-sharp
major. Then it stalls with syncopated trills in the
piano against continuous jagged figures in the cello,
eventually reaching “dominant” harmony again. But the
cello plays a huge descending octave on the note C-natural,
disrupting the fortissimo arrival point.
0:48 [m. 26]--Both instruments are held over as the
measure begins. The piano plays doubled thirds in both
hands, an octave apart. These thirds are in triplet
rhythm and based on the fugue subject. The cello plays
descending octaves on C and B-flat. The key is a sort of
mixture of E minor and the “dominant” harmony of F major,
implied by the cello notes and B-flats in the piano
runs. The piano, still in octaves between the hands,
breaks away from the thirds and becomes more excited,
finally introducing F-natural and a brief suggestion of the
F-major key. The active cello octaves narrow to fifths,
and these, along with the ever more excited and syncopated
piano, now moving in contrary motion again, quickly move back
to E minor.
0:58 [m. 31]--The cello uses a huge arrival on E minor
to begin the subject again, but it is varied after two bars,
introducing large downward leaps and remaining in the home
key. The piano, again playing in octaves between the
hands, introduces the inversion of the subject, with
downward moving triplets. To this, harmonies are added,
and both instruments arrive at one last large, emphatic
Transition from Fugue to Second Subject Group
1:06 [m. 35]--At this point, the fugue and the
counterpoint begin to dissipate. The cello and piano
appear to reverse roles from the previous passage, with the
cello playing the downward inversion and the piano playing the
varied subject with the hands two octaves apart. After
two bars, however, both instruments seem to stall in their
motion and the volume abruptly drops to piano for the
first time in the movement. The cello plays longer descending
notes against the continuing upward triplets in the
piano. The volume quickly increases again over this
1:14 [m. 39]--The cello now plays very wide leaps down
and up in long half notes. The piano triplets continue,
introducing chromatic notes and then arpeggios that alternate
with the prevalent stepwise motion. The piano bass
arrives on the note C, changing to broken octaves in a
straight rhythm while the right hand continues in triplets
under a broad descending cello line. The right hand
triplets, along with the bass C (the important “seventh” of
the chord), form the “dominant” harmony in G major, where the
second subject material will be set. G major is the
“relative” major key to the home key of E minor. The
volume again rapidly diminishes here.
1:24 [m. 44]--As the piano bass continues in broken
octaves on C, the right hand and the cello elaborate on the
descending inversion of the fugue subject, with the cello
leading the right hand in a very close imitation. It is
actually a canon at the distance of a ninth (expanded
second). In the context of a fugue, this close imitation
is called stretto. After a couple of bars, the
piano right hand and the cello exchange roles, and the cello
follows, but the distance of imitation remains a ninth.
The piano bass octaves in straight rhythm continue, moving
narrowly away from C with the implied harmony of the
canon. The volume builds again before the imitation
breaks and the right hand emerges into a trill. Both the
cello and right hand then slow down and become quiet, leading
into the second subject group. The piano bass octaves
have reached D, the “dominant” note in G major.
Second Subject Group--G major
1:43 [m. 53]--Both instruments are marked tranquillo.
The cello starts with wide, undulating triplet
arpeggios. The piano left hand plays fragments derived
from the first countersubject, indicating that the fugue
elements are not entirely absent. When the right hand
enters, it is also with triplet arpeggios, the highest notes
forming a hidden melodic line. After two bars, the cello
breaks into a passionate descending melody in straight rhythm,
the piano right hand works downward, still in triplets, and
the left hand moves down to low broken octaves in straight
rhythm. The cello melody twice stalls on the second beat
of a repeated measure that makes a brief turn to B
minor. When it resumes its descent, the right hand
harmonizes it with another line embedded within the triplets.
1:57 [m. 59]--The cello resumes a more static
oscillating motion in triplets. The countersubject
fragments are played by the piano in B minor, first in the
right hand in octaves, with the left hand following in an
inversion of the fragments. Jerking back to G major, the
cello then plays a jaunty version of the formerly passionate
descending melody, using a clipped long-short rhythm.
Under this, the piano has left hand octaves followed by
off-beat right hand chords. The jaunty long-short rhythm
then passes to the piano right hand, which includes rolled
chords, and the cello plays the original longer lines.
2:10 [m. 65]--The melody, now carried by the piano with
cello harmonies, again stalls on the second beat of the
measure and appears to move to B minor. But the material
is now greatly extended, and the B-minor motion is averted by
notes re-establishing G major. After the fourth measure,
a stronger syncopation crossing the bar line is added.
Then the melody obtains a new closing phrase. The piano
carries the first statement as the cello continues to
harmonize, then the cello takes the lead. The phrase is
extended and broken up, and the piano adds close chromatic
harmonies in its motion. Another passage of light
syncopation leads into the final cadence on G major, which
coincides with the arrival of the development.
2:37 [m. 76]--Starting in G, where the exposition
ended, the movement returns to material from the fugue.
The mood is quiet but agitated. The cello and piano
right hand play the ascending triplets from the subject, with
the cello leading and the right hand following. In the
piano bass are reiterations of the descending octave that
opened the subject. The harmony is unstable, and as the
cello moves to longer notes, it moves down a step, to F-sharp
major. There, the two hands of the piano play in
imitation on the ascending triplets with the left hand
leading. The cello now has the descending octave.
The harmony remains unstable.
2:50 [m. 83]--The hands of the piano come together,
playing two octaves plus a third apart, continuing with the
ascending triplet patterns. The cello continues to play
octave leaps, but now they ascend. The volume, which has
been steadily building, reaches a forte level as the
harmony and the key make a strong motion to C minor. The
right hand leaps down so that the hands are an octave
apart. The cello plays strong, detached rising thirds in
straight rhythm, always playing the first and third notes of
the piano triplets heard against it. Both instruments
work up, then back down, moving to a powerful arrival point.
3:04 [m. 91]--The cello briefly drops out, and the two
hands of the piano play another canon at the ninth (or stretto),
inverting the direction of the triplets from the fugue
subject. It begins in C minor. The left hand leads
the right, and the octave leaps, now ascending, are reinforced
with doubling in both hands. In the third measure, the
right hand compresses the imitation so that it comes at a
closer distance. As the canon breaks, there is another
arrival in another key, this time D major.
3:11 [m. 95]--In the new key of D major, the volume
suddenly becomes muted. New material is now used, and it
comes from the second countersubject, with the rising
leaps. The cello leads the piano, the hands of which are
doubled an octave apart, both playing in harmonies of thirds
and sixths. The cello attempts to continue with this new
material, but the piano, still in octave doubling,
reintroduces the triplet rhythm, passing arching figures
between the two voices of each hand. The key makes
another shift, this time to B minor/major, the “dominant” of
the home key, E minor.
3:20 [m. 99]--The two hands of the piano begin another
stretto canon at the ninth similar to the one at 3:04 [m. 91],
but it quickly breaks after two measures. The cello then
enters with the inverted triplets from the fugue
subject. The hands of the piano come together, two
octaves plus a third apart, following the cello, which leads
in yet another stretto. At this point, the key
has briefly moved back home to E minor, but after four more
measures, it is diverted away again. The mood is now
3:30 [m. 105]--Beginning in C-sharp/D-flat major (it is
notated differently in the cello and piano), the cello again
leads the piano in the material from the second
countersubject, similar to the passage at 3:11 [m. 95].
The music is again subdued. The hands of the piano are
again doubled an octave apart, and again play in thirds and
sixths. The harmony is very unstable, moving down from
C-sharp to C and then to B, which is again tentatively
established as a preparatory “dominant.” The cello
continues to lead the piano until both instruments stall and
reach an intense climax with repeated leaps and syncopation,
still over unstable harmony. The piano right hand,
richly harmonized, moves together with the cello ahead of the
left, which plays octave leaps.
3:53 [m. 115]--Re-transition. The piano bass
reaches B, which now clearly seems to function as a
preparatory “dominant.” It plays repeated broken octaves
on that note. The right hand and the cello, with the
former leading, continue to play the inverted downward
triplets from the fugue subject in stretto. The
key has actually reached E minor, with the bass B preparing
for a cadence there. After four measures, the broken
octaves on B unexpectedly move to the right hand in a very
high register, and the left hand plays the descending triplets
in the tenor range, leading the cello, while continuing to
reiterate a pedal point B in the bass. After two
measures, and quite unexpectedly, notes from the key of B
major are introduced, and the harmony actually shifts
there. The preparatory “dominant” has artfully become
the home key.
Second Subject Group--B major
4:08 [m. 123]--Things are “inverted” at the beginning
of the recapitulation. Instead of beginning in the home
key, it begins in the “dominant” key. It also begins
with the second subject, appearing in the dominant instead of
the “relative” major key. The second subject group is
greatly abbreviated. The opening figures from the first
countersubject are omitted, and the cello begins with the
passionate descending melody, now more subdued. The
piano accompanies with a pattern of off-beat chords in the
right hand following a rising line in the left, marked dolce.
After two measures, the right hand takes over the melody, but
contrasts with the cello by using the “jaunty” long-short
rhythm and lightly rolled chords. The cello plays a
soaring line in harmony with the piano melody, continuing in
smooth long notes.
4:16 [m. 127]--The melody “stalls” as expected and
follows the pattern heard at 2:10 [m. 65], but it is cut off
after five measures, and the closing phrase is omitted.
The cello line is slightly embellished from the former
Reprise of Fugue Exposition (Theme 1, Part 1)
4:28 [m. 132]--Brahms’s art in using the second subject
in B major to lead into the reprise of the fugue is now made
apparent. The first statement of the subject is omitted,
and the reprise begins with the second entry, which was in
fact on B major. This makes the transition out of the
second subject smooth. The pattern from 0:08 [m. 5] is
followed, but the instruments are reversed. The piano
left hand plays the subject while the cello plays the first
countersubject. Brahms indicates a slightly softer
volume than the beginning.
4:36 [m. 136]--With this entry, the instruments are
returned to their original orientation, and it is an exact
reprise of 0:16 [m. 9], with the subject in the piano right
hand, the first countersubject in the cello, and the second
countersubject in the piano left hand.
Continuation of Fugue (Theme 1, Part 2)
4:44 [m. 140]--Exact restatement of episode from 0:24
4:49 [m. 143]--Statement of subject and both
countersubjects, as at 0:29 [m. 16]. The full forte
has now been reached.
4:57 [m. 147]--Transitional episode, as at 0:37 [m.
5:09 [m. 153]--Passage in double thirds based on fugue
subject, as at 0:48 [m. 26].
5:19 [m. 158]--Climactic arrival point and introduction
of fugue subject inversion, as at 0:58 [m. 31].
Transition to Coda
5:26 [m. 162]--This first passage of the transition is
identical to that at 1:06 [m. 35], with the instrumental role
reversal from the previous passage.
5:34 [m. 166]--The first two measures here are the same
as at 1:14 [m. 39]. In the third measure, while the huge
upward cello leap is on the same notes, the piano notes are
very subtly changed. Many notes are shifted up a
half-step, and the bass prematurely moves to straight-rhythm
broken octaves. The fourth measure, while still similar,
makes a more drastic shift in its second half. The cello
and piano right hand leap a third higher, and the bass
descends a third lower, to A-sharp. In the fifth
measure, the cello has the broad descending line as expected,
and the piano bass has moved again to the straight broken
octaves, but the cello line is higher and the harmony of the
piano arpeggios and bass forms an unstable “diminished
5:45 [m. 171]--At this point in the previous
transition, the inversion of the fugue subject and the canon
at the ninth had been introduced. These were used
heavily in the development section, and are avoided
here. Instead, the music continues in the same vein,
with triplet arpeggios in the piano right hand and broken
octaves in the left. The cello is reduced to isolated
rising leaps. The piano bass moves up from A-sharp to B,
which again functions as the “dominant” in the home key.
The subtle alterations have allowed the music to remain in E
minor instead of changing to G major. The passage now
functions as a dissipation, settling down in both speed and
volume in preparation for the faster coda, remaining on the
5:55 [m. 175]--The volume is quiet, but the faster
speed creates a suddenly agitated mood. The cello plays
the ascending triplets of the fugue subject while the piano
introduces clipped cadence-style chords, with shorter ones
moving to longer ones. After two measures, the ascending
triplets move to the piano bass, the cello changes to wailing
descents, and the piano right hand supports these with its
chords. More chromatic notes and harmonies are
introduced, including borrowings from the major key.
6:01 [m. 179]--With a cadence, the triplets move again,
now to the piano right hand. The cello has brief
descents while the piano bass has the short-long cadence
figures, now in octaves. After two measures, the volume
rapidly builds. The cello line becomes passionate,
arching up and down. The triplets move again to the
piano bass, and the right hand harmonies support the
cello. After two more measures, the piano bass changes
to broken octaves, but remains in the triplet rhythm, leaping
down and back up. The harmonies in the right hand follow
behind the arching cello line. The excitement rapidly
6:11 [m. 185]--The cello stalls on longer notes, again
making wide leaps. The triplet octaves in the left hand
leap up, then move back down. The right hand harmonies
surge upward. As the right hand moves to a very high
register, the chords become syncopated. In contrast, the
left hand triplet octaves are now very low. They are on
the unstable “leading tone,” D-sharp. The increased
tension begs for release.
6:18 [m. 189]--The huge arrival on the E-minor harmony
begins the rush to the finish. The piano right hand,
still very high, moves back to the ascending triplets,
supporting their first notes with a lower harmony of a
sixth. The cello has rising, detached thirds in straight
rhythm that shadow the piano triplets, a similar motion to
that heard before 3:04 [m. 91]. The piano bass remains
on low broken octaves, but changes to rising octaves in
straight rhythm. The right hand and cello feverishly
work down while the bass steadily rises.
6:24 [m. 193]--The triplets shift to the cello, and the
piano comes together on the cadence-rhythm chords, the left
hand leaping up in octaves on the “dominant” note B.
After two measures, the triplets move back to the piano, now
in both hands with a strong octave doubling, and the cello
changes back to the detached thirds in straight rhythm.
Both instruments forcefully move downward, breaking only for
the final cadence, where both instruments play full
chords. Unlike the first movement, the finale ends in a
stark, unapologetic, and even tragic E minor, avoiding any
hints of a final change to the major key.
6:43--END OF MOVEMENT [198 mm.]
END OF SONATA