Friday, June 17, 2011

Brahms and the Joy of Noticing; Op. 117 No. 2

It can be a revelation to turn off auto-pilot. The most familiar and common journeys, places we go everyday, are colorful. Brahms filled the intermezzo Op. 117 No. 2 with that particular joy of noticing.

The guideposts speak of familiar ways. It is music in B-flat minor in two parallel strophes that finds its way to D-flat major just as it should. Ordinary, perhaps. But this ordinary journey is marked by heightened observation, brought out poetically in this recording:

The opening gesture consists of two falling ripple-figures in the right-hand answered by a rising figure played by the left-hand which darts into position then darts back to play the bass. The chords oscillate in first inversion and then suddenly enter the cycle of fifths in rich jazz-like sonorities. The dominant is reached [0:26] but is immediately deflected toward a half-diminished seventh. Every element speaks of the successive inspiration of noticing.

A parallel phrase begins and follows the same script, until it deflects the music into D-flat major. The two phrases in D-flat [1:25]are a sanctuary, with gestures that speak of welcoming. It becomes dance.

We are torn away from the solitude of dancing by a developmental section [2:28]. The development is about reflections between the hands.
We travel back again at [3:20]. Again we hear things differently. The parallel phrase [3:51] follows the same script but now deflects the music toward B-flat major.

The two phrases in B-flat major [4:28] are less a sanctuary; they speak of sadness in the major. The music stills by seeking, but not finding dance. It is nothing ordinary.

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