The third of the three piano sonatas that Brahms wrote, the Sonata in F minor, Opus 5, was composed during 1853 and published in the following year with a dedication to Countess Ida von Hohenthal, an influential figure in Leipzig who employed the composer’s younger brother Fritz as music-teacher to her children. The impressive opening, leading to a second element of quiet intensity, is followed by a gently lyrical second subject in A flat major, while the romantic central development finds a place for a melody aptly marked quasi cello.
The second movement, marked Andante espressivo, is headed by a verse by the poet Sternau:
Der Abend dämmert, das Mondlicht scheint,
Da sind zwei Herzen in Liebe vereint
Und halten sich selig umfangen.
(Evening grows dark, the moonlight shines,
Two hearts are made one in love
Embraced in happiness.)
The first theme, repeated, is followed by a second delicate melody. There is a passionate central section before the return of the first themes and a final moving passage with marked dynamic contrasts, ending with harmonious and full arpeggiated chords.
A rapid arpeggio introduces the Scherzo with much of the waltz about it. To this the sustained chords of the Trio offer a contrast. The fourth movement Intermezzo, subtitled Rückblick (Retrospect), looks back principally at the slow movement, with an ominous accompanying drum figure. The Finale, a rondo, starts with its principal theme, in F minor, energetic enough but no violent interruption to the mood of the Intermezzo. The expressive first episode in F major is answered by a developed version of the rondo theme and a chordal episode in D flat major, the whole capped by a triumphant F major coda.
Brahms, like Chopin, wrote four Ballades. These were completed in 1854 and published two years later as Opus 10, with a dedication to the conductor and composer Julius Otto Grimm, whom Brahms had met during the time he spent in Göttingen with Joachim, after parting with Remenyi. The first Ballade is based on the Scottish ballad Edward, published in German translation in Herder’s Stimmen der Völker:
Dein Schwert, wie ist ’s von Blut so roth, Edward, Edward?
Dein Schwert, wie ist ’s von Blut so roth, und geht so traurig da?
O! Ich hab’ geschlagen meinen Geier todt, Mutter, Mutter!
Ich hab’ geschlagen meinen Geier todt, das geht mir nah’, O!
(Why dois your brand sae drap wi’ bluid, Edward, Edward?
Why dois your brand sae drap wi’ bluid? And why sae sad gang yee, O?
O, I hae killed my hauke sae guid, Mither, Mither:
O, I hae killed my hauke sae guid; And I had nae mair bot hee, O.)
By question and answer between mother and son the ballade gradually reveals that the son has murdered his father and that his mother must bear the blame, to be cursed to hell. The Herder translation was set by Schubert. Brahms takes the tale to its bitter climax.
The second Ballade, in D major, has no such overt literary origin. The expressively syncopated first section leads to a central B minor section, with its own contrasting material at its heart. The final repetition of the opening continues to explore those richer ranges of piano sonorities that were always a feature of Brahms’s writing for the instrument.
The third Ballade, in B minor, carries the title Intermezzo, a description of which Brahms later made much use. In a simple tripartite form, it frames a gentler F sharp major central section. The last of the Ballades, in B major, starts in tranquil mood, with some harmonic ambiguity. There is a central section in F sharp major, bearing the instruction Col intimissimo sentimento, ma senza troppo marcare la melodia (With the most intimate feeling, but without over-accenting the melody), the theme itself contained in a cross-rhythm texture. This provides a final epilogue to the work.