The last compositions Brahms wrote for piano were those published as Opus 117, 118 and 119, principally the work of 1892, when he apparently wrote a number of other piano pieces that were never published. The first group, Opus 117, consists of three Intermezzi. The first, in the key of E flat, carries as a sub-title a quotation from Herder’s translation of a Scottish folk-song:
Schlaf sanft, mein Kind, schlaf sanft und schön!
Mich dauert ’s sehr, dich weinen sehn.
Its beautiful melody, the basis of the whole piece, is concealed in an inner part. The second Intermezzo, in B flat minor, makes expressive use of an arpeggiated texture and the group ends with a C sharp minor Intermezzo where the initial theme is presented in stark and recurrent octaves.
Opus 118 bears the simpler title Klavierstücke and includes four Intermezzi, a Ballade and a Romanze. The opening Intermezzo in A minor is marked Allegro non assai, ma molto appassionato, a mood expressed in a texture of great clarity. The second Intermezzo, in A major, provides a relaxation of mood into a tender valedictory melancholy. The G minor Ballade, with a B major central section, is vigorous in its principal theme but tranquil enough in its conclusion. There follows an F minor Intermezzo, marked Allegretto un poco agitato, an instruction that epitomises the feeling of the music, which leads to the F major Romanze, with its lilting D major central section. The sixth piece is an E flat minor Intermezzo making greater technical demands in a work where the chief demands are musical.
Opus 119 contains three Intermezzi and one Rhapsody. It opens with a B minor Intermezzo that Clara Schumann found sadly sweet, an apt description. The second Intermezzo, in E minor, is less tranquil in its outer sections, which enclose a central section that breathes the feeling of the summer countryside. The third Intermezzo, in C major, is marked Grazioso e giocoso, and with happy grace allows its initial melody to emerge in an inner part. Opus 119 ends with an E flat major Rhapsody, the last of "your and my little pieces", as Brahms called them in a letter to Clara Schumann, whose pupil Ilona Eibenschütz gave their first public performance in London in 1894. The Rhapsody is forthright in its opening but contains elements of melancholy beauty at its heart and brings to an end in a firmly minor key the composer’s compositions for the piano.