chapter  8
20 Pages

Three Imposters

As has already become evident, many of Brahms’s scherzo-type movements experiment with form. Yet even as bold a creation as the scherzo from the Piano Concerto, Op. 83, does not question its connection to scherzo-trio form; it simply extends the form in an exciting direction. The same is not necessarily true of the works in the present chapter. In his Second Symphony, Brahms includes a third movement with five parts that alternate between moderate and fast tempos. While this large-scale design calls to mind the tradition of minuets/scherzos with two trios, Brahms’s symphonic movement is thoroughly infused with variation technique, and viewing the movement as equally within the variation tradition provides several valuable insights. The Violin Sonata, Op. 108, has a short third movement (without a trio) that provides a welcome deflection from this sonata’s intensity. The Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115, provides a movement with an apparent three-part form, but this is a carefully crafted illusion: the third section evolves seamlessly from the end of the second part. In addition, the second section is not only very fast, but it is also a complete sonata movement. There is thus some similarity to the corresponding movement from the String Quartet, Op. 51, No. 2, but the sonata form is not as complete in the earlier work nor does it slip seamlessly back into the original material as it is coming to a close.