Johannes Brahms’s ‘Three Intermezzi’ Op. 117 are a reflection on his complex relationship with Clara Schumann and her children, whom he supported financially and emotionally after Clara’s husband (and Brahms’s friend) Robert was taken from them.
JOHANNES Brahms’s Three Intermezzi, composed in 1892, were inspired by the Border Ballad Lady Anne Bothwell’s Lament, in which a bitter young mother tells her uncomprehending son how his father left them, on the very day his child was born, to die in a pointless war.
Brahms himself called these pieces ‘lullabies to my sorrows’, but added, ‘lullabies of an unhappy mother or of a disconsolate bachelor’. He inscribed them with the ballad’s opening lines,
Sleep softly my child, sleep softly and well!
It hurts my heart to see you weeping.
The Intermezzi were written for professional pianist Clara Schumann, wife of Robert Schumann. Clara fell into a depression after Robert, following an attempted suicide, confined himself in an asylum in 1854, and died two years later.
Brahms, a bachelor himself, laboured to support her and her fatherless children, and to reawaken her love for music, with some success. “In these pieces” she acknowledged “I at last feel musical life stir once again in my soul.”
Intermezzo No. 1 (Op. 117) in E flat major
Ukrainian-born American pianist Valentina Lisitsa plays the first of Brahms’s ‘Three Intermezzi’, in E flat.