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Journal Article

Canons and contestable cadences in Brahms's Op. 118 No. 4


Mutch,  Caleb
Research Group Histories of Music, Mind, and Body, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, Max Planck Society;

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Mutch, C. (2021). Canons and contestable cadences in Brahms's Op. 118 No. 4. Music Theory and Analysis, 8(1), 143-152. doi:10.11116/MTA.8.1.7.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0009-CF79-7
Brahms's F minor Intermezzo, Op. 118 No. 4 prominently employs the fusty compositional technique of strict canon at the octave. Yet Brahms embeds this canon in music that is anything but fusty: as I demonstrate, unexpected features abound in the textures, dissonance treatment, modulatory schemes, and motives with which Brahms girds the canon. The movement's approach to cadences is also remarkable. The presence of a continuous canon automatically precludes all voices coming to rest simultaneously, but Brahms further attenuates the piece's cadences. Most notably, in this movement Brahms avoids traditional authentic-cadence closure entirely, writing not a single cadential progression from a root-position C major chord to a root-position F chord. Instead, I argue that Brahms effects tonal closure by using the augmented sixth chord, which supplants the dominant's usual function. He does this most obviously by repeating the augmented sixth sonority in prominent positions within the ternary form's final A section. I also show that Brahms artfully foreshadows this chord's importance in the initial A section, where he successively tonicizes each member of that harmony.