Brahms Sarabande Analysis

A Tonal, Harmonic, Motivic, and Formal Analysis

copyright © 2002 by Larry J Solomon

This short piece is an early work for piano by Brahms, and it is tonally abnormal. The title, apparently assigned by the composer, was "Sarabande in A Minor", but, even though it carries the signature for A minor, only the first part of the second half is analyzed here in A minor. This is due to the fact that the Sarabande starts clearly with the major key and has no hint of minor until measure 5. Although A is the tonal center, curiously the music ends with an A major chord as a half cadence in D major!

See: Formal Symbols and Nonharmonic tones
See: Chord Symbols

Formally, the Sarabande is very conventional, a Simple Symmetric Binary where each part is repeated, total: 16 + 16 = 32. The sections are eight measures apiece, each of which is composed of two 4-measure phrases. There is an agogic pause on the second beats of most measures, typical of a Sarabande. Nothing unusual here.

Harmonically, there are some interesting features. In the first part, Brahms uses viio7 instead of V and doesn't sound a V until the cadence in measure 8. The harmonies alternate between I and viio7. Measure 4 contains a VII borrowed from the minor, or measures 4-8 could be analyzed in A minor, with the use of a borrowed IV. Measures 9-13 are in A minor. This section uses a bVII, a Neapolitan-sixth (N6) and a secondary dominant, but is otherwise diatonic.

Four motives are used with various transformations: inversion, retrograde, and retrograde-inveresion, as well as interval expansion (<) and contraction (>). Motive 4 is used only in the second part.

Various nonharmonic notes are used, which are circled and labeled (except passing tones which are only circled). Although this a piano piece, it is written in four or five parts as if for voices, and indeed, it could be sung.

Brahms Sarabande

Music Analysis Program Sheet                         analysis by L Solomon, 2005

Full title of composition: Sarabande (A slow dance in simple triple with agogic accent on second beat and cadencing on third beat; binary form with regular four-bar phrases)
Composer's full name and dates: Johannes Brahms – 1833-1897
Date composed: c.1855
Historical Period: Romantic
Composer's nationality: German

1. dynamics notated, graduated, independent of texture
2. tempi slow; L =68
3. meter simple triple, constant, not pronounced
4. rhythm syncopation on second beat (Sarabande rhythm), pattern repeated, values from to and triplet
5. texture homophonic, constant, multi-voiced, voices paired in parallel thirds
6. medium/idioms piano, not idiomatic
7. timbre piano only, no timbre exploration, vocal model emulation
8. thematic structure mostly diatonic, mixed parallel major/minor modes, smooth voice leading; one-measure phrases accrued in binary units as two-,and four-measure units
9. thematic development use of variation and some repetition; inversion, retrogrades, and RI used, with interval expansion and contraction.
10. melodic/rhythmic cadences formulated in four-bar cadences
11. harmony tertian trichords and sevenths; secondary dominants and borrowed chords, one Neapolitan-sixth (m11)
12. harmonic cadences Cadences on weak third beats. Half-cadence in m8 and at end in m16 (unusual). Unusual cadences in m4 (bVII I) on weak beat, m8 V on weak beat, m13 (VI i) at the end of 5-measure extended sentence
13. harmonic motion secondary chords and unusual progressions from bVII to I
14. tonality A major/minor
15. pitch range D2-G5, 3.5 octave medium range
16. Form Simple symmetric binary with repeats: I to V (m1-8) and i to V (m9-16)
17. Text and Music no text