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In the opening portion of Brahms's "Romanze" (Op. 118, No. 5), the melody is doubled at the octave between the right and left hands, but the corresponding phrase markings are offset from each other.

Does this offset hold interpretive significance, and if so, what?

The below image from the first edition (mm. 1–3) shows one example of offset phrasing, and the Mandyczewski edition follows suit.

Brahms 118/5, mm. 1–3, first edition

Here is a stripped-down reproduction to make clear the "offset" phrasing.

Brahms 118/5, mm. 1–3, reduction

Even though the right hand and left hand voices are playing the same notes (at the octave) at the same time, the first right-hand phrase ends one note after the left hand, and similarly, the next phrase begins one note after the left hand.

The phrase shown above repeats toward the end of the piece (mm. 48–50), and in that case, the phrases align (image below).

Brahms 118/5, mm. 48–50, first edition

Emil von Sauer, in his edition, aligns the phrases both at the beginning at the end of the piece. Measures 1–3 are shown below.

Brahms 118/5, mm. 1–3, von Sauer edition

Was Brahms trying to signal something about the phrasing in mm. 1–3, or is it just a proofreading/editing error?


Images of the first and von Sauer editions come from IMSLP.

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  • 100 bonus points if you can document your answer. 1,000,000 bonus points if you can cite the autograph manuscript (I couldn't track it down and don't know if it exists).
    – Aaron
    Oct 26 '21 at 3:22
  • Brahms had a good relationship with his publisher, so, unlike for, say, Mozart, first editions are generally reliable. I would think the phrasing in the RH part is for the top voice, not the melody, but I haven't thought carefully about this piece. Oct 26 '21 at 5:57
  • @AlexanderWoo The top-voice theory is interesting. But it still leaves open the question of why the reprise is different. I found a paper suggesting that Brahms's reputation as a careful editor didn't apply to his later works, specifically including this one, so perhaps it's a mistake. I haven't had time for a careful read. Nevertheless, I'm inclined in that direction, but can't fully support it. Yet, anyway.
    – Aaron
    Oct 26 '21 at 6:31
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Was Brahms trying to signal something about the phrasing in mm. 1–3 ?

a reasonable explanation could be:

This is a piano reduction of a chamber ensemble score, the phrasing of the right hand concerns the 2 or 3 upper voices, and while the phrasing of in measure 1 are different, in bar 2 the phrasing of all voices are the same.

The difference of the beginning of the second phrase could be explained that the motif is in the left hand with an upbeat and the doubling in the right hand is only a fortification.

With some erotic fantasy:

The fact that there's any difference at the end could show that 2 different themes are joint together: a Romance of 2 lovers, e.g.

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  • 1
    Given that Brahms's Op. 118 is also known as the "Six Pieces for Piano", I find the theory that at least one of them was not originally meant for piano to be a little hard to believe.
    – Dekkadeci
    Oct 26 '21 at 12:18
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    This answer is purely speculative and demonstrates a lack of knowledge of both the piece and its history.
    – Aaron
    Oct 26 '21 at 13:37
  • Yes, Aaron, this was just meant as a joke ;) Oct 26 '21 at 20:57

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