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.

  • 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, 2021 at 3:22
  • 1
    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, 2021 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, 2021 at 6:31

3 Answers 3


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

Well, as you can see from the image posted below the urtext edtion has this difference between the opening and Tempo 1. Whether that is a typo or not we can't know.

Anyway, the urtext edition posted below is from the complete edition of all piano works by Brahms published by Kônemann Music Budapest. It appears to me that the publisher has published what is known as urtext and been careful to publish the difference as it appears.

Thus it is up to you to interprete it the way you think or like.

Besides the difference in the slurs there is also a slight difference in the dynamics.

In the opening it says "espressivo", and a bit later a crescendo sign followed by a diminuendo sign.

In Tempo 1 it says "p" followed by "espressivo" followed by a crescendo sign in the second bar. There is no diminuendo. In the fourth bar in Tempo 1 there are accentuations in the left hand above the halfnotes.

Thus there is a difference in the expression. Whether the small difference in the slurs is a typo we can't know.

Another little thing which doesn't interfere with your question is that there seem to exist a version with the tempo marking "Andante espressivo".

enter image description here


The phrasing in the Henle urtext edition mirrors that in the Mandyczewski. The 2015 revision of the Henle Klavierstücke includes a Preface and a Comment section. For Op.118, the Comments include:

Autograph of nos. 4 and 5. USA, Maryland, private collection. No title page, no head titles, undated.

(The autograph of no.1 is in the Library of Congress and nos. 2, 3, and 6 are in the Staatsbiblioteck zu Berlin.)

Your "stripped-down reproduction" isn't exactly faithful in that the note values also differ between hands: look at the ties. IMO this is an added clue that Brahms' articulation was intentional. He is sometimes quite subtle in these nuances. Note that the phrasing of the notes you highlight differs not only in the long phrases, but within some measures as well.

The phrasing differs at the Tempo I at the end; the left hand is also "thicker" with some additional notes. Again, nuances.

Urtext editors do sometimes assimilate differences when they believe there has been oversight/carelessness. However, here, personally, I would try to honor what's in an urtext edition--at least as a starting point for your interpretation.


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.

  • 2
    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, 2021 at 12:18
  • 1
    This answer is purely speculative and demonstrates a lack of knowledge of both the piece and its history.
    – Aaron
    Oct 26, 2021 at 13:37
  • Yes, Aaron, this was just meant as a joke ;) Oct 26, 2021 at 20:57

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