Of Brahms’s late collections of piano music, this is perhaps the one arranged most efficiently to work as a set.
Indeed, the introductory character and ambiguous harmony of the first piece makes it almost impossible to play on its own.
The second piece is one of Brahms’s most beloved creations, a deeply lyrical and moving nocturne.
As with all Brahms’s piano pieces from the 1890s, these masterful miniatures are full of the motivic density and complexity so typical of his later style.
The pieces were sent as a gift to Clara Schumann immediately upon their completion. Brahms biographer Jan Swafford has surmised: “he may have composed the pieces to try and keep Clara Schumann going in body and soul. Since she could only play a few minutes at a time now, and because she loved these miniatures so deeply, maybe they did keep her alive.”