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Third movement

The third movement is in a traditional ternary form (ABA). It is composed of the Allegretto and contrasting “trio” section, followed by a reprise of the Allegretto material and coda. A notable aspect of this movement is Brahms’s careful attention to symmetry.

The form could be described as: A B A’ B’ C D C’ D’ A’’–Trio–A’’’ B ’’ A’’’’ Coda

[edit] Allegretto

The A theme as stated by the clarinet.

The Allegretto is in the key of A-flat major and begins with a calm, stepwise melody in the clarinet. The four bar figure is extended to an irregular five bars through a small bridge between the phrases by the strings. The clarinet rounds off the “A” theme in the Allegretto with an inversion of the first five bars heard.

The B theme as stated by the flutes

The B theme enters in m. 11 and features a descending dotted-eighth pattern in the flute, clarinet, and bassoon with the strings echoing the rhythm in rising and falling figures. After eight measures, A’ appears with the violins iterating the first theme and a longer, chromatic bridge section that extends the phrase structure to seven bars. B’ is presented with an extension into C.

The C and D themes differ from the first two in that they are shorter and more angular rhythmically. The A and B themes feature an almost constant eighth note pizzicato in the strings, whereas C and D are more complex with an interlocking sixteenth note pattern accompanying the winds. Movement from the major mode to F minor also marks these sections as apart from preceding material. This obvious contrast in character and mood can lend one to think of the C and D sections as a sort of “trio” within the first Allegretto section in the larger ternary form displayed by the movement as a whole.[1] The symmetry within one section reflects the symmetry of the whole.

A’’ closes off the first major section with the clarinet stating the first theme, much as it did in the beginning, finishing with a transition to the trio.

 Trio

The trio theme.

The Trio offers a change of key, as well as a change of time. The key moves to B major, an enharmonic minor third away from A-flat. This key movement balances with the C and D sections in F minor, also a minor third away from the home key but in the opposite direction. The time signature changes from a stately 2/4 to a more pastoral and dance-like 6/8. The flute, oboe, and bassoon introduce a joyful melody in stepwise motion as in the A theme. The strings add a downward three-note arpeggio. These two motives make up the bulk of the trio material. Restatement and development of those themes ensue until the brass and winds join together for a final repeat of the melody. The second ending brings the orchestra back into 2/4 time and to A’’’.

 Return of the Allegretto

A major difference between A’’’ and the earlier iterations of A is the lingering effect of the trio upon the movement. The monotone call from the opening of the trio melody appears over the clarinet melody in the flute, oboe, and bassoon. The rhythmic effect of triplets also invades the pure eighth note world of the A theme, producing polyrhythms. Instead of the inversion of the theme we expect in the second phrase of A, the strings take over and offer an entirely different melody, but with essentially the same contour as the inversion. B’’ occupies a significantly larger space of the reprise than it does in the previous Allegretto. It leads through an extended transition to the last, quiet statement of A in unison by the strings. Strings of dotted eighth notes end the movement proper with ideas from the B theme.

 Coda

The entry to the coda is marked “poco a poco più tranquillo” and the movement ends with the gentle throbbing of triplets quoted from the trio section. The final few bars end somewhat abruptly with the downward arpeggio of the strings in the trio finishing on the downbeat of a new bar.

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