Thank you, on behalf of pianists, for writing that Caprice. You have no idea how much joy it has brought us over the years.
Okay, now that’s out of the way, it’s interesting to see how Brahms treats this theme. For the most part he keeps the harmonic integrity over the course of the work, but at times it gets fuzzy. Not unrecognizable, but certainly more interesting. He treats the actual theme motivically – breaking it into even smaller components and playing with them extensively, to the point that each voice will be a scalar three-note motive almost all the time. Sometimes he keeps only the harmonic shell and bits of the theme, sometimes very little from the theme at all, or just the contour. But no matter what he does, the theme is always itself and still retains its essence somehow.
The 3rd sonata is one of my favorite pieces that I never remember is my favorite until I hear it again. The first movement has a dignified grandeur that I have rarely heard elsewhere. And even though you can hear the heavy influence of Beethoven (111), it’s very much Brahms. And in it, you can hear the seeds of his later works – the dignity and the tenderness that pervade his later works. The second movement is just overflowing with love and tenderness. (I wish I could find a different word, but that’s the only one that fits.) It’s the pure joy of pure love. Easily one of the most beautiful things ever written. Third movement is feisty with a stop for reflection, but nothing too deep. A brief pause for grief in the fourth movement, intense pain. And although the similarity to Beethoven’s Tempest (2nd movement) is uncanny, the two movements are completely different. And finally, ending with a not-too-serious triumphant romp through elements of several previous themes and a good deal of counterpoint.