When A Beloved Brahms Piece Describes Feelings That Words Can’t

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Photo: Anne-Marie McDermott
Pianist and Bravo! Vail artistic director Anne-Marie McDermott

There’s a piece by Johannes Brahms that stands out for pianist Anne-Marie McDermott.

The Opus 117 Intermezzo in B-flat minor returns her to a pivotal moment when she was a teenager, she says. The young musician was coping with her mother's death.

“I remember playing this piece for months after and sobbing when I was playing the piece,” McDermott said recently after performing it at CPR. “And in the best sense it was cathartic.”

The Brahms piece, written in 1892, also reminds McDermott -- who serves as artistic director at the Bravo! Vail music festival each summer -- that music can say things words can’t.

“These are feelings -- sadness and joy -- that are so deep inside of us that music can tap on. And words can’t,” she said. “Words can’t describe some of these feelings that we have as human beings. But music does, somehow. And Brahms certainly tapped into that.”

But it’s not necessarily a sad or sentimental piano piece. McDermott says it also resonates with her in her happiest moments. Click the audio above to hear McDermott talk about why she loves the piece and what makes music so powerful.

Check out “At The Piano With Anne-Marie McDermott,” CPR Classical’s one-hour portrait of the pianist. And explore CPR Classical’s concert calendar to see when she’ll perform next at Bravo! Vail.

Watch McDermott play music by Joseph Haydn in the CPR Performance Studio: