Brahms: Intermezzo Op. 117 No. 1
“Sleep softly, my child, sleep softly and well!
It breaks my heart to see you weep.”
These lines are from “Lady Anne Bothwell’s Lament” and appear at the beginning of Brahms’ score. The entire “Lament” is from the perspective of a mother singing a lullaby to her child, but as the poem gets darker we soon discover that the child’s father has abandoned them.
To me, the opening of the piece sounds like Fantine singing a lullaby to her beloved daughter, Cosette. But when the music turns darker in the middle, we hear her pain at the father’s desertion and the trouble she has been through as a result. She lives in poverty, sells her teeth, sells her hair, and finally resorts to prostitution to pay for the child she doesn’t even have the luxury of loving in person.
When the lullaby returns at the end, I hear Fantine at the end of her life. The lullaby sounds more peaceful and pure this time, but it is only because Cosette is a hallucination. The final, brief surge before the music fades out is either Fantine’s last breath before dying or her last desperate effort to call out to the imaginary child before the end of the piece when she closes her eyes forever.
Can you hear the music relating to Les Mis in a different way or to a different book altogether? Let me know in the comments!
If you enjoyed this post, you can find more Classical Music Stories here, including music for Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, and Alice in Wonderland.
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