Last night at Sacramento State University we had a treat when the pianist Garrick Ohlsson performed an all Brahms program for us. This is my interpretation. Please remember I am far from being deeply informed on the subjects of piano repertoire and technique.
Brahms was interested in maintaining and developing the forms of the classical masters. In this category we find the piano Sonata in F-sharp Minor Op.2 (1853). This is the standard four-movement form developed by Mozart and Beethoven.
Another classical form that Brahms continued was the theme and variations, here represented by Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24 (1861).
The Romantics Chopin and Schumann were both born in 1810 and were perhaps his strongest influences. Brahms was born in 1833, a generation later. The rest of our program was filled primarily with character pieces, primarily Intermezzi (1893, 1892). The character piece, a one movement piece with no strict form, was developed by the romantics.
Are we sufficiently educated? There were no program notes, so I am trying to fill in a bit.
The biggest hit of the evening was the variations and fugue at the end. Brahms seemed to like alternating hands with a few overlapping notes to create a characteristic texture. After a rousing standing ovation, Garrick played an encore by Chopin which seemed to show this same texture. I'm glad I stayed all the way to the end.