Bruch was over 70 when he wrote these pieces; their autumnal nature isn't surprising, given the composer's age and the fact that his form of Romanticism was being displaced by more innovative techniques. Each of these items is a character piece, although they carry no titles more descriptive than tempo indications. All but the seventh are in minor keys, and are designed to draw the mellowest sound possible from the instruments.
The set is framed by quiet pieces. No. 1 is an A minor Andante. Its tentative main theme is introduced by the piano, which then recedes to an accompanimental role while the Schumannesque melody is played in turn by the viola and clarinet. Although the piano retains a constant presence, the clarinet and viola rarely play together. More often they're like an old married couple, completing each other's thoughts.
No. 2 in B minor is a brief Allegro con moto with a quietly roiling piano undercurrent; this dark, restless piece would have been at home in any of Brahms' chamber or piano works from the 1890s.
No. 3 in C minor, Andante con moto, is the suite's most extended movement. It's a study in contrast between the rhapsodic, recitative-like material for viola and the introverted lyricism of the clarinet. Each of those instruments enjoys a very long passage to itself with piano accompaniment (actually the viola gets two), but the full ensemble comes together in the last quarter of the piece, which is dominated by the clarinet's material.
No. 4, Allegro agitato, packs a bit of D minor humor into its mere three minutes; the instruments' occasional self-mocking trills imply that the music's agitation isn't to be taken entirely seriously.
No. 5 is an F minor Andante influenced by Rumanian folk music. The viola intones a bardic theme over the piano's rolled chords, after which the clarinet presents its own yearning melody with counterpoint from the viola and chordal accompaniment in the piano. All three instruments join forces for the gloomy remainder of the movement.
No. 6, Andante con moto, is a delicate nocturne, another piece in the late style of Brahms. Although it's the clarinet that introduces the melody, Bruch integrates all three instruments more thoroughly than in any prior movement.
No. 7 is the suite's sole major-mode piece, an Allegro vivace ma non troppo in B major. It's a charming rondo full of Mendelssohnian verve and the barest hint of an Italian folk dance in the section that binds the piece together.
The subdued mood returns in the beginning of No. 8, a Moderato in E flat minor. The music's ardor builds through the second quarter of the piece but subsides without reaching a full climax; it follows the same pattern toward the end, gradually receding into silence.