‘If a man who knows that he will die soon makes his account with earth and with heaven, prepares his soul for the departure, and balances what he leaves with what he will receive, he might desire to incorporate a word – a part of the wisdom he has acquired – into the knowledge of mankind, if he is one of the Great. […] Or is one entitled to assume that a message from a man who is already half on the other side progresses to the uttermost limit of the still-expressible?’ (Schoenberg, ‘Brahms the Progressive’). In his poem ‘Brahms II’, Alfred Brendel describes the nocturnal visits of the cigar-smoking ghost of Brahms to the music room of a house; his piano playing sends the unfortunate instrument out of tune. When setting this for baritone and orchestra (Brahms, Op. 21), Thomas Adès ‘wondered what would happen if [he] wrote a piece just about the logic of Brahms’ music and not about the beauty and warmth’, thereby exploring, in Tom Service’s words, ‘the limits of Brahms’ musical material’. This paper will explore the gulf between the poetic visions of Schoenberg and Brendel/Adès through a hermeneutic reading of the latter in the terms of the former, in order to investigate the nature and conditions of the limits both visions describe. In doing so, it will say something about the apparatus by which Adès alludes to Brahms (the smoke and mirrors by which he makes us hear the ghost), but will also enable us to understand better the expressive affect of the work.