Scherzo (Italian scherzo – literally “a joke”) is a playful character, can be part of a symphony, sonata, quartet or an independent musical piece in a lively, fast pace, with acutely characteristic rhythmic and harmonic turns, in three parts.
In the music of the XVI-XVII centuries – a small instrumental piece. So called canzonetta (songs) for one or several singers with humorous verses.
Such scherzo were written by C. Monteverdi, A. Brunelli, B. Marini. Since the beginning of the XVII century. The word “scherzo” also denoted plays for various instruments, close to capriccio (a free-form instrumental piece in a brilliant virtuoso style) with their bizarre change of episodes and moods.
The authors of these plays were A. Troilo, I. Schenk. A fun joke piece was included in the instrumental suite as one of the parts. Such a scherzo is found, for example, in a multi-part work such as a suite in partita No. 3 for clavier I. S. Bach.
From the end of the 18th – beginning of the 19th centuries it took a strong place in the symphony and sonata, displacing the minuet from there, but at the same time it began to develop as an independent genre. From now on, it is present in most traditional symphonies as one of the middle parts (neither the beginning nor the final).
Scherzo became an obligatory part of the four-part sonata-symphonic cycle – symphonies, quartets, sonatas, etc. This is a quick, fun piece in the size of 2/4 or 4/4. The scherzo gives a humorous, even mischievous, playful character to the unexpectedness, suddenness of a change in musical images, pointed rhythmic pattern, sometimes bizarre and sometimes funny rustic, but always with clear accents.
The scherzo is characterized by activity of movement, and sometimes by swiftness and dance.
In addition to humorous images, the scherzo can embody lyrical, dramatic, fantastic, even sinister images. In the sonata-symphonic cycle, the scherzo has supplanted the previously obligatory part – the minuet. This happened gradually, the minuet, as it were, was transformed into a scherzo. As a designation of one part of the work, the term “scherzo” was first used by J. Haydn in the so-called “Russian Quartets”. The word “scherzo” was used to name the penultimate – “minuet” parts of the cycles. Beethoven’s beginning with the 2nd symphony, the scherzo finally took the place of the minuet and became an obligatory part of the symphonic work (3rd, less often 2nd part). The largest scherzo masters in the sonata-symphonic cycle were F. Schubert, F. Mendelssohn, A. Bruckner, in Russian music – A.P. Borodin, P.I. Tchaikovsky, A.K. Glazunov. Outstanding examples of scherzo in Soviet symphonic music were created by N. Ya-Myaskovsky, S. S. Prokofiev, D. D. Shostakovich.
Countless scherzo show all kinds of shades of musical humor. A whole complex of tricks has developed that can convey such ideas: playful roll calls of motives that are transferred from register to register or from one instrument to another, all sorts of surprises – “surprises”, the presentation of any simple phenomena in an unusual, seemingly strange light or kink, displacement, etc.
Scherzo fruitfully developed beyond the sonata-symphonic cycle. The highest achievements include four Chopin scherzo, the content of which is wider and more serious than usually scherz.
In the 19th century, in the era of romanticism, an independent genre of a one-piece play, called the scherzo, arose. Four piano scherzos by F. Chopin occupy a prominent place – real dramatic poems in which sharply dramatic episodes alternate with light, lyrical ones. Piano scherzo was also written by R. Schumann, I. Brahms, M. A. Balakirev, Tchaikovsky. Scherzo was composed not only for the piano or some other instrument, but also for the orchestra. Orchestral scherzos were written by Mendelssohn (scherzo from the music for W. Shakespeare’s comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”), P. Duke (scherzo “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”), M.P. Musorgsky, A.K. Lyadov, I.F. Stravinsky ( “Fantastic Scherzo”) and others.