Scherzo "How will gravity array itself, if wit is already cloaked so darkly?", asked Robert Schumann in his review of Chopin's Scherzo in B minor, Op. 20. His astonishment is easily understood, since the name "scherzo" (It.) literally means "joke", whereas Chopin's scherzos are almost never humorous or light-hearted. Quite the contrary: the four expansive one-movement works to which Chopin gave the title scherzo are marked with a drama and form which were unprecedented in the genre. They are given here in chronological order: Scherzo in B minor, Op. 20, published in 1835 (date of composition difficult to establish precisely) Scherzo in B flat minor, Op. 31, completed 1837 and published the same year Scherzo in C sharp minor, Op. 39, composed 1839, published the following year Scherzo in E major, Op. 54, composed 1842-1843, published 1843 The scherzo appeared on the threshold of the Baroque era (e.g. Monteverdi's Scherzi musicali, 1607), initially as a vocal-instrumental genre of a cheerful character. Chopin, however, referred to the much later, classical, instrumental scherzo of tripartite, A B(trio) A, construction, in a rapid tempo and triple time, usually forming part of a larger work (sonata, symphony). In keeping with their name, most scherzos before Chopin were marked by brightness and levity; only with Beethoven did the scherzo sometimes gain a different expression: full of anxiety and unbridled energy, almost demonic.
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