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Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
#2870837 07/20/19 05:45 AM
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Hello,
The Italian word "scherzo" means 'joke' or 'jest'.
Not only are Chopin's Scherzos not amusing at all, they are one of the most "serious" and sad works written in the piano literature.
Does anyone have an explanation, why did Chopin call them "Scherzo"?

Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
PianoLen3 #2870840 07/20/19 06:13 AM
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I'm sure there's a more informed and scholarly explanation, but I always think Chopin simply did away with all the traditional meanings. His waltzes are in 3/4, but they're not dances, and neither are the polonaises. His Scherzos aren't funny or lighthearted in the least, and so forth.

Why then did he call them that? I honestly don't know.

Last edited by Sibylle; 07/20/19 06:14 AM.

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Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
PianoLen3 #2870848 07/20/19 06:39 AM
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"How is 'gravity' to clothe itself if 'jest' goes about in dark veils?" - Bob


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Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
Sibylle #2870850 07/20/19 07:17 AM
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Originally Posted by Sibylle
I'm sure there's a more informed and scholarly explanation, but I always think Chopin simply did away with all the traditional meanings. His waltzes are in 3/4, but they're not dances, and neither are the polonaises. His Scherzos aren't funny or lighthearted in the least, and so forth.
I think what you're referring to is that, according to some people's thinking, Chopin's waltzes were not composed with the idea they should be danced to although I think they could be. (I assume some of them are included in Les Sylphides.) But I would still call them dances. Same for his mazurkas and pieces like Ravel's Valses Nobles et Sentimentales and La Valse and Bach's dance suites.

Chopin was fond of improvising waltzes at parties so I'm not sure what people mean or convinced they are correct when they say his waltzes weren't meant for dancing. Perhaps this just means that they were meant to be thought of mostly as piano compositions and are more complex than a typical waltz. I can see Schubert's Waltzes as more appropriate for dancing although I don't know if Schubert intended them to be danced to.



Last edited by pianoloverus; 07/20/19 07:26 AM.
Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
PianoLen3 #2870857 07/20/19 07:51 AM
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I'm not saying he wasn't capable of playing or composing a waltz wink But I did learn both in school and from my piano teachers, that most of his Waltzes were art forms in 3/4, meant to be played "romantically" and with rubato, rather than dances the way f.e. Strauss's waltzes were.

Again, I may be a scholar but music was not my field of university education, so I'm happy to defer to better knowledge. Such as that of my teachers, or yours.

What do you think about the Scherzos, PL?


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Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
Sibylle #2870860 07/20/19 08:40 AM
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Originally Posted by Sibylle
What do you think about the Scherzos, PL?
After pointing out that the Chopin Scherzi were not like those of the Classical period, Eleanor Bailie's only comment in her book on Chopin's music is that he extended the idea of the meaning a scherzo.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 07/20/19 08:45 AM.
Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
PianoLen3 #2870862 07/20/19 08:52 AM
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History of Chopin’s scherzo from the Chopin Institute

https://en.chopin.nifc.pl/chopin/genre/detail/id/17


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Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
PianoLen3 #2870889 07/20/19 11:33 AM
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Originally Posted by PianoLen3
Hello,
The Italian word "scherzo" means 'joke' or 'jest'.
Not only are Chopin's Scherzos not amusing at all, they are one of the most "serious" and sad works written in the piano literature.
Does anyone have an explanation, why did Chopin call them "Scherzo"?


I dont think there is some kind of rationale/historic reason. The Scherzo form started to slowly replace the menuet in sonata compositions around end of XVIIIth/early 1800. So most of the time it would have the same structure in 3/4 and usually a light character. But already Beethoven gives it some more density and occasionally using it in other places with a completely different role and structure. Like any form I think it evolved naturally toward a more whimsical nature and emotional density and away from its initial character.

Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
PianoLen3 #2870890 07/20/19 11:42 AM
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Originally Posted by PianoLen3
Hello,
The Italian word "scherzo" means 'joke' or 'jest'.
Not only are Chopin's Scherzos not amusing at all, they are one of the most "serious" and sad works written in the piano literature.
Does anyone have an explanation, why did Chopin call them "Scherzo"?



I'll take my usual non-scholarly simplistic gut approach to this. Jokes are free form, at least in the sense of being outside of normal conversation. And I have just always taken his meaning of scherzo to mean free form.

I wish I was able to play one. For "jokes" they are awfully difficult.

Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
dogperson #2870923 07/20/19 01:10 PM
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Originally Posted by dogperson
History of Chopin’s scherzo from the Chopin Institute

https://en.chopin.nifc.pl/chopin/genre/detail/id/17

Interesting read.



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Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
PianoLen3 #2870950 07/20/19 03:29 PM
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No. 4 is "snatchy," elan, and runny.

I was inspired by a performance of it that I heard a near-prodigy give who shared a teacher with me.

However, reading through the score, I realized it WOULD be a joke for me to actually learn it. 😆


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Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
dogperson #2870980 07/20/19 04:44 PM
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Thanks for the article, dogperson! I can't help but notice, though, that it really doesn't probe the question of WHY Chopin would have named these pieces "Scherzi" -- to me, they are extended musical narratives very similar to his Ballades or Fantasies. It appears to be content with the observation that Chopin revolutionized the previous understanding of a Scherzo, the form and character of which was indeed established by that time, but don't really speculate on Chopin's thinking.

Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
PianoLen3 #2871077 07/20/19 11:19 PM
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It's an ironic title. The joke is the title itself.

Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
PianoLen3 #2872294 07/24/19 03:33 PM
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They're absolutely hilarious! And Chopin was kind enough to compose them in order of funniness, from most funny to least.


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Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
PianoLen3 #2872355 07/24/19 06:53 PM
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All I know is if I tried to play any of them, everyone would laugh to their hearts content...



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Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
PianoLen3 #2873207 07/27/19 12:19 PM
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Chopin is certainly not the only composer who extended the meaning of a Scherzo. I already had a discussion about that in one of the recitals where I played "Scherzino Mexicano" by Manuel Ponce, I would not call funny, either, rather bitter-sweet:

Ponce, Scherzino Mexicano

I am sure there are lots of other Scherzi that are not amusing at all, so maybe we will just have to take that for granted without searching for an explanation.

Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
PianoLen3 #2873413 07/28/19 08:43 AM
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My two cents.

In Beethoven's symphonies, the Scherzi replaced the Minuets from older symphonies. But are they really jokes? Maybe the "Tempo di Minuetto" of the 8th, but the Scherzi of the 5th and 9th aren't a laughing matter IMO.

I guess that after Beethoven, most composers used "Scherzo" as an umbrella term for a fast movement, often in 3 beats, in a remotely ABA form. Chopin's Scherzo op.39 I learned recently is no exception. It's technically ABABC, with the first A and B being themselves sort of aba.
But maybe for a pianist like Chopin, the Scherzi are hilarious when you are in a dark mood.


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Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
PianoLen3 #2873425 07/28/19 09:24 AM
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Chopin's Scherzos are definitely more amusing than his Ballades. Or Polonaises, or Mazurkas, or Preludes, or Sonatas. Or even Waltzes.

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Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
PianoLen3 #2873668 07/29/19 02:38 AM
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Quote

His waltzes are in 3/4, but they're not dances

You don’t think the Grande Valse Brilliante in Eb Op. 18 is danceable? The whole piece conjures up a well mannered dance at a formal ball for me.

And how about a dachshund dancing? Some say that the Minute Waltz was inspired by George Sand’s dachshund chasing its tail around in circles.


My chronological list of the top 20 composers: Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, Wagner, Verdi, Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Debussy, Bartok, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich.
Re: Chopin's Scherzos - Are They Amusing?
PianoLen3 #2877732 08/08/19 03:51 PM
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It's often said that the history of music is the story of small forms developing into larger forms (I'm badly paraphrasing from memory here) and I'd say that's the case here as well. Often, the meaning behind the term is lost in the process. Look at preludes for an excellent example. I don't think there's anything humorous in Chopin's scherzi; but the word humorous is curious: in Shakespearean English it meant whimsy and unpredictable. The word humor alludes to the Classical Greek notion of the body containing liquids called humors. There's plenty of that kind of humor in the scherzi, but I'm not sure if that translates to the Italian.


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