In Classical Music This Joke is No Joke

In large classical compositions, like symphonies, concertos, chamber music pieces, etc., the compositions are divided into sections that are called movements. A classical symphony will usually have 4 movements, a classical concerto will have 3 movements, and chamber music pieces have various number of movements-usually three or more.

These movements will be described usually by the tempo of the movement. You might see for example Symphony #1 in D major, movement #1, allegro. Of course, that means the composers 1st movement of his 1st symphony will be played fast.

Sometimes movements are also given a more descriptive term for the movement, besides the tempo. For example you have movements described as romances [self explanatory], or dances [like minuets, gavottes],  or trios [which means that the first and 3rd section of the movement will be exactly the same, divided by a different second section of the movement]. You have ‘theme and variations’ and ‘rondos’ and then there are some movements that are called, scherzos.

Scherzo literally means to jest or joke. Scherzos in a musical composition or movement usually have a light, fast-moving, and playful character. A scherzo usually will be the second or third movement of a symphony. Some scherzos actually bring a smile to your face, like the third movement of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata known as the Spring Sonata, which we feature here. 

Two of my favorite scherzos come from the great Ludwig Van Beethoven. One is from his Sonata for Violin and Piano, called the Spring Sonata [this is one of the shortest scherzos you will hear]; and the other scherzo is the second movement from his famous Symphony #9 [this is one of the longest scherzos you will hear]. 

In Beethoven’s Spring Sonata, the scherzo is the short third movement. You can hear the playful nature of the pianist and violinist and the “joke” of how the instruments don’t seem to be playing together [which is on purpose].  When hearing this movement there is no doubt why this movement is scored scherzo.

Then a more vigorous and dramatic scherzo comes from what many call the greatest symphony ever written, Beethoven’s majestic Symphony #9, commonly known as the Ode To Joy, for it’s glorious, hopeful choral final movement. The Scherzo is the second movement of this masterpiece.  This dramatic scherzo, while having what could be described as a surprise ending, is definitely no joke.

As always, classical music friends, I ask that you please turn up the volume, play in full screen and enjoy these two scherzos by the master Beethoven, and while these are scherzos, they are are no joke.  

L.V. Beethoven: “Spring Sonata” for Violin and Piano, Movement 3, Scherzo:

L.V. Beethoven: Symphony # 9 in D minor, Movement 2, Scherzo:

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