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It has come to my attention that I recently threw a musical term out there that should have been defined.

The term is scherzo and I was referring to the third movement of Sibelius' 1st Symphony.

In Italian, scherzo simply means "joke". As a musical term, this often means the music should be considered playful or lighthearted.

There are times when the joke can be cruel or unrelenting. Scherzo rarely means trite.

The scherzo evolved out of the minuet--another term that needs definition.

The minuet was most often the third movement of a Haydn or Mozart symphony. The minuet was written with the feeling of a polite dance in three.

"In three" means that you feel the music as ONE, two, three--ONE, two, three and so on.

Beethoven started to move away from the refined and contained attitude of the minuet to the more expressive scherzo. Scherzi continued to have the feeling of ONE, two, three.

A particularly favorite scherzo of mine is from Bruckner's 9th symphony.

Bruckner opens up with a lighthearted attitude but very quickly sets the hammer down.

"Laugh or I'll give you a beating," he seems to say. The rest of the movement alternates between pastoral, reflective woodwinds and the hard driving, churning of the brass and strings.

There we have it. A scherzo is a joke. Sometimes the joke is funny. Other times we may say, "That joke wasn't very funny," to which the composer might reply,

"I wasn't trying to be funny."


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