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A scherzo (, , Italian: ['skertso]; plural scherzos or scherzi), in westernclassical music, is a short composition - sometimes a movement from a larger work such as a symphony or a sonata. The precise definition has varied over the years, but scherzo often refers to a movement that replaces the minuet as the third movement in a four-movement work, such as a symphony, sonata, or string quartet. The term can also refer to a fast-moving humorous composition that may or may not be part of a larger work.
The Italian word scherzo means 'joke' or 'jest'. More rarely the similar-meaning word badinerie (also spelled battinerie; from French, 'jesting') has been used. Sometimes the word scherzando ('joking') is used in musical notation to indicate that a passage should be executed in a playful manner.
An early use of the word scherzo in music is in light-hearted madrigals of the early baroque period, which were often called scherzi musicali, for example:
The scherzo itself is a rounded binary form, but, like the minuet, is usually played with the accompanying trio followed by a repeat of the scherzo, creating the ABA or ternary form. This is sometimes done twice or more (ABABA). The "B" theme is a trio, a contrasting section not necessarily for only three instruments, as was often the case with the second minuet of classical suites (the first Brandenburg Concerto has a famous example).
Appearance/examples in compositions
Scherzi occasionally differ from this traditional structure in various ways.
Some examples are not in the customary triple meter--for example, the scherzo of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, which is in 2 4 time; or the trio section of the scherzo from his Second Symphony which is in 2 8 time. Another example is Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 18. This example is also unusual in being written in orthodox sonata form rather than the usual ternary form for such a movement, and thus it lacks a trio section. This sonata is also unusual in that the scherzo is followed by a minuet and trio movement--whereas most sonatas have either a scherzo movement or a minuet movement, but not both. Some analysts[who?] have attempted to account for these irregularities by analyzing the scherzo as the sonata's slow movement, which is rather fast. That would keep the traditional structure for a four-movement sonata that Beethoven usually followed, especially in the first half of his piano sonatas.
Joseph Haydn wrote minuets that are close to scherzi in tone -- but it was Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert who first used scherzi widely, with Beethoven in particular turning the polite rhythm of the minuet into a much more intense - and sometimes even savage - dance.
The scherzo remained a standard movement in the symphony and related forms through the 19th century and beyond. Composers also began to write scherzi as pieces in themselves, stretching the boundaries of the form.