Scherzo. Italian for “joke.” If a composer marks music “scherzo” we know we’re in for a little fun…
You can practically hear the “tee hee hee” in the Scherzo from Beethoven’s 9th. Chopin’s take on Scherzo? Not so much…When Robert Schumann pondered Chopin’s Scherzi, he remarked: “How is gravity to clothe itself if humor wears such dark veils?”
So, where’s the joke Chopin? Is it on us? Is it on Beethoven? In part, perhaps. To be frank--and Chopin was--he didn’t like Beethoven. He found his music awkward and ugly. He may have borrowed the title “Scherzo” from Beethoven, but every drop of ink spread beyond the title record highly original ideas.
Not to suggest this was all about not being Beethoven. In the middle of this no-laughing-matter Scherzo, Chopin reveals something. He’s quoting a Polish Christmas carol. If that isn’t a confession of homesickness, I don’t know what is. Is it any wonder the exiled Chopin’s “punch line” sounds like it does? - Jennifer Foster