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scherzo(skĕr`tsō) [Ital.,=joke], in music, term denoting various types of composition, primarily one that is lively and presents surprises in the rhythmic or melodic material. In 1607 a group of light pieces for voice were published by Monteverdi as scherzi musicali. In the symphonies and string quartets of Haydn the scherzo was a development of the minuet, and in Beethoven's works it replaced the minuet as the third movement of a work in sonata form. Mendelssohn gives the scherzo an airy grace, while the four piano scherzos of Chopin are works of boldness and strength.
(1) In Italian music of the 16th and 17th centuries, monophonic and polyphonic vocal pieces with humorous texts.
(2) An instrumental work similar to the capriccio, frequently included in instrumental suites. From the late 18th century the scherzo was part of the sonata form (the symphony, sonata, quartet, and sometimes, the concerto), replacing the minuet, usually the third movement. The scherzo is characterized by 3/4 or 3/8 time, a rapid tempo, and a free shifting of musical ideas that introduces an element of the unexpected. Like the burlesque, the scherzo is often associated with the expression of humor, ranging from the lighthearted to the darkly ominous and grotesque. The scherzo is usually written in a three-part, reprise form, with a trio in a more serene mood.
The classical scherzo was perfected by Beethoven. Later outstanding masters of the scherzo as a movement in the sonata form were the Western European composers Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Bruckner; the Russian composers P. I. Tchaikovsky and A. P. Borodin; and the Soviet composers N. I. Mias-kovskii, S. S. Prokofiev, and D. D. Shostakovich. During the romantic period the scherzo was revived as an independent piece by Schumann, Chopin, Brahms, M. A. Balakirev, and Tchaikovsky, who composed scherzos for piano, and by Mendelssohn, P. Dukas, and M. P. Mussorgsky, who composed scherzos for orchestra.