COMPOSITIONS compositions


Virtually parallel to the last of the ballades, the concept for the last of the scherzos, the Scherzo in E major, took shape. Like the Ballade in F minor, its origins date from 1842, and it too was completed during the summer of 1843 and published that same year.

There were two faces to the Romantic scherzo: the fairytale and the demonic. The fairytale aspect drew on the world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream; the demonic aspect was inspired by a nocturnal witches’ sabbath.

Mendelssohn was inspired by the Shakespearean fairytale strand. Berlioz’s imagination followed the path (in his Symphonie fantastique) of the demonological fantasies of Goya and Fuseli. In the area of form, Chopin was inspired by Beethoven, and in the domain of imagination he drew on both of the Romantic tendencies mentioned above. But the composer of the Scherzos treated them in a clearly different way to Mendelssohn or Berlioz. In this genre, too, there is not a hint of programme or anecdote. What is present, meanwhile, is a concentration of the general expressive categories characteristic of the scherzo as a genre. In his first three scherzos, it is expression close to the demonic that dominates: distinct in the extreme, stark and even shocking, they surprise one with the play of extreme contrasts.

The Scherzo in E major is different. Close to the fairytale sphere, though devoid of elves and goblins, it is brighter than the others, written with a finer, lighter pen, though it too occasionally reminds us of the existence of shadows and frights (bars 373–392). Two categories of expression form this pianistic poem, which delights us with the immaculate beauty of its sound: the expression of play and the expression of love.

The framework of the Scherzo is filled with the mood of play, of scherzotic exuberance, although balancing on the edge of gravity and jest – an exuberance in constant pursuit of something elusive, something that appears for a moment then vanishes, before reappearing a moment later in another tonal space. The central section of the E major Scherzo (lento, then sostenuto), in place of the former trio, is filled with thoughtful music, gazing at distant horizons, sounding like the expression of pure yet ardent love. Such music as Norwid called ‘the shape of love’ (bars (389)393–422). Its beauty burgeons even more at the point where the thread of the lonely one-part melody passes into a duet imbued with emotion, sounding with a succession of concordant thirds and sixths (bars 432–447).

Heinrich Heine, a poet who idolised Chopin, pondered in one of his famous letters from Paris: ‘what is music?’ His answer was that ‘it is a marvel. It has a place between thought and what is seen; it is a dim mediator between spirit and matter, allied to and differing from both; it is spirit wanting the measure of time and matter which can dispense with space.’[i]

[i] Heinrich Heine, ‘Ninth Letter’, in The Works of Heinrich Heine, iv: The Salon, tr. Charles Godfrey Leland (Hans Breitmann) (London, 1893), 242.

Author: Mieczysław Tomaszewski
[Cykl audycji "Fryderyka Chopina Dzieła Wszystkie"]
Polish Radio, program II


The Real Chopin »

Dina Yoffe

Scherzo in E major, Op. 54 Op. 54
Gallery »
mini mini