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The second explosion of romanticism came at the turn of 1836. This time, however, it was not so short-lived and did not give way to a return of the style brillant, as several years previously. This time, the farewell to virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake proved final. The new style, all Chopin’s own, which might be called a specifically Chopinian dynamic romanticism, not only revealed itself, but established itself. It manifested itself à la Janus, with two faces: the deep-felt lyricism of the Nocturnes, Op. 27 and the concentrated drama of the Scherzo in B flat minor.

The opening gesture of the new scherzo might be termed Beethovenian, though with the opening chords of Chopin’s first  Scherzo in B minor in one’s ears, one might also say that it is already a Chopinian gesture. The second Scherzo, beginning in B flat minor, possesses, like the first, a reprise structure. It could also be seen as possessing the form of a scherzo with trio. In this instance, however, the initial structure forms merely the general framework; it is filled with music that unfolds in accordance with the laws of a peculiar drama, not form. It is unfurled with such force, with such an emotional charge, as if it were about to break through that framework and fall from the tracks along which it is travelling. And essentially that is what happens. The dynamism of this work prevented Chopin from closing the Scherzo in its own, opening key. The work’s finale is played out not in B flat minor, but in the relative key of D flat major.

It is in D flat major that the first of the two complements to the Scherzo’s opening theme proceeds. It appears like a bolt of lightning – and then vanishes (bars 49–57(58)). The second complement to the opening theme, wandering through different keys, brings music that rumbles vigorously along, growing in power and strength with every bar (bars 65–79). In this Scherzo, too, the trio transports us into what seems like another world, not just into a new tonal sphere (F major; bars 265–276). The Arcadia into which the trio carries us takes three different characters in turn. The first barely marks its presence, with just a few bars of a bucolic sicilienne (bars 277–284). The second embodiment of Arcadia is of a waltz-like character, singing and swinging; Chopin has it sung by four different voices at once (bars (309)310–317(320)). The third incarnation of carefree Arcadia also pulls us into the whirl of a waltz, of a ritornel character (bars 334–344).

And then the ending arrives. The idyllic aura into which the trio had lifted us… bursts. Chopin transforms one of his Arcadian themes into a theme that is initially restless (agitato) and then thoroughly menacing, possessed by a raging passion, expressed fortissimo and con fuoco (bars 544–555). It is quite some time before the emotions subside. Then the music of the actual scherzo is goaded into returning. It swells to a climax and passes into the coda, which ends this display of power, strength and might.

The second of Chopin’s scherzos was hailed as a masterpiece. One might even say that it dethroned the first Scherzo, which had been ever-present on concert platforms. Critics and monographers fell over themselves to express their delight. Schumann heard Byronic touches. Niecks found the trio evocative of the Mona Lisa’s thoughtfulness, full of longing and wondering. Ferdynand Hoesick heard ‘demonic accents’ in this ‘fiery poem’. Zdzisław Jachimecki admired the ‘long ribbon of melody sung on a single breath’. Arthur Hedley pondered the work’s ecstatic lyricism, before concluding: ‘Excessive performance may have dimmed the brightness of this work, but should not blind us to its merits as thrilling and convincing music.’


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


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Janusz Olejniczak

Scherzo in B flat minor, Op. 31 Op. 31
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