During the time of Haydn and Mozart, the third movement of a four-movement piece such as a symphony or string quartet was invariably a stylized dance movement called a minuet. By the end of the 1700's, though, Beethoven, in one of his many innovations, had largely replaced the minuet with a movement he called a “scherzo.”
The word scherzo, which means “joke,” in Italian, had appeared in music as early as the 1600's, but it was Beethoven who gave the scherzo its modern character, and established a permanent place for it. Like the minuet, the scherzo is usually in three-quarter time, and also like the minuet it has a middle section called a “trio” sandwiched between two identical outer sections. But the scherzo is generally faster than the minuet, and far removed from anything resembling a dance, or at least any dance that could be performed in powdered wigs and petticoats. But more on the scherzo tomorrow.
A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.