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Scherzo 1

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.

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Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.