Classical Music | Piano Music

Frédéric Chopin

Scherzo No. 3 in c-sharp minor, Op. 39  Play

Bill-John Newbrough Piano

Recorded on 08/12/2008, uploaded on 01/27/2009

Musician's or Publisher's Notes

Originating with Beethoven as a more suitable form to his dramatic and sometimes jesting character than the Minuet, the Scherzo of the Romantic period was often used as the outward form encapsulating intense and dramatic emotions. Two composers successfully matched the intensity and forcefulness of Beethoven’s scherzi—Johannes Brahms and Frédéric Chopin.  Chopin composed only four scherzi during his career. Three of these utilize the turbulent qualities of minor keys. Indeed, Chopin’s first scherzo was a violent outcry of anguish, akin to his popular “Revolutionary” Étude, at the news of Imperial Russia’s defeat of Polish revolutionaries in the November Uprising.

While Chopin’s Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp minor, composed in 1839, may not have possessed the emotional impetus as his first, it is certainly not lacking in intensity. Opening quietly with a duple rhythm forced upon the Scherzo’s triple meter and punctuated by uncertain forte chords, a sense of tension and instability is immediately set forth. Once settled into the tonic key of C-sharp minor, the Scherzo’s virtuosic monophonic theme, sounded throughout four octaves, takes over with a driving force worthy of Beethoven himself. Interspersed with these thunderous octaves are softer passages of sustained chords in which the driving rhythm of the principal theme temporarily subsides into the background.

Changing to the key of the tonic major, the trio section introduces a sostenuto tune of great majesty. Separating each phrase of this melody are brilliant arpeggiatic embellishments in the upper reaches of the piano’s range. Despite the brilliance of this section, the key of C-sharp minor, and with it the forceful first theme, inevitably makes its return. The trio returns once more, however, this time in the key of the relative major. At its conclusion, a passage over an embellished dominant pedal leads into the Scherzo’s coda. Introducing a new figure, momentum builds until it is finally released in marcato octaves, descending chromatically through the C-sharp minor scale, and leading to the concluding C-sharp major chords.      Joseph DuBose