Scherzo No. 1 (Chopin) - Structure

Structure

This first Scherzo takes A-B-A-Coda form and begins with two chords in fortissimo. At tremendous speed, a series of dramatic outbursts in the B minor tonic follows. Near the center of the piece, the music leads into a slower section in B major; finally one hears a tangible melody in the middle register, surrounded by accompaniment in both the left and upper right hands. Chopin quotes here from an old Polish Christmas song (Lulajże Jezuniu); tempo is marked as Molto Più Lento. The B major area dissolves as the harmony mysteriously changes character via secondary dominant. The two chords from the beginning reappear, superimposed over vestiges of the middle section. Then the beginning presto repeats itself in the familiar minor tonic.

The lead-in to the dramatic, virtuosic coda is similar to the approach toward the Molto Più Lento, but slightly different (as it is with Chopin's Second and Third Scherzi). This final section incorporates dizzying arpeggiated flights up and down almost the entire keyboard, suspended by a climactic series of nine ten-note chords (E♯ diminished seventh (with diminished third), augmented sixth chord in root position, secondary leading-tone chord of tonic B). After the resolution and a rapid chromatic ascent over four octaves in both hands, the coda and piece come to a triumphant end via a bold minor plagal cadence.

In his rendition of the Scherzo No. 1, Vladimir Horowitz famously duplicated the chromatic scale near the ending into interlocking octaves, a technique he often used as his signature on other pieces. The interlocking octaves were meant to be played at the same speed as the original chromatic scale.

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