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Dvorák (1841-1904) - Scherzo Capriccioso

Having left school at 11 to learn the family trade, Dvorák might have become a butcher. Fortunately for posterity, his musical talents were recognised and he was dispatched to Zlonice for more appropriate studies. After graduating from the Prague Organ School, while working as a violist in a band which became the core of the Provisional Theatre Orchestra (est. 1862), he came under the sway of Smetana, a decisive influence on this voraciously impressionable youngster. Once he had cottoned on to the rich potential of Czech folk-music, with its bouncy open-air vigour and gracefulness, he never looked back. This influence burrowed into every corner of even his more formal works - chamber music and symphonies - but, had his innate lyrical talent not been cross-fertilised with another major influence, Brahms, Dvorák might have remained merely a “folksy tunesmith”.  As it was, Dvorák married folk to form, a union whose progeny were not only memorable but also durable, and a procession of works utilising Czech folk models streamed from his pen, including the Slavonic Dances op. 46 and Slavonic Rhapsodies (1878), the Legends op. 59 (1881), the overture My Home and a choral piece, Amid Nature (1882). 1883 saw the Hussite Overture and the Scherzo Capriccioso. Gratifyingly, regarding formal ingenuity his colourful pieces seem to be afforded the same attention as the “heavy stuff”. 

The Scherzo Capriccioso is possibly the finest of these “colourful pieces”, but does it live up to its title? Let's see. The latter part, “whimsical” is easy: Dvorák indulges his flair for melodic invention and bright orchestration to the full, happily tossing in all sorts of “throwaway” snippets, as the fancy takes him. QED. But the “scherzo” part, that suggests a particular musical form: (ABABA-CDC-ABA) (typically).  Just as we are cheerfully settling into the swing of “scherzo”, the expected third statement of [A] goes A.W.O.L., implying a sonata exposition. Not so - [C] and [D] come along, advocating a trio section. Until, that is, a sonata-style development of [A] and [B] imposes itself. Now fully alert, we anticipate [C]'s reappearance, but it doesn't happen. The music romps into a recapitulation of [A] and [B], then muses capriciously (with even a brief harp cadenza), before plunging into a breathtaking coda based on [A] and saucily garnished with extract of [C] (on lower brass), sounding like a broad wink at those of us still waiting for [C]. This is brilliant! Did Dvorák intend “scherzo” to be taken literally, as a “joke”, playing on the familiarity of Scherzo and Sonata? If so, many of us (including me, as a rule) miss the point, because it's hidden inside such luscious music.
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© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street, Kamo, Whangarei 0101, Northland, New Zealand


 

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