This article is about the musical term. For the Doctor Who audio play, see Scherzo (audio drama).

A scherzo (/ˈskɛrt.s/; Italian pronunciation: [ˈskertso]; plural scherzos or scherzi), in western classical music, is a piece of music, often a movement from a larger piece such as a symphony or a sonata, often in 3
. The precise definition has varied over the years, but scherzo often refers to a movement that replaces the minuet as the third movement in a four-movement work, such as a symphony, sonata, or string quartet.[1] Scherzo also frequently refers to a fast-moving humorous composition that may or may not be part of a larger work.[2]


The word "scherzo," meaning "I joke," "I jest," or "I play" in Italian, is related to the same-root verb: scherzare ("to joke". "to jest"; "to play"). More rarely the similar meaning word "badinerie" (also spelled "battinerie"; from French "jesting") has been used. Sometimes the word "scherzando" ("joking") is used in musical notation to indicate that a passage should be executed in a playful manner.

An early use of the word scherzo in music is in light-hearted madrigals of the early baroque period, which were often called scherzi musicali, for example:

Later, composers applied the term scherzo, and sometimes badinerie[4] to certain instrumental works in fast tempos in duple meter time signature, for example:

Suite No. 2 in B minor, 7. Badinerie

The scherzo, as most commonly known today, developed from the minuet, and gradually came to replace it as the third (sometimes second) movement in symphonies, string quartets, sonatas, and similar works. It traditionally retains the triple meter time signature and ternary form of the minuet, but is considerably quicker. It is often, but not always, of a light-hearted nature.


The scherzo itself is a rounded binary form, but, like the minuet, is usually played with the accompanying trio followed by a repeat of the scherzo, creating the ABA or ternary form. This is sometimes done twice or more (ABABA). The "B" theme is a trio, a contrasting section not necessarily for only three instruments, as was often the case with the second minuet of classical suites (the first Brandenburg concerto has a famous example).


Some scherzi transpose a repeated phrase. For example, in the second movement of Beethoven's 14th Piano Sonata the first four bars are played in the dominant key. The four bars following that are a repeat of the first four, but transposed up a perfect fourth to the tonic key. This effect creates the illusion of starting on the "wrong" key and "correcting" after the phrase is transposed.

Appearance/examples in compositions

Scherzi occasionally differ from this traditional structure in various ways.

The scherzo remained a standard movement in the symphony and related forms through the 19th century and beyond. Composers also began to write scherzi as pieces in themselves, stretching the boundaries of the form.

In present-day compositions, the scherzo has also made appearances.


  1. Britannica Online - scherzo
  2. Russell, Tilden A. & Hugh Macdonald. "Scherzo". In L. Root, Deane. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)
  3. Sir Jack Westrup & F. Ll. Harrison, Collins Encyclopedia of Music (1976 revised edition, Chancellor Press, London, ISBN 0-907486-49-5), p.483
  4. Boyd, Malcolm. Oxford Composer Companions: J.S. Bach, Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 58
  5. Sir Jack Westrup & F. Ll. Harrison, Collins Encyclopedia of Music (1976 revised edition, Chancellor Press, London, ISBN 0-907486-49-5), p.483
  6. Niecks, Friedrick (2009). Frederick Chopin as a Man and Musician. Echo Library. p. 494. ISBN 1-4068-5229-5. Retrieved 30 August 2010.
  7. Allsen, J. Michael (2002). "Piano Concerto No. 2, Johannes Brahms". Galveston Symphony Orchestra. Archived from the original on April 11, 2010. Retrieved 30 August 2010.
  8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 2015-12-18, retrieved 2015-12-23
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