Antonín Dvořák: an analysis of the Serenade for strings – Mov. 3, 4 and 5
3rd movement: Scherzo
In case you don’t have it at hand, here’s a quick link to the score.
After the nocturnal atmosphere of the first movement and the gloominess of the second, Dvořák knew he needed to liven up the room. The 3rd movement is a fast-paced Scherzo, which literally means joke. We’re moving to the far key of F major: although if we read enharmonically the last chord of the valse, the F natural is the 3rd of the chord, therefore not so far.
There’s a curious thing about the structure of this movement. Normally a scherzo is built on an AB form, just like a Minuetto: A being the first section, B being the Trio. With a repeat of the A section. This is the structure we’ve seen in the Tempo di Valse. The Scherzo, here, resembles more of a sonata form: there are 2 contrasting themes (3 actually), a mini development, a recapitulation, and a coda.
The first theme is quite rhythmical in nature. Take a note of that first bar: the motivic cell will return all the way till the end of the movement. The cellos start with the theme: in their high register, something reserved normally for either a very light sound or something very lyrical in nature. Dvořák chooses this register to, yes, have a light atmosphere in the beginning. But right underneath he also writes “not too weak“, meaning it should still have a bite. It’s a piano dynamic, but still a vigorous one.
The game starts right on the second bar: the first violins echo the cellos in what it is – for 3 bars – a perfect canon.
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