About this work:
Whether in its literal translation as "joke" or "trick" or in its use as the title of a humorous,
whimsical or capricious musical composition, there has never been universal agreement on what the Italian term scherzo really means. This disagreement would seem to indicate an uncertain attitude toward humor in general and toward jokes and tricks in particular. Is humor only light-hearted, never serious, for example? Does it touch only the surface of our lives? Some of the ways in which such masters as Beethoven, Bruckner and Brahms have interpreted the term suggests that even light-hearted humor can become earnest and often ominous, qualities which most would agree are "serious" indeed and not in the least superficial.
Scherzi musicali reflects some of these ambiguities and by so doing, I believe, expresses some of our most basic emotions. Most listeners, for example, are likely to interpret the opening measures, which begin with the statement of a characteristic repeated note figure, a germinal motive from which much of the remainder of the piece grows, as light-hearted and good-natured. As the same passage builds to a brief climax and as each succeeding phrase builds each time to an even more persistent climax, one has reason to wonder what the precise character of the piece really is. This repeated note motive by being so pervasive and by constantly re-emerging can gradually become even obsessive with relief being provided only by the
appearances of the two more thoughtful and lyrical slow sections. The piece concludes in much the same
way that it began as if to cast doubt on whether the preceding musical events had ever really taken place.
The formal plan of Scherzi musicali resembles that of the classical rondo type often expressed by
the letters ABACA. It also strongly resembles the kind of symphonic scherzo that 19th century composers
like Robert Schumann favored, that is, a scherzo with two different contrasting trio sections. As those acquainted with scherzi of the last two hundred years will recognize, Scherzi musicali is also distinguished by its steady pulse, strong rhythms and clear phrase structure. Its melodic style is distinctly that of the 20th century, and its harmonies are at times spicy and piquant, at other times enriched by colorful polychords.
Although Scherzi musicali is only seven and a half minutes long, many more things take place in
that span of time than one is led to expect while listening to much of the music of the last century.
Listening to the music of Bach and Haydn would probably be the best preparation for listening to and
enjoying a work like Scherzi musicali.
Scherzi musicali was completed in July of 1987 and is dedicated to the Ridgefield Orchestra and its conductor Beatrice Brown, who gave the work its first performance in October that same year. A recording by the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Toshiuki Shimada has been released on the Vienna Modern Masters label (VMM 3053). Score and parts available from Mira Music Associates. Contact: email@example.com
Review: "In his contribution to the concert's program notes, composer Allen Brings (who was present and who dedicated his Scherzi musicali to Conductor [Beatrice] Brown and the Ridgefield Symphony) also suggests the idea of music as a communicator of emotions. Alluding to the confusion about the meaning of the Italian word 'scherzo,' which can mean either 'joke' or 'trick,' Mr. Brings implies that he conceived his piece as a sort of emotional conundrum for his audience, leading them first towards one emotional response and then towards another through the use of both structure and melodic management and leaving them at the end wondering what the piece 'means' or what it is 'about.'
"Such a musical concept and such a purpose provide both an interesting comparison with the Beethoven work [Fifth Symphony] and an intriguing contrast to it. The straightforward structure of the piece makes it easily accessible intellectually by providing a defined frame within which Mr. Brings shows off his considerable talent for spinning melodies—not the sort one hums while leaving the hall after a Schubert recital, but the sort which leads the listener through emotional moods either to a final resolution or, as here, to an inescapable ambivalence."
Courtenay V. Caublé, 1987
Version: for orchestra
Year composed: 1987
Ensemble type: Orchestra:Standard Orchestra
Instrumentation: 2 Flute, 2 Oboe, 2 Clarinet, 2 Bassoon, 4 Horn in F, 2 Trumpet, 2 Trombone, 1 Bass Trombone, 1 Tuba, 1 Timpani, 2 Percussion (General), 12 Violin, 4 Viola, 4 Cello, 3 Double bass
Instrumentation notes: Flute 2 doubles on piccolo. Number of strings indicated is a minimum; more may be used if they are available.