The Kennedy Center

Scherzo capriccioso, Op. 66

About the Work

Antonin Dvorak Composer: Antonín Dvorák
© Richard Freed

By the time Dvořák reached his creative maturity he had developed a remarkably efficient method of working: once he settled on the general design for a work, the actual writing proceeded smoothly and quickly. It goes against the grain of romantic legend, perhaps, but the beloved Czech master might have seconded Saint-Saëns's famous declaration that it was as natural for him to produce music as for an apple tree to produce apples. There was no "inner struggle" involved in Dvořák's producing such masterworks as his last three symphonies, and the Scherzo capriccioso, which he composed shortly before the Seventh Symphony, apparently came forth with the very spontaneity that defines its character. The first sketch was made on April 4, 1883, and the full score was completed barely a month later.

Dvořák's mother had died a few months before he undertook this composition, and some commentators have called attention to what they regarded as elegiac qualities in the music. There is, to be sure, a certain air of wistfulness, particularly in the middle section, but nothing that to any degree mitigates the aptness of the title. The Scherzo capriccioso for large orchestra is a scherzo-and-trio of Brucknerian proportions—a piece that looks forward, too, to the central scherzo of Mahler's Fifth Symphony—but it substance is very much in the spirit of Dvořák's own Slavonic Dances and Slavonic Rhapsodies. Like the radiant Symphony No. 8 in G major, of 1888, the piece suggests a celebration of Nature (particularly in its rustic horn calls) and also evokes the character of a village festival (in the big, sensuous waltz theme for the strings). These elements are eloquently combined in the slow middle section, introduced by a splendid theme on the English horn, and then recur in their earlier form to bring the piece to a celebratory conclusion.