Hypermeter as an expressive determinant in the Four Scherzos of Chopin
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The Four Scherzos of Frederic Chopin, influenced by the scherzos of Beethoven, have emerged as some of the most frequently performed works in the modern piano canon. Full of vigor, striking contrasts, raw passion, melodic beauty, and virtuosity, these works have all the constituents of effective pieces for the concert stage. Although important analyses of these pieces by notable theorists elucidate several key features of the works, rhythm, meter, and hypermeter as expressive determinants have not yet received sufficient treatment. After a brief historical context, and a look at the scherzo genre prior to Chopin, I will show how these rhythmic aspects add another interpretive dimension to the work. Thus, this paper explores how Chopin’s manipulation of rhythm, meter, and hypermeter interact with other salient features, including topic theory, to achieve a multiplicity of expressive ends. The hypermetrical and rhythmic language in the Four Scherzos is rich, and diverse. The tension created from the interaction of the regular hypermeter, along with the dissonance suggested by other musical features, significantly contributes to the expressive nature of these works. Hemiolas, syncopations, grouping elisions, expansions, displacements, grouping dissonances, hypermetrical counterpoint, hypermetrical transitions, and numerous other subtle manipulations ruffle the surface, and even completely obscure the regular hypermeter. An understanding of hypermeter leads to an understanding of many compositional features of a work. As a composer, an understanding Chopin’s use of hypermeter could lead to many expressive possibilities in the compositional process. And, since hypermeter is inherently interpretive, its exploration also leads to a wealth of interpretive possibilities in performance. An awareness of all the features necessary to understand hypermetrical interpretation, leads to more informed, expressive, and even spontaneous performances.