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Eighteenth century symphonic practice called for a minuet in the third movement to contrast the slow second movement.  By the time Beethoven had arrived in Vienna in the late 1790s, the minuet had faded from popularity as a dance so that in many of his works, including his Second Symphony, he had begun to make use of the scherzo.  The literal meaning of scherzo is 'joke', though in this context the connotation would be more along the lines of 'lighthearted'.  The Eroicas scherzo, as most others, generally assumes the form of a minuet with an accelerated tempo and jovial character.  I should note here that the earliest sketches for the Eroica indicate Beethoven originally considered a minueto serioso before deciding on a scherzo.

Ex. 1

The Eroica's scherzo is disorienting from the onset.  Beethoven begins the movement suggesting a double meter by alternating E and A chords briefly.  Only when the oboe suddenly appears do we have an indication this piece in triple meter.  The ambiguity is further heightened when the oboe comes in on B, the dominant and not the tonic.  In the brief span of seven seconds, the orchestra is made to appear incapable of walking and chewing gum simultaneously.  The strings return to a mock double meter only to have the oboe appear again, this time taking a run at it.

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