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Rodion Shchedrin

Rodion Shchedrin Composer

Humoresque for piano

Performances: 3
Tracks: 3
Musicology (work in progress):
  • Humoresque for piano
    Year: 1959
Soviet composer Rodion Shchedrin went back to the original meaning of the word when he put together his little Humoresque for piano: this is two minutes of musical slapstick, "con buffo e elegante," as Shchedrin describes it at the top of the four-page score. The "elegante" doesn't mean that there is really anything elegant, in the proper sense, about the piece. It's just that the Humoresque's comedy works so much better when done with a straight face.

The piece is a little polka dance. A punchy (and paunchy) left-hand bass line provides a solid D flat major foundation for a hapless offbeat-driven tune above; but some of the middle voices can't quite get a handle on the simple D flat major harmonic scheme, and the result is a graceless series of tone clusters whose pungent aroma can be dispelled only by an occasional angry outburst in the low register. The opening material is repeated after a ridiculous interlude, and a little countermelody is added—but this countermelody really belongs in some other piece, and it disappears after just four bars, never to return. After a while, the crude, repetitive, multi-tonal polka humor grows old, but Shchedrin has saved his best joke for last: after an endless run at this farcical D flat major, he suddenly shoots up, for the final closing "burst" (that one last, loud chord that marks the end of a dance), to E flat major. It is a crude, boorish trick (intentionally so, of course), and so absurdly not funny that one cannot help but chuckle for a few moments. As with so much vintage comedy, the humor here is made by inversion: the gag is such an old one (every music student in history, it seems, has pulled the old "slip-into-the-wrong-key-at-the-end" trick when entertaining friends at the piano) that it has become funny just because it isn't anymore.

© Blair Johnston, Rovi
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