The minuet was an integral part of multi-movement instrumental works of the Viennese Classical period, as well as playing a central role in eighteenth-century study of composition. During the nineteenth century, it was the scherzo that took over its didactic role,, which involved a shift of accent from a dance-like musical type to a kind of character piece. The variety of what “scherzo” could mean in the nineteenth century is probably the reason why there are relatively many scherzo and scherzando movements in Bartók's oeuvre. He encountered the genre quite early, already before and then during his studies of composition. The sum of his scherzos will be examined regarding tradition and originality, and also as to the intentions he had after his studies whenever he chose to compose a “scherzo.”
The recognition of topoi, i.e. traditional formulae, is an important means of musical analysis. To illustrate this, the paper discusses the types of the battaglia and the pastoral in Bach’s Cantata Halt im Gedächtnis Jesum Christ, and briefly enumerates different types of allusions to jazz in 20th-century compositions by Stravinsky, Milhaud, Blacher, Tippet, and Zimmermann. Then it raises the possibility of an analysis of topoi in Bartók’s music in four main categories. It considers Bartók’s musical quotations from Bach to Shostakovich; the chorale as special topos appearing in Mikrokosmos, in the Concerto for Orchestra, in the Adagio religioso of the Third Piano Concerto; the topos-like employment of the tritone; and finally the idea of a Bartókian Arcadia in the Finale of Music for Strings, and the integration of bird song in the Adagio religioso.