The fundamental expression of this Scherzo is one of joyful energy. In form it is a developed rondo, comprising three statements of the main theme (or rather of the main group of themes) and two episodes, together with an introduction, bridge passages and a coda. In each of the three statements of the main group of themes one particular theme appears at the climax, and from it the melodic and rhythmic motifs of the work are all derived. This basic theme is an African melody; since 1842, it has been sung by people of African descent in Guiana, South America, in celebration of the abolition of slavery there in that year.
The bar-rhythms of the entire work are built up with unequal beats of three and two quavers, mostly in 5/8 time. The instrumentation is for 14 woodwind and 12 brass instruments with percussion, which includes a xylophone.