So, I once looked up divertimento and what it means and I was told that it can have anywhere from 2 to 10 movements. The fact that it mentioned movements made me think:

Okay, so it is a sonata without a defined form, right?

So here is the typical form of a sonata:

  1. Sonata form
  2. Ternary form or Sonata form
  3. Optional but if present, a minuet or a scherzo
  4. Rondo form, Sonata form, or Sonata Rondo form.

Forms that aren't usually in a sonata but can be in place of the typical second or third movement forms include fugue and Theme and Variations. Sometimes a fugue is added to the end of a Rondo movement as well for a dramatic ending.

However, the more I listen to divertimenti, the more I can hear form in it. For instance, this divertimento in D by Mozart has this form in it:

  1. Sonata form, but with some odd harmony in the exposition(second theme isn't in the dominant)
  2. Binary form, like a minuet, but slower than your typical minuet
  3. Kleine Rondo(ABA form, but clearly not ternary form, must be a little rondo)

Basically your typical sonata - the typical slow movement form

And as another example, here is a later divertimento by Mozart, for a trio instead of a quartet:

and here is its form:

  1. Sonata form, no odd harmonies in the exposition
  2. Ternary form, typical for a slow movement
  3. Minuet and trio, typical for a third movement
  4. Theme and Variations?, a second slow movement
  5. Minuet and trio, a second third movement, though the 1 measure pause for all instruments is a bit odd for Mozart. Also there is a second trio, which is unusual, even for Beethoven but especially for Mozart. Even further diversion from the typical form takes place because there is a coda at the end.
  6. Sonata Rondo form, a typical form for a final movement

It seems to me, that a divertimento is your typical sonata +/- 1 or more movements, not so much a sonata without a defined form.

So is a divertimento a freeform sonata or is is a typical sonata with movements added to or subtracted from it?

3 Answers 3


I think you need to differentiate sonata as form from sonata used in the title of a work.

This is just using "sonata" in the title...

So here is the typical form of a sonata:
1 Sonata form
2 Ternary form or Sonata form
3 Optional but if present, a minuet or a scherzo
4 Rondo form, Sonata form, or Sonata Rondo form.

...that plan of movements might be seen with something title like "Piano Sonata in..."

There are some typical groupings of movements. Mozart's piano sonatas are mostly in three movements. But sometimes a work titled "sonata" may have only two movements. There is too much variety in the layout of movements to say there is a definite format. You can't really expect to know the number of movements just by the title.

Of course the sonata form are those individual movements with the recapitulation that defines the form.

So is a divertimento a freeform sonata or is is a typical sonata with movements added to or subtracted from it?

I wouldn't call it "freeform sonata." To me, that suggests a fantasia.

I would say it's a multi movement work that doesn't adhere to a conventional movement design as can be seen in quartets or symphonies.

I don't have a historical source to back this up, but because the divertimento - and the related serenade - was meant for entertainment, something to be played during a social event, I imagine the variation in number of movements may have been determined by the length needed for the event.


There is a false premise in the question, in assuming that the Classical composers (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and their contemporaries) even had the concept of "sonata form". The term "sonata form" was invented by theorists in the 19th century, not the 18th. The standard recipe for sonata form that still persists today in elementary textbooks ("write two themes, the first sounding masculine, the second sounding feminine in a different key, then mix them up a bit, and finally repeat them both in the same key") bears little relationship to most sonata first movements that classical composers actually wrote.

The only composers who actually wrote sonatas in "textbook sonata form" are virtually never played, because the results were frankly boring and predictable. One exception was Schubert, who got away with it because he could write such good tunes that "form" didn't really matter. If Schubert had been using computer notation software, he could have written the recapitulation to some of his sonata form movements in 30 seconds - just "copy the exposition, paste, transpose the second subject, edit two or three bars to fix up the new key relationship between the two subjects, save, end".

By the middle of the 19th century, anything resembling the textbook recipe was dead and buried by Liszt and his successors, but textbook writers still copied it from one generation to the next.

I was first puzzled by all this when I started playing the Beethoven piano sonatas (as a 13 or 14 year old). I had already learned what "sonata form" was supposed to be like, but couldn't figure out how any of the Beethoven that I was playing corresponded to the standard recipe. It took me about another 30 years to be convinced that the fault was with the recipe, and not with either Beethoven or my ability to analyse a score!

Classical divertimenti were the equivalent of modern muzak - nothing more than a pleasant background noise. Anything requiring intellectual effort by the listeners would have been a waste of time, so the result was a string of relatively short movements each with a simple formal organization - binary, ternary, or rondo. There's not much more to be said, as a generalization.

  • A substantial number of Beethoven piano sonatas and piano sonata movements correspond to the standard recipe. As an example, his Piano Sonata No. 25 in G Major is in textbook 3-movement sonata form, and its 1st movement is in textbook sonata-allegro form. I don't think you've played enough Beethoven piano sonatas.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented May 11, 2019 at 12:30

The divertimento


The Divertimento is a very famous instrumental form in the middle of the XVIII. Century after the demise of the suite. In particular, it was widely used by Haydn, Mozart and other Austrian composers of the time.

The term divertimento has been commonly used for certain pieces for keyboard instruments and often for solo instrumental ensembles.

Formerly this musical form was divided into a series of sentences ranging from five to nine.

  The divertimento, the serenata and the cassazione are almost a transition between the suite and the symphony.

Mozart composed 12 serenades, 2 cassazioni and 17 divertimenti. Some composers of the 20th century, including Bartók, Berkeley, have used the term in simple compositions for string or chamber orchestra.



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