I thought I had this settled in my mind that the Presto movement in Mozart's Divertimento in D is a Rondo. But the form of the movement is this:

[: A :][: BA :]


A - Homophonic texture(melody and bass), presents motives that will be used later on

B - Contrapuntal treatment of motives from section A

Now, this sounds a lot like your typical ternary form. On paper at least, it looks as though Mozart wrote a Scherzo as the Presto movement of his Divertimento in D.

Ternary Form Perspective

In fact, the large scale form of this Beethoven Scherzo:

Is the same as the form of the Presto from Mozart's Divertimento in D, except without the repeats. This makes me think that maybe it is in Ternary form.

On the other hand, you have those repeats. The repeats being first just the A section and then the B and A sections together is most commonly seen in standalone minuets, which are either in Ternary form or Rounded Binary form. However, the tempo makes it clear that this is not a minuet by any means. Presto is just too fast to consider a piece a minuet. Even Allegro is getting up there towards the borderline between a Scherzo and a minuet.

Also the time signature is much more typical of a Scherzo or a Rondo than a minuet, being 2/4 instead of the typical 3/4 or 3/8 for a minuet. A standalone Scherzo and a Scherzo as part of a larger multi-movement work, both generally have a large scale Ternary form without repeats and a smaller scale Ternary form with repeats.

There is no large scale form to this Presto. Get any more detailed than the main theme and the contrapuntal treatment and you get into phrase structures, not subsections, like you generally would with a Scherzo.

Rondo Perspective

Now, on the other hand, what if it is just a short Rondo that happens to resemble Ternary Form? For centuries, the form of ABA has been called, in German, Kleine Rondo, which means little Rondo. This is what I thought at first. Even the repeats fit well into being in Rondo form. The first large section of Rondo Alla Turka(the section before the first key signature change in the Rondo) follows exactly the repeat pattern of the Presto, [: A :][: BA :]

However, there is one thing about this Presto that I'm pretty sure is not typical of any Rondo, regardless of length or complexity, that being the similarities between the A and B sections. The B section develops in a contrapuntal manner, the motives presented in the A section. This, I'm pretty sure is atypical for rondos.

The A section of the Presto, you could argue that it has a B subsection, but I prefer to think of it as closing material, because, given the tempo and how that part of the piece functions, it functions exactly the same way as the closing material in Sonata form, but without the transition and second theme that make it Sonata form. And as I have mentioned before, the B section is acting like a development section, again typical of either the more complex rondos or of Sonata form.

So is this Presto from Mozart's Divertimento in D in Ternary form? Or is it a little Rondo, not as complex as most rondos in Mozart's works?

  • Food for thought: is a piece in ABACABA form a rondo or a ternary-form piece? Heck, if ABABA is a rondo, is AABABA?
    – Dekkadeci
    Dec 28, 2019 at 8:43

3 Answers 3


This is in neither ternary nor rondo form, but rather sonata form.

The main reason I say this is that the material at the end of the opening A section is in the key of the dominant, A major. At the end of the movement, however, it has been transposed back to the tonic of D major. This motion from a secondary key to tonic is a clear definer of sonata form.

As such, the "B" that you mention immediately following the repeat is best understood as a development section. The large "A" section is a clear example of what Hepokoski and Darcy (authors of Sonata Theory) call a continuous exposition, where we understand this section as one large unit as opposed to one comprised of two separate themes.

  • But, isn't the A section first ending in the dominant and then in the tonic typical for ternary form like in a minuet for example?
    – Caters
    Dec 28, 2019 at 18:19
  • @Caters Ternary forms can do either, and there can also be a transition in between the A and B sections as necessary.
    – Richard
    Dec 28, 2019 at 18:22
  • Huh, I thought ternary-form pieces never have different key changes in their bookend A sections (e.g. no such thing as a ternary-form piece in ABA' form, where the A section moves from the home key to the subdominant, while the A' section stays in the home key throughout). I always thought that the moment this happens, the piece is now in rounded binary form instead.
    – Dekkadeci
    Dec 30, 2019 at 8:21
  • @Dekkadeci Well, the definition I was taught for ternary form vs rounded binary form is this: If the second A section is incomplete, it is rounded binary form. If the second A section is complete, it is ternary form. Nothing at all having to do with key changes in that definition.
    – Caters
    Dec 30, 2019 at 19:45

As Richard said, this movement is clearly in sonata form. Not only is it in sonata form, but pace Albrecht, this is almost a textbook example of a really basic sonata form. (As we might expect when sonata form is used for final movements, rather than opening movements: the forms are generally simpler for finales.)


  • Intro - mm. 1-4

  • First theme - mm. 5-20 (four clear 4-bar units, concluding with IAC)

  • Transition - mm. 20-24, modulating to dominant, concluding with medial caesura (to address Richard's point, this isn't a continuous exposition, as it has a clear medial caesura following the transition, before beginning a second theme in the dominant key)

  • Second theme in V - mm. 25-47 (begins with 1 bar intro, clear 4-bar units again, until we move to a strong PAC for expositional closure at m. 47)

  • Closing material - mm. 47-repeat (repeated cadential gestures to V, as expected)

Development: sort of fugato style development with chromaticism, modulations, etc. (as typical in development sections) landing on a A about 2/3 of the way through, then reintroducing G-natural to prepare the dominant seventh of the home key, with a final strong half cadence to A (with bass motion Bb-G#-A) right before the Recap


  • 1st theme (identical to expo)
  • Transition appropriately modified through use of V4/2-I6 rather than V4/2 of V to V6 as in the exposition, so no modulation, just staying in I, ends in medial caesura as before
  • 2nd theme follows pretty much everything exactly from expo, just transposed into tonic

If Mozart were seeing into the future and imagined the sonata form theories eventually proposed in the 1820s-1840s, he would have a difficult time writing a more stereotypical small sonata form. About the only things that are somewhat less common are the repetitiveness of the themes, but again, this is a Presto finale movement, so simple themes like this are to be expected.

As for all the other odd speculations about forms:

  • Whether one considers sonata form a "ternary" or "rounded binary" (and theorists disagree), this is a sonata form. Also, it's unclear to me what the OP's distinction between "ternary" and "rounded binary" is in the first place.
  • Rondo forms have repeated returns to the A section, often truncated. This movement has only one return to the A section. Rondo forms usually also end with the A section (excepting perhaps a final coda). This movement doesn't conclude with an A section.
  • I'm not certain what all the extended discussion about minuets is about. Classical minuets are in triple meter, period. This movement is not in triple meter, so it can't be a minuet, regardless of tempo. (Also, by this time, it would be rather odd to have a minuet for the finale of a multimovement work like this. Certainly never a scherzo.)

If anything, I assume perhaps there is some hesitation to call something this simple "sonata form" as some people think that "1st theme" and "2nd theme" imply, well... themes, a term which brings to mind soaring interesting melodies. But the "themes" of sonata form can be quite simple (just try to draw to mind the second theme of a Beethoven symphony... I'll wait; they're often not memorable melodies). And the finale-like nature of this movement means Mozart's going to use even simpler themes. And there's no reason that transitions have to be long either: I could pull up several examples off the top of my head that are this short, particularly in earlier classical period works.

  • Although the two themes presented here are quite clear, if not as distinctive as other themes in sonata allegro form of a classical era piece.
    – Divide1918
    Dec 29, 2019 at 8:54

Without knowing and checking this works you've mentioned ... general reflection:

Rondo, Sonata form, Scherzo (Menuet) are abstractions and ideal typos of forms. Many compositions are mixtures of all these types and ... why should a composer like Beethoven and Mozart keep this abstract, ideal form in his spontaneous inventions in mind? Why shouldn't he try to mix everything, even fugato elements? All we can do is to work out the aspects and elements belonging to the one or other type, but often we can't decide whether it is this or that.

So many questions concerning the form and type are obsolet - like probably this one of yours.

Btw: ... and as Dekkadeci says in her comment: Can't we say that a minimal Rondo form is ternary?

  • 1
    Forgot to correct this last time, but I'm female.
    – Dekkadeci
    Dec 28, 2019 at 9:37
  • in her comment ;) Dec 28, 2019 at 9:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.