What Is a Divertimento?

A divertimento is a piece of classical music that was especially popular in the eighteenth century. It consists of several small movements that are designed for entertainment. Divertimenti were typically composed as music to accompany dinners or banquets. They also composed them for the general mingling and dancing that took place after meals. The multiple movements were supposed to keep the evening’s pace lively and moving.

Despite the fact that most divertimenti have three to ten movements, they do not have a set form. The origin of the term “divertimento” thus determines whether a work should be classified as a divertimento. This term is derived from the Italian and means “to amuse or divert.” Because amusement is usually associated with happiness, divertimenti is commonly referred to as light music. However, diversion simply means to do something different or to go in a different direction. Because divertimenti does not always imply lightness, some divertimenti are quite serious.

Despite the fact that a divertimento has no predetermined form, the movements it contains usually do. Movements can take the form of a rondo or a sonata, for example. As a result, composers were still expected to write divertimenti according to formal theory rules. Many divertimenti, in fact, contain advanced, mature musical concepts that elevate the works to true masterpieces, regardless of the context in which they were created. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “String Divertimento K. 563” is frequently cited as an example.

Composers can use woodwinds, brass, strings, or a combination of these, as well as supplemental percussion, in their divertimenti orchestration. Divertimenti for chamber orchestras are available. Composers turned to other instrumental combinations when they didn’t have the space or money to use chamber orchestras. Divertimenti were instrumental in the development of chamber forms such as the string quartet and woodwind quintet. These pieces contain some of the best examples of musical experimentation and instrumental performance limits.

Divertimenti are not nearly as popular today as they were in the 18th century, despite the fact that some contemporary composers are writing new divertimenti that combine tonal and atonal techniques. The reason for this is that, with the exception of formal dinners, people rarely use live musicians, if at all. Divertimenti became largely obsolete as people became busier and meals became functional rather than social. New divertimenti are usually performed in a formal concert setting where the music is the focus, rather than a dining hall.