Divertimento (from the Italian divertire — to amuse) is a musical genre, with most of its examples from the 18th century. The mood of the divertimento is most often lighthearted (as a result of being played at social functions) and it is generally composed for a small ensemble.
Divertimento is used to describe a wide variety of secular instrumental works for soloist or chamber ensemble. It is a kind of music entertainment although it could also be applied to serious genres. After 1780, the term generally designated works that were informal or light.
As a separate genre, it appears to have no specific form, although most of the divertimenti of the second half of the 18th century go either back to a dance suite approach (derived from the 'ballet' type of theatrical divertimento), or take the form of other chamber music genres of their century (as a continuation of the merely instrumental theatrical divertimento). There are many other terms which describe music similar to the divertimento, including serenade, cassation, notturno, Nachtmusik; after about 1780, the divertimento was the term most commonly applied to this light, "after-dinner" and often outdoor music. Divertimenti have from one to nine movements, and there is at least one example with thirteen. The earliest publication to use the name "divertimento" is by Carlo Grossi, in 1681, in Venice (Il divertimento de' grandi: musiche da camera, ò per servizio di tavola) --and the hint that the divertimento is to accompany "table service" applies to later ages as well, since this light music was often used to accompany banquets and other social events.
Mozart is known for having composed different types of divertimenti, sometimes even taking the form of a small symphony (or, more exactly: sinfonia), for example, the Salzburg Symphonies KV 136-137-138. Even more unusual is his six movement string trio, KV 563, which is a serious work belonging with his string quartets and quintets, for all that it is labeled a divertimento. Other composers of divertimenti include Leopold Mozart, Carl Stamitz, Haydn and Boccherini.
A few examples exist from the 20th century, including works by Ferruccio Busoni, Sergei Prokofiev, Béla Bartók and Igor Stravinsky (from his ballet to music of Tchaikovsky Le Baiser de la fée).
- Article "Divertimento," in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1-56159-174-2
- The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, ed. Don Randel. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-674-61525-5
- The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians