A minuet is a dance for two persons, usually in 3/4 time. The word was adapted, under the influence of the Italian minuetto, from the French menuet, meaning small, pretty, delicate, a diminutive of menu, from the Latin minutus; menuetto is a word that occurs only on musical scores. The word refers probably to the short steps, pas menus, taken in the dance. At the period when it was most fashionable it was slow, ceremonious, and graceful.
The name is also given to a musical composition written in the same time and rhythm, but when not accompanying an actual dance the pace was quicker. Minuets written in music from Lully onwards. One or more minuets were optional in the Suites of Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach. It eventually became a standard movement in those four-movement suites that evolved into the symphony, with Johann Stamitz the first to employ it in this way with regularity. In the hands of Ludwig van Beethoven it becomes the scherzo.
Among Italian composers, the minuet was often considerably quicker and livlier, and was sometimes written in 3/8 or 6/8 time. A minuet was often used as the final movement in an Italian overture.
The other dances that made up a Baroque suite dropped out of use, but the minuet retained its popularity.
The usual form is ABA (ternary form), with a contrasted middle section, the familiar minuet and trio. The "trio" section is a contrasting mid-section, lighter in orchestration. A common French "trio" scoring in the 18th century consisted of a pair of oboes and a bassoon
An example of the true form of the minuet is to be found in Don Giovanni. The 'Boccherini' minuet has often provided the conventional background music when an air of stilted formality and decorum was being emphasized.