Scherzo in Italian means a joke. (Taylor, 1989: p. xx) One of the earliest use of the word in a title of a musical piece was in light-hearted madrigals by Claudio Monteverdi – his Scherzi musicali with two sets of pieces. (Gordon, 2002: 38) Then we have Antonio Brunelli, in his pieces for voices and instruments titled Scherzi, Arie, Canzonette e Madrigale. (Hammond: 164) Johann Baptist Schenk also wrote Scherzi musicali, however it is only a title for fourteen suites for gamba and cotinuo.
Later, the term scherzo was used to denote lively instrumental works in fast tempos in duple time signature, commonly in 2/4. Such is the case with the scherzo in Bach’s Keyboard Partita no. 3 (Dzapo, 59) and later, in Haydn’s Sonatina in F major.