Domenico Scarlatti

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1738 portrait by Domingo Antonio Velasco

Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti (26 October 1685 – 23 July 1757) was an Italian composer who spent much of his life in the service of the Portuguese and Spanish royal families. He is classified primarily as a Baroque composer chronologically, although his music was influential in the development of the Classical style and he was one of the few Baroque composers to transition into the classical period. Like his renowned father Alessandro Scarlatti, he composed in a variety of musical forms, although today he is known mainly for his 555 keyboard sonatas.

Life and career[edit]

Domenico Scarlatti was born in Naples, Kingdom of Naples, in 1685, the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel. He was the sixth of ten children of the composer and teacher Alessandro Scarlatti. Domenico's older brother Pietro Filippo was also a musician.

He probably first studied music under his father. Other composers who may have been his early teachers include Gaetano Greco, Francesco Gasparini, and Bernardo Pasquini, all of whom may have influenced his musical style. He was appointed a composer and organist at the royal chapel in Naples in 1701. In 1704, he revised Carlo Francesco Pollarolo's opera Irene for performance at Naples. Soon afterwards, his father sent him to Venice. After this, nothing is known of Scarlatti's life until 1709, when he went to Rome in the service of the exiled Polish queen Marie Casimire. He met Thomas Roseingrave there. Scarlatti was already an eminent harpsichordist: there is a story of a trial of skill with George Frideric Handel at the palace of Cardinal Ottoboni in Rome where he was judged possibly superior to Handel on that instrument, although inferior on the organ. Later in life, he was known to cross himself in veneration when speaking of Handel's skill. In Rome, Scarlatti composed several operas for Queen Casimira's private theatre. He was Maestro Di Cappella at St. Peter's from 1715 to 1719. In 1719 he travelled to London to direct his opera Narciso at the King's Theatre.

According to Vicente Bicchi (Papal Nuncio at the time), Domenico Scarlatti arrived in Lisbon on 29 November 1719. There he taught music to the Portuguese princess Maria Magdalena Barbara. He left Lisbon on 28 January 1727 for Rome, where he married Maria Caterina Gentili on 6 May 1728. In 1729 he moved to Seville, staying for four years. In 1733 he went to Madrid as music master to Princess Maria Barbara, who had married into the Spanish royal house. The Princess later became Queen of Spain. Scarlatti remained in the country for the remaining twenty-five years of his life, and had five children there. After the death of his first wife in 1742, he married a Spaniard, Anastasia Maxarti Ximenes. Among his compositions during his time in Madrid were a number of the 555 keyboard sonatas for which he is best known.

Scarlatti befriended the castrato singer Farinelli, a fellow Neapolitan also enjoying royal patronage in Madrid. The musicologist Ralph Kirkpatrick commented that Farinelli's correspondence provides "most of the direct information about Scarlatti that has transmitted itself to our day." Domenico Scarlatti died in Madrid, at the age of 71. His residence on Calle Leganitos is designated with a historical plaque, and his descendants still live in Madrid. He was buried at a convent there, in Madrid, but his grave no longer exists.

Music[edit]

Sonata in D minor K. 9, Allegretto

performed on a harpsichord by Martha Goldstein

Sonata in E major K. 20, Presto

performed on a harpsichord by Martha Goldstein

Sonata in B minor K. 27, Allegro

performed on a piano by Raymond Smullyan

Sonata in F Minor K. 69

performed on a spinet by Ulrich Metzner

Sonata in B Minor K. 87

performed on a digital harpsichord by Membeth

Sonata in C major K. 159, Allegro

performed on a piano by Veronica van der Knaap

About this sound Sonata in B minor K. 377

MIDI rendition

Sonata in E major K. 380, Andante comodo

performed on a piano by Raymond Smullyan

Sonata in F Minor K. 466

performed on a digital harpsichord by Membeth

Sonata in E major K. 531, Allegro

performed on a piano by Raymond Smullyan

Only a small fraction of Scarlatti's compositions were published during his lifetime; Scarlatti himself seems to have overseen the publication in 1738 of the most famous collection, his 30 Essercizi ("Exercises"). These were well received throughout Europe, and were championed by the foremost English writer on music of the eighteenth century, Charles Burney.

The many sonatas which were unpublished during Scarlatti's lifetime have appeared in print irregularly in the two and a half centuries since. Scarlatti has attracted notable admirers, including Frédéric Chopin, Johannes Brahms, Béla Bartók, Dmitri Shostakovich, Heinrich Schenker, Vladimir Horowitz, Emil Gilels, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, and Marc-André Hamelin.

Scarlatti's 555 keyboard sonatas are single movements, mostly in binary form, and mostly written for the harpsichord or the earliest pianofortes. (There are four for organ, and a few for small instrumental group). Some of them display harmonic audacity in their use of discords, and also unconventional modulations to remote keys.

Other distinctive attributes of Scarlatti's style are the following:

  • The influence of Iberian (Portuguese and Spanish) folk music. An example is Scarlatti's use of the Phrygian mode and other tonal inflections more or less alien to European art music. Many of Scarlatti's figurations and dissonances are suggestive of the guitar.
  • A formal device in which each half of a sonata leads to a pivotal point, which the Scarlatti scholar Ralph Kirkpatrick termed "the crux", and which is sometimes underlined by a pause or fermata. Before the crux, Scarlatti sonatas often contain their main thematic variety, and after the crux the music makes more use of repetitive figurations as it modulates away from the home key (in the first half) or back to the home key (in the second half).

Ralph Kirkpatrick produced an edition of the sonatas in 1953, and the numbering from this edition is now nearly always used – the Kk. or K. number. Previously, the numbering commonly used was from the 1906 edition compiled by the Neapolitan pianist Alessandro Longo (L. numbers). Kirkpatrick's numbering is chronological, while Longo's ordering is a result of his grouping the sonatas into "suites". In 1967 the Italian musicologist Giorgio Pestelli published a revised catalog (using P. numbers), which corrected what he considered to be some anachronisms.[1]

Aside from his many sonatas, he composed a quantity of operas and cantatas, symphonias, and liturgical pieces. Well known works include the Stabat Mater of 1715 and the Salve Regina of 1757, which is thought to be his last composition.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ See List of solo keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti for a list converting Longo, Kirkpatrick, Pestelli and Czerny numbers of Scarlatti's sonatas.

References[edit]

  • Kirkpatrick, Ralph (1953). Domenico Scarlatti. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02708-0. 
  • Domenico Scarlatti. Sixty Sonatas in Two volumes, edited in chronological order from the manuscripts and earliest printed sources with a preface by Ralph Kirkpatrick, New York, G. Schirmer, 1953.
  • D. Scarlatti. Sonates, in 11 volumes, ed. Kenneth Gilbert after the Venice manuscripts, Paris, Heugel, coll. « Le Pupitre », from 1975 to 1984.
  • Domenico Scarlatti. Complete Keyboard Works, in facsimile from the manuscript (Parma) and printed sources, rev. Ralph Kirkpatrick, New York, Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1971.
  • Scarlatti, Domenico. Sonate per cembalo del Cavalier Dn. Domenico Scarlatti. Complete facsimile of the Venice manuscripts in 15 vol. Archivum Musicum: Monumenta Musicae Revocata, 1/I-XV. Florence, 1985-1992.

External links[edit]

Free scores