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Domenico Scarlatti

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Domenico Scarlatti
Portrait of Scarlatti wearing the Order of Santiago (1738)
Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti

(1685-10-26)26 October 1685
Naples, Kingdom of Naples
Died23 July 1757(1757-07-23) (aged 71)
Madrid, Spain
WorksList of compositions

Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti (26 October 1685 – 23 July 1757) was an Italian composer. He is classified primarily as a Baroque composer chronologically, although his music was influential in the development of the Classical style. 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.[1] He spent much of his life in the service of the Portuguese and Spanish royal families.

Life and career[edit]

Scarlatti was born in Naples, Kingdom of Naples, belonging to the Spanish Crown. He was born in 1685, the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel.[1] He was the sixth of ten children of the composer and teacher Alessandro Scarlatti. His older brother Pietro Filippo was also a musician.

Scarlatti first studied music under his father.[2] 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.

Scarlatti was appointed as a composer and organist at the Chapel Royal of Naples in 1701 and briefly worked under his father, who was then the chapel's maestro di cappella. In 1703 he revised Carlo Francesco Pollarolo's opera Irene for performance at Naples. Soon after, his father sent him to Venice. After this, nothing is known of his life until 1709, when he went to Rome and entered the service of the exiled Polish queen Marie Casimire. It was there he met Thomas Roseingrave. Scarlatti was already an accomplished harpsichordist; there is a story of a trial of skill with George Frideric Handel at the palace of Cardinal Ottoboni in Rome, where Scarlatti was judged possibly superior to Handel on the harpsichord, although inferior on the organ. Later in life, he was known to cross himself in veneration when speaking of Handel's skill.[3]

While in Rome, Scarlatti composed several operas for Queen Casimir'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 in Portugal at the time, 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 a music master to Princess Maria Barbara, who had married into the Spanish royal house. She later became Queen of Spain. Scarlatti remained in Spain for the remaining 25 years of his life and had five children there. After his wife died in 1739, he married a Spaniard, Anastasia Maxarti Ximenes. Among his compositions during his time in Madrid were most 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. Musicologist and harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick, who published a biography of Scarlatti in 1953, commented that Farinelli's correspondence provides "most of the direct information about Scarlatti that has transmitted itself to our day".

Scarlatti died in Madrid at the age of 71. His residence at 35 Calle de Leganitos is designated with a historical plaque, and his descendants still live in Madrid. He was buried at a convent there, but his grave no longer exists.

Minor planet 6480 Scarlatti is named in his honour.[4]


Only a small number 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). They were well received throughout Europe and were championed by the foremost English writer on music of the eighteenth century, Charles Burney. Burney wrote that the harpsichordist Joseph Kelway was "head of the Scarlatti sect", a group of English musicians that championed Scarlatti as early as 1739, also including Thomas Roseingrave.[5][6]

The many sonatas unpublished during Scarlatti's lifetime have appeared in print irregularly in the past two and a half centuries. He has attracted notable admirers, including Béla Bartók, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Pieter-Jan Belder, Johann Sebastian Bach, Muzio Clementi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Carl Czerny, Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, Frédéric Chopin, Claude Debussy, Emil Gilels, Francis Poulenc, Olivier Messiaen, Enrique Granados, Marc-André Hamelin, Vladimir Horowitz, Ivo Pogorelić, Scott Ross (the first performer to record all 555 sonatas), Heinrich Schenker, András Schiff and Dmitri Shostakovich. [citation needed]

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

Though Scarlatti wrote over 500 sonatas, there is a wide variety in his works. Some are deeply serious, others are light and almost humorous. Some sound like courtly dances, others like street songs. This ability to cover a wide range of styles and moods is one of the hallmarks of Scarlatti's work. Another stylistic trait of this composer is the ability to mix “different forms or levels of discourse”.[7]

Other distinctive attributes of his music are:

  • The influence of Iberian (Portuguese and Spanish) folk music. An example is his use of the Phrygian mode and other tonal inflections more or less alien to European art music. Many of his figurations and dissonances are suggestive of the guitar.
  • The influence of the Spanish guitar can be seen in notes being played repeatedly.[8]
  • A formal device where each half of a sonata leads to a pivotal point, which 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).
  • Its tendency to be in the galant style.[9]

Kirkpatrick produced an edition of the sonatas in 1953, and the numbering from this edition—the Kk. or K. number—is now nearly always used. Previously, the numbering commonly used was from the 1906 edition compiled by Neapolitan pianist Alessandro Longo (L. numbers). Kirkpatrick's numbering is chronological, while Longo's ordering is a result of his arbitrarily grouping the sonatas into "suites". In 1967 the Italian musicologist Giorgio Pestelli published a revised catalogue (using P. numbers), which corrected what he considered to be some anachronisms, and added some sonatas missing from Kirkpatrick's edition.[10] Although the exact composition dates for these surviving sonatas are not known, Kirkpatrick concluded that they might all have been composed late in Scarlatti's career (after 1735), with most of them possibly written after the composer's 67th birthday.[11][12]

Aside from his many sonatas, Scarlatti composed several operas, cantatas, and liturgical pieces. Well-known works include the Stabat Mater of 1715, and the Salve Regina of 1756, which is thought to be his last composition.

Selected discography[edit]

Complete works[edit]

  • L'Œuvre pour clavier, Scott Ross (1988, 34 CDs Erato/Radio France) OCLC 725539860, 935869199
  • Domenico Scarlatti: The Complete Sonatas, Richard Lester, harpsichord & fortepiano (2001–2005, 39 CDs in 7 volumes Nimbus Records NI 1725/NI 1741) OCLC 1071943740.
  • Keyboard Sonatas, Emilia Fadini, Ottavio Dantone, Sergio Vartolo, Marco Farolfi, Enrico Baiano..., harpsichord, fortepiano, organ (1999–2012, 12 CDs Stradivarius) – in progress
  • Keyboard Sonatas, Pieter-Jan Belder, harpsichord & fortepiano (2012, 36 CDs Brilliant Classics)
  • Keyboard Sonatas, Carlo Grante, Bösendorfer Imperial piano (2009–2020, 35 CDs in 6 volumes Music & Arts)

Piano recitals[edit]

Fortepiano recitals[edit]

Harpsichord recitals[edit]

Vocal music[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kirkpatrick, Ralph (19 July 2023). "Domenico Scarlatti". Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
  2. ^ "Domenico Scarlatti". ArkivMusic: the source for classical music. Archived from the original on 27 October 2020. Retrieved 2 October 2018.
  3. ^ Boyd, Malcolm. Domenico Scarlatti: Master of Music (1986)
  4. ^ |"(6479) Leoconnolly". Dictionary of Minor Planet Names. Springer. 2003. p. 536. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-29925-7_5896. ISBN 978-3-540-29925-7.
  5. ^ Kroll, Mark. Bach, Handel and Scarlatti: Reception in Britain, 1750-1850, (2023), p. 13
  6. ^ Charles Burney. A General History of Music (1789), 1957 edition ed. Frank Mercer, Vol.2, p. 1009
  7. ^ "Review | the Keyboard Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and Eighteenth-Century Musical Style by W. Dean Sutcliffe".
  8. ^ Barkley, Lisa; Bryan, Clark, eds. (1999). Conservatory Canada New Millennium Piano Series. Waterloo Music Company Ltd. However, the guitar was hardly restricted to Iberia at the time.
  9. ^ Barkley, Lisa; Bryan, Clark, eds. (1999). Conservatory Canada New Millennium Piano Series.
  10. ^ See List of solo keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti for a list converting Longo, Kirkpatrick, Pistelli, and Czerny numbers of Scarlatti's sonatas.
  11. ^ Kirkpatrick, Ralph (1983). Domenico Scarlatti: Revised Edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 145. ISBN 0-691-09101-3.
  12. ^ Downs, Philip G. (1992). Classical Music. New York: Norton. p. 49. ISBN 0-393-95191-X.
  13. ^ "Tharaud interprète Scarlatti". lexpress.fr (in French). 20 January 2011.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]