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ClassicsOnline Home » SCARLATTI, D.: Keyboard Sonatas (Complete), Vol. 2
By Bryce Morrison
By John Bell Young
By Michael Bailey
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Complete Sonatas, Vol.2
Born in Naples on 26 October 1685, Domenico Scarlatti first studied with his father, Alessandro Scarlatti, an important figure in the establishment of the eighteenth-century school of Neapolitan opera. In 1701 Domenico was appointed organist and composer at the Royal Chapel in Naples, taking advantage of a leave of absence to visit Florence. His first operas were staged in Naples, but in 1705, on the insistence of his father, he moved to Venice, where his father, convinced of his son's remarkable talent, thought his gifts might find greater scope. There he is said to have studied with Francesco Gasparini, a highly respected composer and teacher. In 1709 he moved to Rome, where he joined the musical establishment of Queen Maria Casimira of Poland, composing, among other things, six operas for her private theatre. In 1713 he became maestro di cappella of the Basilica Giulia at St Peter's and the following year, after Queen Casimira's departure from Rome, he was also employed by the Portuguese ambassador.
In 1719 Scarlatti left Rome, moving, it has recently been conjectured, to Palermo, the original home of the Scarlattis, before employment, possibly as late as 1723, in Lisbon where he assumed responsibility for the patriarchal chapel and became music-master to the king's younger brother and to his daughter, Maria Barbara. At first his duties at the Portuguese court consisted largely in providing music for official and religious ceremonies, but with the development of the Infanta Maria Barbara's musical talent Scarlatti's career became associated with her progress. In 1729, when the seventeen-year-old princess went to Spain as the bride of the heir to the Spanish throne, her music-master accompanied her. The combination of a new musical world, unlike anything he had experienced in Italy, and the impetus of a brilliant pupil capable of performing anything that he wrote and avid for more, was to transform Scarlatti from a mediocre composer of operas and church music into the greatest of idiomatic composers for the harpsichord.
On 21 April 1738 Domenico Scarlatti was initiated as a Knight of the Order of Santiago under the sponsorship of the King of Portugal. The most frequently reproduced portrait of Scarlatti was painted around this time by Domingo Antonio de Velasco. His position under the Infanta Maria Barbara, who became Queen of Spain in 1746 on the accession of her husband to the throne, was an important one, although he may have been eclipsed to some extent after the arrival in Madrid of the famous castrato Farinelli, initially employed at court to alleviate the King's bouts of depression. Domenico Scarlatti died in Madrid on 23 July 1757. The Queen, with whom his career had been so long associated, died in the following year.
Domenico Scarlatti once concluded a preface to a collection of his sonatas with the words Vivi felice! (Live happily!), a phrase which is exemplified to the full in the more than 550 sonatas he wrote during his lifetime. His sonatas, which demand a high degree of executive skill in their deceptive simplicity, contain within them both Italian and Spanish influences. Street-cries, muleteers' songs, bugle-calls and guitar effects were not foreign to Scarlatti's musical idiom and his short sonatas each represent a musical idea in cameo perfection.
No autograph manuscripts of the Scarlatti sonatas are known to exist. The primary sources for these works are therefore the two manuscript sets copied out between 1752 and 1757, the printed edition of the Essercizi (1738) and single works or small groups in various other publications and manuscripts. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries knew Scarlatti principally through the brilliant sonatas of the Essercizi and later in "improved" arrangements for piano, among them those of piano virtuoso Carl Tausig. In 1906 Alessandro Longo (1864 -1945) undertook a virtually complete edition of the sonatas, which remained the standard for much of this century. Unfortunately, Longo was not content to present the texts as they stood, but added fingerings and dynamic markings, and rewrote the originals where they appeared inconsistent with nineteenth-century conservatory standards. Later studies by Walter Gerstenberg, Ralph Kirkpatrick and Giorgio Pestelli corrected these anachronisms. Since Pestelli's controversial historical chronology of Scarlatti' s sonatas is still obscured by the prevalence of Longo's and Kirkpatrick's published editions, all three numbering systems are here provided to facilitate cross-reference.
 Scarlatti's successful imitation of the guitar is perhaps the distinguishing feature of the Sonata in D Major, K.492/L.14/P.443 (Presto). The work is exuberant and brilliant, written in the manner of a gigue where the pattern of its two sections is briefly interrupted by outbursts of effervescent scale passages.
 The ninety-four bar Sonata in A minor, K.3/L.378/P.59 (Presto) was subsequently arranged by Charles Avison (1709-1770). In all, Avison orchestrated twelve Scarlatti sonatas, which are embodied in the Twelve Concertos (1744). The fourth concerto's second movement (marked Allegro/Presto) is a setting of the Sonata in A minor, where Avison has reduced the sonata to sixty bars.
 The Sonata in D minor, K.32/L.423/P.14 (Aria) embraces Scarlatti's lyrical side and displays all its purity. This work is, in essence, a minuet, which Kirkpatrick finds "betrays Scarlatti's Neapolitan origins in the sudden changes of major thirds to minor".
 The exuberant Sonata in D Major, K33/L.424/P.130 (Allegro) begins with flamenco-like foot-stamping. The sonata is full of trills, mandolin-like strummings and piquant dissonances.
 Kirkpatrick describes the Sonata in A Major, K.208/L.238/P.315 (Andante e cantabile) as "courtly flamenco music, rendered elegant and suitable for the confines of the royal palace, as were its players and singers when Goya brought them into his tapestry cartoons a few years later."
 The companion piece to K.208, the Sonata in A Major, K.209/L.428/P.209 (Allegro), Kirkpatrick explains as "...a jota. Under this dizzying whirl of twirling feet, stamping heels and shrill village instruments, the inevitable castanets are felt if not actually heard in the built-up crescendos of rhythmic acceleration which culminate in a clattering whirr at the trills."
 The Sonata in E Major, K.20/L.375/P.76 (Presto) is notable for the thirds in the second half, a device Scarlatti often used to confuse the rhythmic and harmonic sense of the listener.
 A fine example of Scarlatti's control over rhythmic motion in the retarding of the cadences can be found in the Sonata in E minor, K.98/L.325/P.219 (Allegrissimo), discovered among the manuscripts in the archives of the Metropolitan Cathedral in Valladolid, Spain.
 One of the less aggressive of the Essercizi, the Sonata in B minor, K.27/L.449/P.83 (Allegro), uses hand-crossing atmospherically rather than for virtuosity. This work seems like a chain of harmonic progressions dissolved in a consistent figuration.
 The village orchestra is audible in the Sonata in D Major, K.436/L.l09/P.404 (Allegro). In this sonata we hear a battery of trumpets or horns within a framework of Spanish dance music.
 The Sonata in D minor, K.141/L.422/P271 (Allegro) is a study in repeated notes, suggesting the tremolo of the mandolin. It is also one of the most brilliant of the early sonatas, combining horn-calls, repeated figurations and hand-crossing. This sonata (in essence, a toccata) opens impressively with rapidly repeated notes and proceeds to a dramatic climax within the restrictions of the form.
 The Sonata in D minor, K.213/L.I08/P.288 (Andante) is a harmonically intense slow work. This intimate, refined, soul-searching music illustrates that Scarlatti was also exceptionally gifted at writing music of depth, in this case a delicious and dolorous lament.
 Hand crossings make the Sonata in G Major, K.14/L.387/P.70 (Presto) visually exciting. Kirkpatrick marvels that in this sonata one hears "a dominant pedal held high in the air while the lower part rises to meet it."
 The Sonata in A Major, K.322/L.483/P.360 (Allegro) has a graceful, dance-like rhythm reminiscent of the Spanish court. The dynamic contrasts only add to the stately and relaxed atmosphere of powdered wigs, swishing skirts and couples bowing to each other as they take their leisurely dance-steps.
 In all of Scarlatti's sonatas, only the one Sonata in A minor, K.I09/L.138/P.290 is marked Adagio. Its mood is sombre and at moments mournful, ending with an air of finality. Hands are required to cross and re-cross in the two-note figure echoed through three octaves.
 The whimsical Sonata in G Major, K.146/L.349/P106 (Allegretto) has been compared to the playful flirtatious love games of a giddy couple. She teases and looks away, covering her face behind a fan, but his ardour is not to be ignored. The couple then chase after each other through the gardens, depicted in the running figurations.
 The early Sonata in A Major, K.39/L.391/P.53 (Allegro) shows traces of the keyboard styles of Pasquini and Alessandro Scarlatti. It is a "commotion-filled" piece, almost giving us a glimpse at a busy market full of haggling shoppers. Vincenzo Tommasini orchestrated part of this sonata for his ballet Le donne di buon umore (The Good-Humoured Ladies), where it has the title "Conspiracy of the women to mock Silvestra".
 The pensive, reflective and plaintive Sonata in F minor, K.481/L.187/P.504 (Andante e cantabile) is full of pastoral charm. Arthur Benjamin freely adapted this sonata as the fourth movement of his 1946 composition, Suite for Flute and Strings.
 The Sonata in D minor, K.517/L.266/P.517 (Prestissimo) is full of chromatic appoggiaturas, echo dynamics (here almost giving the effect of persistent door knocks), and a few unresolved sevenths in the inner parts of the work. Kirkpatrick hears in this work Scarlatti's keyboard imitation of orchestral tutti.
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