ClassicsOnline Home » SCARLATTI, D.: Keyboard Sonatas (Complete), Vol. 5
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Complete Sonatas Vol. 5
Domenico Scarlatti was born in Naples in 1685, sixth of the ten children of the composer Alessandro Scarlatti, Sicilian by birth and chiefly responsible for the early development of Neapolitan opera. The Scarlatti family had extensive involvement in music both in Rome and in Naples, where Alessandro Scarlatti became maestro di cappella to the Spanish viceroy in 1684. Domenico Scarlatti started his public career in 1701 under his fathers aegis as organist and composer in the vice-regal chapel. The following year father and son took leave of absence to explore the possibilities of employment in Florence, and Alessandro was later to exercise paternal authority by sending his son to Venice, where he remained for some four years. In 1709 Domenico entered the service of the exiled Queen of Poland, Maria Casimira, in Rome, there meeting and playing against Handel in a keyboard contest, in which the latter was declared the better organist and Scarlatti the better harpsichordist. It has been suggested that he spent a period from 1719 in Palermo, but his earlier connection with the Portuguese embassy in Rome led him before long to Lisbon, where he became music-master to the children of the royal family. This employment took him in 1728 to Madrid, when his pupil the Infanta Maria Barbara married the heir to the Spanish throne. Scarlatti apparently remained there for the rest of his life, his most considerable achievement the composition of some hundreds of single-movement sonatas or exercises, designed largely for the use of the Infanta, who became Queen of Spain in 1746.
The keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti survive in part in a number of eighteenth century manuscripts, some clearly from the collection of Queen Maria Barbara, possibly bequeathed to the great Italian castrato Farinelli, who was employed at the Spanish court, and now in Venice. Various sets of sonatas were published during the composers lifetime, including a set of thirty issued in Venice or, perhaps, in London in 1738, and 42 published in London by Thomas Roseingrave in 1739, including the thirty already available from the earlier publication. In more recent times the sonatas were edited by Alessandro Longo, who provided the numerical listing under L, and in 1953 the American harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick provided a new listing, distinguished by the letter K. Stylistic grounds have suggested a further changed listing by Giorgio Pestelli, under the letter P.
 The Sonata in C major, K.461/L.8/P.324, is found in the eleventh of the fifteen manuscript volumes of Scarlatti sonatas in Venice, dated 1755. Marked Allegro, the sonata is a lively work, with a characteristic opening figure, immediately repeated at a lower register.
 The Sonata in F major, K.82/L.30/P.25, is found in the fourteenth of the Venice volumes, dated 1742. It appears as the second movement of a composite suite in Coimbra MS.58, under the title Tocata 1o. This suite of four pieces was assembled about 1720 by the cathedral organist Carlo Seixas in a collection of Toccatas per cembalo y organo, with the attribution of the suite to Signor Domingo Escarlate. The date of the Coimbra collection suggests that Scarlatti, newly arrived in Lisbon, may have written the sonata while he was still in Italy. The sonata itself has the character of a toccata in its figuration. Ralph Kirkpatricks listing of the sonatas might well have started with this work, rather than with the published Essercizi of 1738, however untidy this might have made a catalogue that offers first the published sonatas from Scarlattis lifetime, followed by the copies preserved in Venice and elsewhere.
 The Sonata in B flat major, K.266/L.48/P.251, has a widely spaced opening theme, with a recurrent rhythmic figure. It is found in the fifth of the Venice volumes of sonatas, dated to 1753. Marked Andante, it uses a two-voice texture.
 The Sonata in G major, K.284/L.90/P.169, is first found in the same volume as the preceding sonata. The form is that of a rondo, with the theme appearing in major and minor keys in alternation, over a drone bass.
 The Sonata in E flat major, K.507/L.113/P.478, marked Andantino cantabile, is found in the twelfth of the Venice volumes, dated 1756. The dates refer, of course, to the date of copying rather than those of composition, but do suggest an obvious terminus post quem non, if nothing else. The sonata opens with a theme in the lower register which is immediately imitated an octave higher, with triplet figuration that continues as a prominent feature, as the work makes its imposing progress.
 The Sonata in D major, K.214/L.165/P.430, marked Allegro vivo, is found in the third volume of the Venice collection, dated to 1753. In 12/8 metre it opens with a descending arpeggio and makes characteristic use of acciaccature in a fully concertante style.
 The Sonata in A major, K.404/L.222/P.439, marked Andante, is found in the ninth of the Venice volumes, dated 1754. It is polyphonic in character, with dramatic pauses and modulations.
 The Sonata in G major, K.124/L.232/P.110, is in 3/8 metre and marked Allegro. It is found in the fifteenth of the Venice volumes, dated 1749. It has a theme of Spanish inspiration.
 From the thirteenth Venice volume of 1757 comes the Sonata in A major, K.536/L.236/P.540, marked Cantabile. The opening theme is given first by the right hand and echoed in the left, with continued use of the triplet figuration of the third bar.
 The Sonata in G major, K.494/L.287/P.444, marked Allegro, is included in the twelfth of the Venice volumes of the Spanish royal collection, dated 1756. Much is made of patterns of thirds and sixths, first heard in a repeated figure in the left hand, to be repeated in G minor.
 The Sonata in G minor, K.546/L.312/P.550, is preserved in the thirteenth of the Venice volumes, dated 1757. It is marked Cantabile and in 3/8 metre, the composers idiom immediately identifiable from the figuration, ornamentation and other familiar touches, like the syncopation that ends the first section and the whole sonata.
 From the fifteenth Venice volume of 1749 comes the Sonata in A major, K.113/L.345/P.160, marked Allegro and among the most familiar of all, its opening figure answered at once in a lower register. The sonata calls for hand crossing.
 The Sonata in B minor, K.227/L.347/P.52, is marked Allegro and is unusual in that there is a change of time signature between the two halves of the work, which opens in 2/4 and changes to 3/8, after a modulation to F sharp minor. It is found in the third Venice volume, of 1753.
 The Sonata in A major, K.26/L.368/P.82, marked Presto, is included in the volume of Essercizi published in 1738. It calls for hand crossing and belongs to a varied group of pieces chosen by Scarlatti for publication, in the preface to which he offers no profound Learning, but rather an ingenious Jesting with Art, to accommodate you to the Mastery of the Harpsichord.
 The rhythmic Sonata in C major, K.548 /L.404/P.552, marked Allegretto, is included in the 1757 fifteenth and final volume of a set of 463 sonatas copied in Spain and preserved in Parma. The Parma copies seem to be largely in the same hand as the first thirteen volumes of the Venice collection.
 The Sonata in C minor, K.37/L.406/P.2, an Allegro, is included in the collection of 1739 published by Thomas Roseingrave in London, a set of works that adds a further twelve sonatas and a fugue, and one of Roseingraves own compositions, to the thirty sonatas that had already appeared under the title Essercizi. Roseingrave had been sent to Italy in 1709 by the Dean and Chapter of St Patricks Cathedral in Dublin, and met Scarlatti in Venice, later following him to Rome and to Naples. By 1715 he was in London, where he did much to promote Scarlattis music, before failure in an affair of the heart affected his brain, leading him to uneasy retirement and finally once more to Ireland, where he died in 1766. The Sonata in C minor is brilliant in character, apparently an early work, in which the influence of Vivaldi has been detected.