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ClassicsOnline Home » SCARLATTI, D.: Keyboard Sonatas (Complete), Vol. 3
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Complete Sonatas Vol.3
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 G major, K.201/L.129/P.252, is found in the second of the fifteen manuscript volumes of Scarlatti sonatas in Venice, dated 1752. Marked Vivo, the sonata is a lively work, starting with an arpeggio figure answered by descending thirds. It has a central section that offers a contrast of key and material, preserving, nevertheless the general mood.
 The Sonata in D minor, K.10/L.370/P.66, is first found in a collection of thirty sonatas, Essercizi per gravicembalo, perhaps first published in London in 1738. Marked Presto, the sonata is thoroughly characteristic of the composer in its rapid scale passages, vigour and energy.
 The key of B major is less usual in the sonatas. The Sonata in B major, K.261/L.148/P.300, soon shifts in key. It is found in the fourth of the Venice volumes of sonatas, dated to 1753. The material is developed in a remarkable way, with an insistence on repeated single notes, suggesting guitar technique.
 The Sonata in B flat major, K.70/L.50/P.21, is first found in one of the fifteen Venice volumes of sonatas, in this case dated 1742. The form is that of a toccata and the work is thought by Giorgio Pestelli to date from the earlier period of the composers career, either in Venice between 1705 and 1709 or during the following period spent in Rome.
 The Sonata in D minor, K.444/L.420/P.441, marked Allegrissimo, is found in the tenth of the Venice volumes, dated 1755. The dates refer, of course, to the date of copying rather than that of composition, but do suggest an obvious terminus post quem non, if nothing else. The urgent progress of the sonata is interrupted by sudden pauses, which are particularly effective.
 There is an immediate contrast in the Sonata in A minor, K.54/L.241/P.147, marked Allegro and found in a 1742 volume of the Venice collection. The sonata makes due use of hand-crossing and chains of thirds and sixths, in writing that seems, on the piano, to verge, in certain sequential passages, on the romantic.
 The Sonata in A major, K.537/L.293/P.541, marked Prestissimo, is found in the thirteenth of the Venice volumes, dated 1757. It is remarkable for its suggestion of polyrhythmy, with misplaced accents between the different parts.
 The Sonata in F sharp minor, K.447/L.294/P.191, sets out in proper contrapuntal form. With the direction Allegro, the sonata is found in the tenth of the Venice volumes, dated 1755.
 From the 1742 Venice volume comes the Sonata in E major, K.46/L.25/P.179, marked Presto and belonging to a group that Ralph Kirkpatrick describes as flamboyant. The sonata is immensely energetic, driven on by its own impetus, occasionally interrupted by the sudden pauses that Scarlatti often uses to punctuate his writing.
 The Sonata in A major, K.212/L.135/P.155, marked Allegro molto, is included in the third of the Venice volumes of the Spanish royal collection, dated 1753. The figuration has been compared to flamenco, once the toccata-like first section has been repeated. There is a sudden shift of key, leading to emphatic chordal writing, with characteristic use of the acciaccatura, the so-called crushed note, producing an accented discord, with the ornamental note quickly released.
 The Sonata in E minor, K.203/L.380/P.96, is preserved in a manuscript collection of 463 sonatas, copied, it may be presumed, at the Spanish court, preserved in Parma and dated 1752. It is not included in the Venice volumes, which bear the royal arms of Spain and Portugal. The sonata starts with simply ornamented notes, accompanied with rapider figuration, and goes on to passages of curiously asymmetric syncopation.
 From the Venice volume of 1749 comes the Sonata in G major, K.105/L.204/P.90, marked Allegro. Symmetrical in its binary structure, the sonata goes on to include occasional strummed chords, suggesting the guitar, in generally highly characteristic figuration and texture.
 The Sonata in C minor, K.126/L.402/P.128, lacks a tempo indication and is included in the 1749 Venice volume. It is poignant and dramatic in mood, offering a distinct contrast in its relative length and figuration with the preceding sonatas here included.
 The Sonata in F major, K.525/L.188/P.529, marked Allegro, is included in the thirteenth Venice volume, dated 1757. It has been described as a version of the Spanish dance, the buleria. It is among the most familiar of all Scarlattis sonatas.
 Polyphonic in its texture, the Sonata in F minor, K.69/L.382/P.42, without tempo indication, is included in the 1742 Venice collection. It is unified by a recurrent rhythmic figure, as it gently unwinds.
 The Sonata in D major, K.119/L.415/P.217, an Allegro, included in the 1749 volume, brings together in a cheerful context many of the composers characteristic devices, runs, ornaments, repeated notes, variations in dynamics achieved by gradually including more notes in repeated chords, and the occasional suggestion of the Spanish guitar.