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8.570382 - SCARLATTI, D.: Stabat Mater / Missa breve, "La stella" / Te Deum / Magnificat
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Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Te Deum • Missa breve 'La stella' • Cibavit nos Dominus • Magnificat • Stabat Mater

 

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 father's 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. He enjoyed varied patronage and was employed at the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and then at the papal Cappella Giulia. 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.

Alessandro Scarlatti exercised strong paternal control over his son Domenico's early career, and it was natural, in view of the employment offered, that the latter should follow his father's example in concentrating his attention on sacred and secular vocal music. He was able to secure a degree of independence from his father only in 1717, for whatever reason. In late 1707 Alessandro Scarlatti, with apparent reluctance, had taken over the direction of music at the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, where he had served for a few years as a somewhat dilatory coadjutor, presumably through the intervention of Cardinal Ottoboni, a significant patron. The employment of Domenico Scarlatti is recorded on two occasions in 1708, as conductor of the second choir on the Feast of St Ildephonsus on 23 January 1708 and as organist on 9 September. The Italian musicologist Eleonora Simi Bonini has found four works by Domenico Scarlatti in the archive of Santa Maria Maggiore. These are the Messa 'La stella', the words 'La stella' (The star) presumably added for identification and suggesting that the composition was written for the Epiphany, a setting of the psalm Nisi quia Dominus and two motets, Cibavit Dominus nos, a setting of the words of the Introit of a Votive Mass for the Blessed Sacrament and of the Matins antiphon for the Feast of Corpus Christi, and a fragmentary setting of the Pange lingua, the processional hymn for the latter feast day.

Domenico Scarlatti's employment as maestro di cappella to Queen Maria Casimira, for whom he had provided cantatas, serenades and operas, ended when, in 1714, her fortunes depleted, she retired to her native France. In 1713 he had already been appointed assistant to the maestro di cappella of the Cappella Giulia at St Peter's, succeeding as maestro on the death of the newly installed incumbent in December 1714. Domenico Scarlatti retained this position until the summer of 1719, when he was recorded as leaving for England, a journey that may not actually have taken place, whatever his initial intention. In the Vatican library only three pieces survive as a record of Scarlatti's time at the Cappella, a setting of the hymn Iste confessor and two settings of the Miserere. It is probable that the Magnificat, preserved in the voluminous collection of Fortunato Santini in Münster, dates from the same period, and Scarlatti's Stabat Mater, also in the Santini collection, has been variously dated to Scarlatti's period in Venice and to his years in Rome. His Te Deum seems to have been written for Lisbon, either in 1721, when the performance of such a work by Domenico Scarlatti is reported, or perhaps for the marriage in 1729 of his pupil, the Infanta Maria Barbara.

The C major setting of the Te Deum is for double choir and continuo. The two four-voice groups are occasionally used antiphonally, as, for example, at the words Venerandum, followed by tuum verum in the second choir, with the sentence completed by the first group. There are changes in tempo at appropriate points in the text, and what is a predominantly chordal texture is varied by the contrapuntal imitation of Dignare Domine die isto, in a formal celebratory composition, presumably intended for performance in the Lisbon Patriarchal chapel.

Scarlatti's Missa breve 'La stella' is scored for two four-part choirs and continuo, the second choral group perhaps originally intended as a coro ripieno. The settings of the Kyrie and the Gloria are in stile misto, the Baroque style that mixes the stile antico of Palestrina, modified over the years, with the newer elements incorporated in the use of a figured bass continuo. The first Kyrie eleison is announced chordally, with a more varied Christe eleison, and a final Kyrie using the techniques of modal counterpoint, with imitative entries of the voices. The Gloria starts chordally, leading to a triple metre soprano solo Laudamus te, echoed by the other voices.

Quadruple metre is restored at the chordal Gratias agimus tibi, leading to the imitative counterpoint of Domine Deus Rex coelestis. There is a return to triple metre with the soprano solo at Quoniam Tu solus Sanctus, and Cum Sancto Spiritu follows current convention in a contrapuntal conclusion, for which two subjects are announced at the outset. In the Credo and the following movements Scarlatti returns to the stile antico, with its points of imitation. There is conventional word-painting for descendit de coelis, the necessary solemnity at Et incarnatus est, rising melodic lines at Et ascendit in coelum, and imitative contrapuntal writing for the final Et vitam venturi saeculi, Amen. The Sanctus again uses the stile antico, and the Benedictus, which would follow the Elevation, is omitted, presumably being sung in plainchant, as was sometimes the custom. The Mass ends with a stile antico setting of the Agnus Dei.

The four-voice motet Cibavit nos Dominus is again in the old style, sung unaccompanied and placed here as an Elevation motet. The four-voice Magnificat, for which Santini provided a possible figured bass, suggested, perhaps, by the empty fifth stave below the original vocal parts, is also sung unaccompanied. The setting again demonstrates Scarlatti's command of the traditional language of church music, one which he would have been taught as a necessary and, until recent years, a continuing part of musical training.

The best known example of Scarlatti's church music is found in his Stabat Mater, a rival to his father's setting of the same text. Scored for ten voices, two five-part choirs, and continuo, all voices are seldom heard together but are deployed in a series of contrasting textures. The work consists of a series of continuous sections, with varying groups of stanzas from the text, providing a good example of the Baroque stile misto. Voices enter in imitation in the first verse, Stabat Mater dolorosa, and in closer imitation in the second section, Cujus animam gementem, with its setting of two stanzas. Quae maerebat, with its telling descending figure, is in triple metre, reverting to quadruple metre at the fifth verse, Quis est homo, where dramatic play is made with the interrogative pronoun. Quis non posset, the fifth section of the work, is meditative, before the triple metre of Pro peccatis suae gentis. Eja Mater, in quadruple metre, doubles the voice parts, giving an initial imitative texture of five parts, with Sancta Mater istud agas, in triple metre, making use of brief imitative figures. Fac me vere is in a liturgical 4/2, leading to the triple metre imitative entries of Juxta crucem. True Baroque drama appears with the florid tenor entry at Inflammatus et accensus, responding to the suggestions of the text. Quando corpus morietur forms a brief transition to the duple metre Fac ut animae donetur, with the word Amen now appearing, before the concluding triple metre section of a work that presents a remarkable synthesis of the old and the new.

Keith Anderson

 

Sung texts and translations can be found at www.naxos.com/libretti/570382.htm

 


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