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8.554793 - SCARLATTI, D.: Keyboard Sonatas (Complete), Vol. 6
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Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Complete Sonatas Vol. 6


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. 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 composer’s 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.

[1] The Sonata in E major, K.135/L.224/P.234, seemingly one of a set of three, is found in the second of the fifteen manuscript volumes of Scarlatti sonatas in Parma, dated 1752. Marked Allegro, the sonata is a lively work, with a characteristic opening figure, a descending arpeggio.

[2] The Sonata in A major, K.429/L.132/P.132, is found in the tenth of the fifteen Venice volumes, dated 1755. This is a gently lilting and lyrical sonata.

[3] The Sonata in D major, K.478/L.12/P.503, is marked Andante e cantabile. It uses a wide range of the keyboard and slowly unwinds, its progress interrupted by a characteristic descending figure in the bass. It is found in the eleventh of the Venice volumes of sonatas, dated to 1756.

[4] The Sonata in G major, K.169/L.331/P.247, is based on the rhythm of a Spanish tango. Marked Allegro con spirito, it is found in the first volume of the Venice collection, dated 1752, and has modulations to remoter keys.

[5] The Sonata in G major, K.259/L.103/P.463, marked Andante, is found in the fourth of the Venice volumes, dated 1753. 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 that is treated in imitation. There is an unprepared shift of key, as the work takes its gently lyrical course.

[6] The Sonata in C major, K.502/L.3/P.408, marked Allegro, is found in the twelfth volume of the Venice collection, dated to 1756. In 3/8 metre it opens with a lively theme, briefly moving to G minor, before dotted figuration, including, unusually, dotted rests, brings the key of G major and the close of the repeated first half of the sonata. The second half brings a short passage written in 2/4, before the return of the original metre.

[7] The Sonata in F major, K.419/L.279/P.524, marked Più tosto presto che allegro, is found in the tenth of the Venice volumes, dated 1755. It is concertante in style and lyrical in mood.

[8] The Sonata in F minor, K.19/L.383/P.75, is first found in the set of thirty Essercizi published in London in 1738. In 2/4 metre and marked Allegro, it calls for crossing of hands and is in concertante style.

[9] From the fifteenth Venice volume of 1749 comes the Sonata in B flat major, K.112/L.298/P.94, marked Allegro. Again calling for crossed hands, it is monothematic and makes much use of the opening rhythmic figure.

[10] The Sonata in E flat major, K.123/L.111/P.180, marked Allegro and Alla breve, is included in the fifteenth of the Venice volumes of the Spanish royal collection. It opens with a solidly descending arpeggio pattern.

[11] The Sonata in F major, K.274/L.297/P.491, is preserved in the fifth of the Venice volumes, dated 1753. It is marked Andante and in Alla breve metre, and is polyphonic in character, as is apparent from the opening imitation.

[12] From the ninth Venice volume of 1754 comes the Sonata in A major, K.405/L.43/P.438, marked Allegro and in 6/8. It seems to take its metrical inspiration from a dance movement, a tarantella or Spanish buleria.

[13] The Sonata in F sharp major, K.318/L.31/P.302, is marked Andante and in Alla breve 2/2 metre. The choice of key is unusual, established in the descending scale with which the sonata opens. The six sharps and the further accidentals needed in modulation to nearer keys opens questions as to the method of tuning that Scarlatti used, although some difficulties are avoided by modulation to remoter and more ‘normal’ keys. The sonata is found in the sixth Venice volume, dated 1753.

[14] The Sonata in F sharp minor, K.67/L.32/P.125, marked Allegro, is included in the fourteenth Venice volume, dated 1742. It is a piece of rapid virtuosity, based on a motif derived from the chord with which it opens.

[15] The Sonata in C sharp minor, K.247/L.256/P.297, marked Allegro, and in 3/8 metre, is included in the 1753 fourth of the Venice volumes. It lends itself to a slower, gently lyrical treatment, as it modulates to remoter keys.

[16] The Sonata in G major, K.63/L.84/P.32, marked Capriccio, Allegro, is included in the 1742 fourteenth of the Venice volumes. Ralph Kirkpatrick has drawn attention to the similarity between this sonata and a sonata by Adolf Hasse, a pupil of Alessandro Scarlatti, and distinguished as a composer of opera, published in London in 1740. He has also suggested an affinity here with Handel.

Keith Anderson

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