This week’s star of Classical in Conversation is someone who had many admirers. All the big-time classical names like Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and Bartók had a space for the work of Domenico Scarlatti in their hearts!
This Italian composer was born in Naples in 1685, the same year as baroque king Mr Johann Sebastian Bach, and started learning music with his father from an early age. After a stint as a composer and organist at the Royal Chapel in Naples, Scarlatti was shipped off to Venice and this is where he drops off of history’s radar! We have no idea what happened to Mr Scarlatti roughly during the period of 1703 to 1709, but what we do know is that he reappeared in Rome as a wildly accomplished harpsichordist. Who knows, maybe he shut himself in a practise room for 6 years?!
Fun fact: Scarlatti and Handel were thought to have a, what we are calling, harpsichord-off. Think a baroque style rap battle, where the two set out to be the superior player. Apparently, Scarlatti pipped Handel to the post when it came to the harpsichord, but Handel was the superior man on the organ. We call a rematch!
Scarlatti was living the dream moving from city to city. He could be found in Venice, Lisbon, Rome and Seville, eventually settling down in Spain for the remainder of his life. This is where he became very involved with the Spanish royal family for whom he worked for a long time.
Not many of Scarlatti’s compositions were actually released during his lifetime. This baroque legend composed in a few different forms but mainly stuck to the binary sonata – he composed a grand 555 of them! The ones that were published were always well received all across Europe, and of course are still well received today, over 300 years later! Now that’s what you call timeless.
What with all the time he spent in Spain, Scarlatti’s music is often noted for how it imitates the classical guitar with the repetitive notes played rapidly. In fact, his Sonata in B Minor, K. 377 was transcribed for the guitar! We have included the piano version in the RSL Classical Piano Grade 7 syllabus for your enjoyment (and perhaps a little bit of stress). If you’ve encountered Scarlatti before you’ll know that his pieces are usually FAST, and this one is no different. The final performance needs to be crisp and precise, and certainly never sloppy or slow! You’ll also need to practise good balance between the contrapuntal parts, aiming to bring out the melodic lines clearly. Since the piece doesn’t include any performance directions (typical of the period), you are free to put your own expression on this one, as long as it is stylistically appropriate, of course, so be sure to do your research.
We also included some Scarlatti in the Grade 5 syllabus! Make sure you properly warm up for this one. Using arpeggios in the same key to warm up will be really useful, as Scarlatti loves a melody which darts around the keyboard at rapid speeds. It’s safe to say that he always brings the drama!
This piece was one of the last that he wrote. It should be played graciously with a nice flow, as well as being lively and technically accurate of course.
We hope you enjoyed this Classical in Conversation blog today! If you enjoyed this sort of thing then you’ll love reading about Scarlatti’s contemporary, Johann Sebastian Bach, and his fan club of course – Mozart, Beethoven and Bartók!