THE EARLY KEYBOARD SONATAS OF SCARLATTI!
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DOMENICO SCARLATTI 1685–1757
I have known in my lifetime many of the Sonatas for Harpsichord by Scarlatti, and indeed in my youth managed to master two of them!……which is not that great when you consider he wrote over 500 of them! I enjoy listening to them on CD, performed by Virginia Black on Harpsichord, and Vladimir Horrowitz on piano.
Domenico grew up in a very musical family. His father Alessandro was a well known Composer and certainly enjoyed success and was no doubt a great influence and inspiration to his son.
Domenico Scarlatti, the great Italian, would you believe wrote over 500 keyboard Sonatas. Their technical command remain unrivalled, and only the best virtuoso musicians record them, and perform them……however, they are not actually in Sonata Form at all!…….well, not in the traditional sense so to speak. Traditional Sonata Form (that used by Beethoven for example)starts with an Exposition, then a Development section, then a Recapitulation finale……which basically means…..listen to the main theme or subject, then play around with it, and lastly coming back to it for a rousing Finale. That’s the easiest way I can describe it. Scarlatti Sonatas are only a few pages long and are not built in the same way. They are precursor works that eventually went on to inspire CPE Bach and Haydn to gradually build the form that we know today. What they are though, are works of epic virtuosity and contain all the physical fireworks you’d expect, such as the ‘crossing of hands, giant leaps, endless trills (starting on the note above, as was common practice until Beethoven), acciaccatura, rapid scale passage work and fast repeated notes on the spot. These fast repeated notes when performed, actually look like the performer is stirring a cup of tea with a spoon! Below is one of Scarlatti’s ‘repeated note’ Sonatas showing the rapid repetition of notes in the right hand.
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Scarlatti’s diverse writing holds us aurally captive with inventive genius, brilliance of rhythm and shimmer of light. Moods range from ‘arresting, contemplative, dramatic, gentle and poetic. These Italian masterpieces of Baroque dwelling were originally written for early keyboard instruments like the Harpsichord which ‘pluck’ the strings to make sound, and pianos weren’t invented yet. These ‘plucking’ instruments produced ‘crispness in attack’ …….and jangled the nerves accordingly!! When played on a piano however, there are more sound colours, more scope for expression and ‘little dashes’ of pedal creating more light and shade. I also think that maybe pianists don’t have to work quite so hard!
Well I hope you’ve enjoyed this short article about Scarlatti and I leave you with a performance by Virginia Black of Scarlatti’s Sonata in A Major Kk113