Domenico Scarlatti

Domenico Scarlatti
Extracted with permission from The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music edited by Stanley Sadie © Macmillan Press Ltd., London.
Contributor: James Sanderson

(born Naples, 26 October 1685; died Madrid, 23 July 1757).
Son of Alessandro Scarlatti.

In 1701 he was appointed organist and composer of the vice-regal court at Naples, where his father was maestro di cappella. The following year he took leave of absence and travelled with the family to Florence where Alessandro hoped for employment from Pnnce Ferdinando de' Medici. When this was not forthcoming Domenico returned to Naples, where he tried his hand at opera before his father removed him in 1705 and sent him to Venice to try his luck there. It may have been in Venice that he first met Handel, with whom he formed a strong attachment. (Another friendship made in Italy was with Thomas Roseingrave, who later championed Scarlatti's music in England and Ireland.) By 1707, however, Scarlatti was in Rome, assisting his father at San Maria Maggiore, and he remained in Rome for over 12 years, occupying posts as maestro to the dowager Queen of Poland from 1711, to the Marquis de Fontes from 1714, and at St. Peter's (assistant maestro of the Cappella Giulia from November 1713, maestro from December 1714). He thus provided music for both sacred and secular employers, but he was unable to free himself from a domineering father until he obtained legal independence in January 1717.

In 1719 Scarlatti resigned his positions in Rome and apparently spent some years in Palermo before taking up his next post, as mestre of the Portuguese court in Lisbon. The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 destroyed documents about his career there, but his duties included giving keyboard lessons to John V's daughter, Maria Barbara, and his younger brother, Don Antonio. When Maria Barbara married the Spanish crown prince in 1729 Scarlatti followed her to Seville and then, in 1733, to Madrid, where he spent the rest of his life. Although he continued to write vocal music, sacred and secular, the main works of his Iberian years are the remarkable series of keyboard sonatas, copied out in his last years and taken to Italy by his colleague, the castrato Farinelli.

Scarlatti married twice: in 1728 a Roman, Maria Catarina Gentili, and in 1739 a Spaniard, Anastasia Maxarti Ximenes. None of his nine children became a musician. In 1738 he was honoured with a knighthood from King John V of Portugal, to which he responded by dedicating to the king a volume of Essercizi per gravicembalo, the only music published during his lifetime under his supervision.

The seven operas Scarlatti wrote in Rome for Queen Maria Casimira were by no means failures, and his church music and secular cantatas contain much admirable music. But his fame rightly rests on the hundreds of keyboard sonatas, nearly all in the same binary form, in which he gave free rein to his imagination, stimulated by the new sounds, sights and customs of Iberia and by the astonishing gifts of his royal pupil and patron. In these he explored new worlds of virtuoso technique, putting to new musical ends such devices as hand-crossing, rapidly repeated notes, wide leaps in both hands and countless other means of achieving a devastating brilliance of effect.
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D Scarlatti: Ah! sei troppo infelice
Forces: soprano & continuo

One of Scarlatti's late chamber cantatas recorded by Kate Eckersley

Sinuous opening arioso/recit with two straightforward arias and a secco recit in wich the lover deals with the pains caused by the Nume arciero.

Range: e' - g''

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson

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D Scarlatti: Che vidi, o Ciel, che vidi?
Forces: soprano, violins & continuo

One of Domenico Scarlatti's most dramatic cantatas with violins: Heavens! Oh Heavens! Tirsi is languishing, and his face darkens with sorrow. Beside him, his faithful consort piteously expresses in a sad song the harsh pain in her heart, which arouses her bitter weeping. Or else, remaining silent, her glance seems to speak to him, saying "Are you leaving me and abandoning me?"

Commencing with a highly dramatic accompagnato with two contrasting arias and another recit both secco and accompagnato

Range: b flat - b'' flat

Source: MS in the Royal Music Collection now housed in the British Library.

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson

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D Scarlatti: Con qual cor
Forces: soprano & continuo

Source: MS in the collection of the Royal College of Music, London

Hell hath no fury... in this aria - recit - aria cantata. "With what kind of heart do you ask me for peace...ungrateful soul, traitor!"

Range: c - g'

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson

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D Scarlatti: Di fille vendicarmi vorrei
Forces: soprano & continuo

Source: MS in the collection of the Royal College of Music, London

Aria - recit - aria format, the first remarkable for its chromaticism, the last for its sheer verve and virtuosity. The text deals with a young man whose love for Fille has caused him 'fierce grief' and leads him to pray to the God of Love for assistance.

Range: a - a''

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson

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D Scarlatti: Dir vorrei
Forces: soprano, violins & continuo

Our protagonist is hopelessly in love but unable to utter it to his beloved Nice. In three sections (ARA) with Domenico Scarlatti's typically complex vocal and instrumental lines.

Source: MS in the British Library

Range: c# - a''

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson

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D Scarlatti: Fille già più non parlo
Forces: soprano & continuo

Virtuosic cantata in two recit and aria format with a particularly fiendish last aria.

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson

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D Scarlatti: No, non fuggire ò Nice
Forces: soprano & continuo

Source: MS in the collection of the Royal College of Music, London.

Once again a young man sacrifices his personal happiness on the altar of unrequited love for Nice. In double recit-aria format, the spectacular second aria showing strong Spanish influence.

Range: c - g'

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson

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D Scarlatti: O qual meco Nice cangiata
Forces: soprano, violins & continuo

Nice is being 'dishonourable' and ignoring her lover today. "...Oh, how you have changed towards me..." With a fiery allegrissimo introduzione, and RARA format within, this is Domenico Scarlatti stretching the skills of his singer again!

Source: MS in the Royal Music Collection of the British Library

Range: d - b flat''

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson

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D Scarlatti: Piangete occhi dolenti
Forces: soprano, violins & continuo

Weep, eyes weep... What a cheery subject! Love's passion at it's saddest in this virtuosic cantata by Domenico Scarlatti: '...I am in love, and my beloved scorns my pain; she has no feeling of pity...'

Source: MS in the Royal Music Collection at the British Library

Range: c - a''

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson

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D Scarlatti: Pur nel sonno almen tal'ora
Forces: soprano, violins & continuo

Domenico Scarlatti's extraordinary setting of Metastasio's cantata. The format is two-part instrumental introduction, aria, recit, aria with typically virtuosic writing for both violins and voice. The subject is mourning for lost Fille - lost to rival Fileno. Summed up well in the final line: If for for a moment of dreaming I am happy, my torment increases with the coming day.

Range: c - a''

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson

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D Scarlatti: Qual pensier, quale ardire
Forces: soprano & continuo

Fantastically dramatic piece with a vocal range of A - a' (at one point in a single phrase) First aria is exceptional, divided into alternating slow and fast sections and with a rolling triple B section. This is one angry lady!

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson

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D Scarlatti: Scritte con falso inganno
Forces: soprano, violins & continuo

In receipt of a 'Dear Jane' letter our protagonist questions everything about it: "...What do you mean by your words 'I am not'..." She maintains her control until the middle section of the last aria where presto e risoluto she loses it completely. RARA format with some stunning vocal writing.

Source: MS in the British Library

Range: c# - a''

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson

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D Scarlatti: Se fedele tu m'adori
Forces: soprano, violins & continuo

Source: MS in the Royal Music Collection now housed in the British Library.

Well, this girl is very open-minded, allowing Tirsi to love whomever he wishes (Nice, Clori, Egeria, Fille) because: The flighty bee is not content to long for the beautiful rose. If it can show itself a lover to other flowers, it wants to fly into the midst of them all...

Range: c' - a''

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson

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D Scarlatti: Se per un sol momento (Fille e Clori)
Forces: 2 sopranos & continuo

Source: MS in the collection of the Royal College of Music, London

Duet - recit - aria - recit - aria - recit - duet all of which deal with the theme of love once lost and regained. The story of Clori and Fileno and their adoration for each other - how beauty can charm and defeat love simultaneously.

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson

Duetto da camera
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D Scarlatti: Se ti dicesse un core
Forces: soprano & continuo

Source: MS in the collection of the Royal College of Music, London

Aria - recit - aria format, the last aria in two exciting and virtuosic parts in different time signatures. Here the text involves a rejected, though constant lover asking for the pity of his beloved.

Range: d - g'

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson

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D Scarlatti: Selve caverne e monti
Forces: soprano & continuo

Source: BL Add 14182

An attractive cantata by D. Scarlatti in recit/arioso - aria - recit - aria form with a text concerning the lover's search for his fleeing beloved.

Range: d' - g''

Editor: James Sanderson

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D Scarlatti: Ti ricorda o bella Irene
Forces: soprano & continuo

Source: MS in the collection of the Royal College of Music, London

Aria - recit - aria format with interesting major/minor juxtapositions in the last. It's the tale of another long-suffering lover willing to do anything for his beloved.

Range: b - a''

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson

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D Scarlatti: Tinte à note di sangue
Forces: soprano, violins & continuo

Source: MS in the Royal Music Collection now housed in the British Library.

A fiery piece full of recrimination and anger, then self-pity and despair - a little like life really!! "Written in blood, my betrayed heart sends these tormented words to you...think how much I have loved you, know that you are not mine, and weep for the pity of my plight"

Two recit and aria format, the last aria, similar to the Mancini setting of the same text, alternates fast and slow

Range: d - g'

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson

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D Scarlatti: Tirsi Caro (Tirsi e Fille)
Forces: 2 sopranos & continuo

Delightful duo cantata by Domenico Scarlatti. Duet - recitative - duet form.

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson
Duetto da camera
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D Scarlatti: Tu mi chiedi o mio ben
Forces: soprano & continuo

Our erstwhile suitor compares the beams from Filli's eyes to cupid's darts. These darts strike his heart and cause all the blood to flow from it - perhaps a trifle dramatic but certainly worth a sing! In RARARA format with some typically twisted harmonic and melodic shifts.

Source: Münster Santini Sammlung HS 864 (only source)

Range: e - g'

Editor: James Sanderson

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