Domenico Scarlatti: Sonata in E major, K380  [5’24”]

Colin Booth, harpsichord

05 Domenico Scarlatti

Iberian Italian Domenico Scarlatti

From one celebrated baroque harpsichord masterpiece to another, this one actually played on the instrument.  Mozart isn’t the only composer whose works are identified by K numbers.  So too are those of the Neapolitan Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757), son of the great Alessandro, ‘K’ being in this case not Köchel but modern-day American harpsichord pioneer and scholar Ralph Kirkpatrick.  Rather than the multi-movement form developed to such heights of perfection by the Viennese classics, a Scarlatti sonata (‘Essercizi’ he called the only ones he published himself, so the term is ours rather than his) is little more than an instrumental movement based on juxtaposition of strikingly characterful thematic ideas, in binary form.  This was a characteristic baroque construct consisting of two closely related sections, each repeated: AABB.  Here the repeat of A is reached at 1’24”, B coming at 2’49” (repeated 4’03”). The kinship of the second half to the first (B to A) is very plain to hear, notably through the strutting music first heard at 0’41” (the questioning opening of the piece doesn’t recur). Indeed, though the name doesn’t lie in suggesting binary was a form of two halves, it was in the treatment of key rather than of melodic material that the essence of the principle lay.

This is one of the best known of Scarlatti’s 555 or more such ‘sonatas’ for keyboard, the majority of which, according to Kirkpatrick, were written after 1751, i.e. when the composer had reached the age of 67 – hope for us all in that.  He died in Madrid, having spent nearly all the last 40 years of his life at the Portuguese then Spanish royal courts.

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