Domenico Scarlatti

Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti (Naples, 26 October 1685  Madrid, 23 July 1757) was an Italian composer. He is classified primarily as a Baroque composer chronologically, although his music was influential in the development of the Classical style and he was one of the few Baroque composers to transition into the classical period. Like his renowned father Alessandro Scarlatti, he composed in a variety of musical forms, although today he is known mainly for his 555 keyboard sonatas.[1] He spent much of his life in the service of the Portuguese and Spanish royal families.

Life and career

Domenico Scarlatti was born in Naples, Kingdom of Naples, belonging to the Spanish Crown. He was born in 1685, the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel.[2] Scarlatti was the sixth of ten children of the composer and teacher Alessandro Scarlatti. His older brother Pietro Filippo was also a musician.

Scarlatti first studied music under his father.[3] Other composers who may have been his early teachers include Gaetano Greco, Francesco Gasparini, and Bernardo Pasquini, all of whom may have influenced his musical style. Muzio Clementi brought Scarlatti's sonatas into the classical style by editing what is known to be its first publication.[4] He was appointed as composer and organist at the royal chapel in Naples in 1701. In 1703, he revised Carlo Francesco Pollarolo's opera Irene for performance at Naples. Soon afterwards, his father sent him to Venice. After this, nothing is known of Scarlatti's life until 1709, when he went to Rome and entered the service of the exiled Polish queen Marie Casimire. It was in Rome that he met Thomas Roseingrave. Scarlatti was already an accomplished harpsichordist: there is a story of a trial of skill with George Frideric Handel at the palace of Cardinal Ottoboni in Rome where he was judged possibly superior to Handel on the harpsichord, although inferior on the organ. Scarlatti has been heralded as the "greatest Italian harpsichord composer of all time".[5] Later in life, Scarlatti was known to cross himself in veneration when speaking of Handel's skill. While in Rome, Scarlatti composed several operas for Queen Casimire's private theatre. He was Maestro di Cappella at St. Peter's from 1715 to 1719. In 1719 he travelled to London to direct his opera Narciso at the King's Theatre.

According to Vicente Bicchi, Papal Nuncio in Portugal at the time, Domenico Scarlatti arrived in Lisbon on 29 November 1719. There he taught music to the Portuguese princess Maria Magdalena Barbara. He left Lisbon on 28 January 1727 for Rome, where he married Maria Caterina Gentili on 6 May 1728. In 1729 he moved to Seville, staying for four years. In 1733 he went to Madrid as music master to Princess Maria Barbara, who had married into the Spanish royal house. The Princess later became Queen of Spain. Scarlatti remained in the country for the remaining twenty-five years of his life, and had five children there. After the death of his first wife in 1742, he married a Spaniard, Anastasia Maxarti Ximenes. Among his compositions during his time in Madrid were most of the 555 keyboard sonatas for which he is best known.

Scarlatti befriended the castrato singer Farinelli, a fellow Neapolitan also enjoying royal patronage in Madrid. The musicologist and harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick commented that Farinelli's correspondence provides "most of the direct information about Scarlatti that has transmitted itself to our day". Domenico Scarlatti died in Madrid, at the age of 71. His residence on Calle Leganitos is designated with a historical plaque, and his descendants still live in Madrid. He was buried at a convent there, in Madrid, but his grave no longer exists.


Sonata in D minor K. 9, Allegretto

performed on a harpsichord by Martha Goldstein

Sonata in E major K. 20, Presto

performed on a harpsichord by Martha Goldstein

Sonata in B minor K. 27, Allegro

performed on a piano by Raymond Smullyan

Sonata in F Minor K. 69

performed on a spinet by Ulrich Metzner

Sonata in B Minor K. 87

performed on a digital harpsichord by Membeth

Sonata in C major K. 159, Allegro

performed on a piano by Veronica van der Knaap

Sonata in B minor K. 377

MIDI rendition

Sonata in E major K. 380, Andante comodo

performed on a piano by Raymond Smullyan

Sonata in F Minor K. 466

performed on a digital harpsichord by Membeth

Sonata in E major K. 531, Allegro

performed on a piano by Raymond Smullyan

Only a small fraction of Scarlatti's compositions were published during his lifetime; Scarlatti himself seems to have overseen the publication in 1738 of the most famous collection, his 30 Essercizi ("Exercises"). These were well received throughout Europe, and were championed by the foremost English writer on music of the eighteenth century, Charles Burney.

The many sonatas that were unpublished during Scarlatti's lifetime have appeared in print irregularly in the two and a half centuries since. Scarlatti has attracted notable admirers, including Béla Bartók, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Pieter-Jan Belder, Johann Sebastian Bach, Muzio Clementi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Carl Czerny, Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, Frédéric Chopin, Claude Debussy, Emil Gilels, Francis Poulenc, Olivier Messiaen, Enrique Granados, Marc-André Hamelin, Vladimir Horowitz, Ivo Pogorelić, Scott Ross, the first performer to record the complete 555 sonatas, Heinrich Schenker, András Schiff, and Dmitri Shostakovich.

Scarlatti's 555 keyboard sonatas are single movements, mostly in binary form, and some in early sonata form, and mostly written for the harpsichord or the earliest pianofortes. (There are four for organ, and a few for small instrumental group). Some of them display harmonic audacity in their use of discords, and also unconventional modulations to remote keys.

Other distinctive attributes of Scarlatti's style are the following:

  • The influence of Iberian (Portuguese and Spanish) folk music. An example is Scarlatti's use of the Phrygian mode and other tonal inflections more or less alien to European art music. Many of Scarlatti's figurations and dissonances are suggestive of the guitar.
  • Scarlatti's compositions were influenced by the Spanish guitar as can be seen in notes being played repetitively in a rapid manner.[6]
  • A formal device in which each half of a sonata leads to a pivotal point, which Kirkpatrick termed "the crux", and which is sometimes underlined by a pause or fermata. Before the crux, Scarlatti sonatas often contain their main thematic variety, and after the crux the music makes more use of repetitive figurations as it modulates away from the home key (in the first half) or back to the home key (in the second half).
  • Scarlatti played in the galant style.[7]

Kirkpatrick produced an edition of the sonatas in 1953, and the numbering from this edition is now nearly always used – the Kk. or K. number. Previously, the numbering commonly used was from the 1906 edition compiled by the Neapolitan pianist Alessandro Longo (L. numbers). Kirkpatrick's numbering is chronological, while Longo's ordering is a result of his arbitrarily grouping the sonatas into "suites". In 1967 the Italian musicologist Giorgio Pestelli published a revised catalog (using P. numbers), which corrected what he considered to be some anachronisms.[8] Although the exact dates of composition for these surviving sonatas are not known, Kirkpatrick concludes that they may all have been composed late in Scarlatti's career (after 1735), with the majority perhaps dating from after the composer's sixty-seventh birthday.[9][10]

Aside from his many sonatas, Scarlatti composed a number of operas and cantatas, symphonias, and liturgical pieces. Well-known works include the Stabat Mater of 1715 and the Salve Regina of 1757, which is thought to be his last composition.

Selected discography

Complete works

  • L’Œuvre pour clavier, Scott Ross (1988, 34 CDs Erato/Radio France) OCLC 725539860, 935869199
  • Domenico Scarlatti: The Complete Sonatas, Richard Lester, harpsichord & fortepiano (2001–2005, 39 CDs in 7 volumes Nimbus Records NI 1725/NI 1741) OCLC 1071943740.
  • Keyboard Sonatas, Emilia Fadini, Ottavio Dantone, Sergio Vartolo, Marco Farolfi, Enrico Baiano…, harpsichord, fortepiano, organ (1999–2012, 12 CDs Stradivarius) — in progress
  • Keyboard Sonatas, Pieter-Jan Belder, harpischord & fortepiano (2012, 36 CDs Brilliant Classics)
  • Keyboard Sonatas, Carlo Grante, Bösendorfer Imperial piano (2009–2016, 23 CDs in 5 volumes Music & Arts)
  • Keyboard Sonatas, various pianists (1994–2019, 22 CDs Naxos) — in progress

Piano recitals

  • 2 Sonatas : Sonata K. 9 and Sonata K. 380 - Dinu Lipatti, piano (20 February et 27 September 1947, EMI / 12 CDs Hänssler PH17011)
  • 4 Sonatas : Sonata K. 1, Sonata K. 87, Sonata K. 193, and Sonata K. 386 - Clara Haskil, piano (? 1947, BBC / « Inédits Haskil » Tahra TAH 389 / TAH 4025)
  • 11 Sonatas : Sonata K. 1, Sonate K. 35, Sonata K. 87, Sonata K. 132, Sonata K. 193, Sonata K. 247, Sonata K. 322, Sonata K. 386, Sonata K. 437, Sonata K. 515, Sonata K. 519 - Clara Haskil, piano (October 1951, Westminster/DG 471 214-2)
  • 3 Sonatas : Sonata K. 87, Sonata K. 193 and Sonata K. 386 - Clara Haskil, piano (October 1951, Philips)
  • The Siena Pianoforte : 6 Scarlatti sonatas (and 3 sonatas of Mozart) - Charles Rosen, Siena piano (1955, Counterpoint/Esoteric / Everest Records CPT 53000)
  • 37 Piano Sonatas : Vladimir Horowitz (1946-1981, « Complete Recordings » RCA and CBS/Sony Classical)
  • 33 Sonatas : Christian Zacharias, piano (1979, 1981, 1984, EMI)
  • 18 sonatas : Maria Tipo, piano (27-28 November 1987, EMI CDC 7 49078 2) OCLC 840330787
  • 15 sonatas : Ivo Pogorelich, piano (September 1991, DG) OCLC 823888417
  • 16 Sonatas : Christian Zacharias, piano (1995, EMI)
  • 20 Sonatas : Valerie Tryon, piano (18 and 28 September 1999, Appian Publications & Recordings [APR]) OCLC 48744435
  • 14 Sonatas : Christian Zacharias, piano (June 2002, MDG 34011622)
  • 18 Sonatas : Racha Arodaky, piano (17-21 July 2005, Zig-Zag Territoires) OCLC 232578921
  • Scarlatti: Piano Sonatas : Yevgeny Sudbin, piano (2005, BIS)
  • Naples, 1685 : 17 sonatas : Olivier Cavé, piano (2008, Outhere Music/Æon)
  • Sonatas : Alice Ader, piano (2010, Fuga Libera)
  • 42 Sonatas : Michelangelo Carbonara, piano (12-14 May 2009, 2CD Brilliant Classics) OCLC 971734568
  • Alexandre Tharaud joue Scarlatti : (30 August/3 September 2010, Virgin Classics) OCLC 898257762[11]
  • Scarlatti: 18 Sonatas: Yevgeny Sudbin, piano (2016, BIS) OCLC 1085343249

Fortepiano recitals

  • Sonate per cembalo, 1742, Francesco Cera, harpsichord & fortepiano (7-9 March 2000, March 2001, October 2002, 3 CD Tactus) OCLC 50303672
  • Sonatas’’, Sergio Ciomei, harpsichord & fortepiano (28 February 2000, 2-3 February 2001, Challenge Classics) OCLC 53062819
  • Sonates - Una nuova inventione per Maria Barbara, Aline Zylberajch, fortepiano after Cristofori (2005, Ambronay)

Harpsichord recitals


  1. Kirkpatrick, Ralph. "Domenico Scarlatti". Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
  2. Kirkpatrick, Ralph. "Domenico Scarlatti". Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
  3. "Domenico Scarlatti". ArkivMusic: the source for classical music.
  4. Caldo, Laura. "The development of the idiomatic piano language through Clementi's edition of D. Scarlatti's sonatas (1791)". Anuario Musical. 72: 123–136.
  5. Barkley, Lisa; Bryan, Clark, eds. (1999). Conservatory Canada New Millennium Piano Series.
  6. Barkley, Lisa; Bryan, Clark, eds. (1999). Conservatory Canada New Millennium Piano Series. Waterloo Music Company Ltd.
  7. Barkley, Lisa; Bryan, Clark, eds. (1999). Conservatory Canada New Millennium Piano Series.
  8. See List of solo keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti for a list converting Longo, Kirkpatrick, Pestelli and Czerny numbers of Scarlatti's sonatas.
  9. Kirkpatrick, Ralph (1983). Domenico Scarlatti: Revised Edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 145. ISBN 0-691-09101-3.
  10. Downs, Philip G. (1992). Classical Music. New York: Norton. p. 49. ISBN 0-393-95191-X.
  11. "Tharaud interprète Scarlatti". (in French). 20 January 2011. Retrieved 29 July 2019.


  • Kirkpatrick, Ralph (1953). Domenico Scarlatti. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02708-0.
  • Domenico Scarlatti. Sixty Sonatas in Two volumes, edited in chronological order from the manuscripts and earliest printed sources with a preface by Ralph Kirkpatrick, New York, G. Schirmer, 1953.
  • D. Scarlatti. Sonates, in 11 volumes, ed. Kenneth Gilbert after the Venice manuscripts, Paris, Heugel, coll. « Le Pupitre », from 1975 to 1984.
  • Domenico Scarlatti. Complete Keyboard Works, in facsimile from the manuscript (Parma) and printed sources, rev. Ralph Kirkpatrick, New York, Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1971.
  • Scarlatti, Domenico. Sonate per cembalo del Cavalier Dn. Domenico Scarlatti. Complete facsimile of the Venice manuscripts in 15 vol. Archivum Musicum: Monumenta Musicae Revocata, 1/I-XV. Florence, 1985-1992.
  • Yáñez Navarro, Celestino: "Obras de Domenico Scarlatti, Antonio Soler y Manuel Blasco de Nebra en un manuscrito misceláneo de tecla del Archivo de Música de las Catedrales de Zaragoza”, in Anuario Musical, 77 (2012), pp. 45–102.
  • Yáñez Navarro, Celestino: Nuevas aportaciones para el estudio de las sonatas de Domenico Scarlatti. Los manuscritos del Archivo de música de las Catedrales de Zaragoza. Tesis doctoral, Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, 2015.
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