Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti (26th October 1685–23rd July 1757) was an Italian composer of the Baroque period, known primarily for his harpsichord works, whose individual style had an influence on the Classical style.
Scarlatti was born in Naples, Italy, the sixth of ten children, and a younger brother to Pietro Filippo Scarlatti, also a musician. Most likely he first studied under his father, the composer and teacher Alessandro Scarlatti; other composers who may have been his early teachers include Gaetano Greco, Francesco Gasparini, and Bernardo Pasquini, all of whom seem to have influenced his musical style.
He became a composer and organist at the royal chapel in Naples in 1701, and in 1704, he revised Carlo Francesco Pollarolo's opera Irene for performance at Naples. Soon after this his father sent him to Venice; no record exists of his next four years. In 1709 he went to Rome in the service of the exiled Polish queen Marie Casimire; while in Rome he met Thomas Roseingrave who would later lead the enthusiastic reception of the composer's sonatas in London. Scarlatti was already a harpsichord-player of eminence. There is a story that in a trial of skill with George Frideric Handel at the palace of Cardinal Ottoboni in Rome he was judged perhaps superior to Handel on that instrument, although inferior on the organ. Later in life, he was known to cross himself in veneration, when speaking of Handel's skill.
Scarlatti died in Madrid, aged 71. His residence on Calle Leganitos is designated with a historical plaque, and his descendants still live in Madrid today.
Only a fraction of Scarlatti's compositions was published during his lifetime; Scarlatti himself seems to have overseen the publication in 1738 of the most famous collection, a book of thirty "Essercizi" which, surprisingly, dominate modern concert repertoires. These were rapturously received throughout Europe and were championed by the foremost English writer on music of the eighteenth century, Dr. Charles Burney. They may also have influenced Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations, but there is little concrete evidence to support this idea. Scarlatti's influence on late-eighteenth century style may have been considerable, but he has often been considered an outsider by music historians, perhaps because of his unique approach to Baroque music, or because of the underappreciation of Spanish music of the time.
The many sonatas which were unpublished during Scarlatti's lifetime have appeared in print irregularly in the two and a half centuries since his death. Scarlatti has, however, attracted notable admirers, including Chopin, Brahms, Bartók, Heinrich Schenker and Vladimir Horowitz. The Russian school of pianism has always championed the sonatas.
Scarlatti wrote over five hundred sonatas, generally in one movement binary form, yet within them compressed a staggering range of musical expression and formal invention. Because of the sonatas' technical difficulties, they have often been considered mere studies in virtuosity, but modern pianoforte technique owes much to their influence. They display a harmonic audacity, and adventurous use of modulation (changing from one key to another), a freshness and variety of invention and a vigorous intellectuality in thematic and structural terms which belies their popular tone.
Among the most distinctive attributes of Scarlatti's style are the following:
The clear influence of Spanish folk music. Scarlatti's use of the Phrygian mode and other tonal inflections more or less alien to European art music is an obvious symptom of this, as is his use of extremely dissonant cluster chords and other techniques which seem to imitate the guitar. Moorish and Jewish folk music are also employed.
The full-bodied, sometimes tragic use of folk idioms. Not until Béla Bartók and his contemporaries would notated music lend folk music such a strident voice. The anticipation of many of the formal developments that led to the classical style.
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