Domenico Scarlatti

(26 October 1685, Naples – 23 July 1757, Madrid)


Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti was an Italian composer whose prodigious work acted as an inspiration for the early classic composers despite his style being highly baroque-based.

Born in the same year as Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel, he was the sixth of ten children of the composer and teacher Alessandro Scarlatti. Having first studied music under his father who was then maestro di cappella (director of music) at the royal chapel, Domenico's musical gifts developed with an almost prodigious rapidity.

Other composers who may have been his early teachers include Gaetano Greco, Francesco Gasparii and Bernardo Pasquini, all of whom may have influenced his musical style.

By the time he was 15 years old he was already an excellent musician and with the help of his father he soon became an organist at the royal chapel in Naples until (1701-1704), when he went to join his father in Rome. In 1704, he revised Carlo Francesco Pollarolo's opera Irene for performance at Naples. Soon afterwards, his father sent him to Venice.

By 1713 Scarlatti had established relations with the Vatican, and from 1714 to 1719 he held the position of musical director of the Julian Chapel at St. Peter’s. Of the surviving church music that appears to date from this time, only the 10-voice Stabat Mater gives a hint of the genius that was to find its long-delayed flowering in the harpsichord sonatas.

Like his father, Domenico was a composer of great integrity, taste and fecundity. Some of his indelible works were the harpsichord pieces that happened to be one of the most novel productions of his career. His thematic development and taste in music also got him to compose a wide variety of keyboard sonatas, operas, concertos and even cantatas.

Having abandoned his post at the Vatican he moved to Lisbon on 29 November 1719 (according to Vicente Bicchi) where 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 death of his father recalled him to Naples in 1725, but he did not long remain in his native town. His old pupil, the Portuguese princess, who had married Ferdinand VI, invited him to the Spanish court. Scarlatti accepted and in 1733 after a period in Seville (from 1729-33) he went to Madrid, where he lived until his death.

With the thorough musical grounding he brought with him from Italy, and his own brilliance on the harpsichord, Scarlatti immersed himself in the folk tunes and dance rhythms of Spain, with their distinctive Moorish (Arabic) and later gypsy influences. He composed around 555 harpsichord sonatas, unique in their total originality, and the use of the accacciatura, the 'simultaneous mordent', the 'vamp' (usually at the beginning of the second half of a sonata). The "folk" element is constantly present throughout these works.

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. These one-movement sonatas are recognized as cornerstones of the keyboard repertoire, a bridge between the Baroque and the galant styles of keyboard writing.

In addition, Scarlatti also composed at least 17 separate sinfonias and a harpsichord concerto. He exerted a major influence on such Portuguese and Spanish contemporaries as Carlos de Seixas and Antonio Soler. His legacy was never forgotten, as he was a prime, classical composer of his time that went on to influence a myriad of composers such as Chopin, Horowitz, Bela Bartok and Schenker even after a century. His simple approach to music combined with his heritage and folkloric influences made his works legendary.

Here you can find a list of Domenico Scarlatti's compositions.