Friday Performance Pick – 153

Scarlatti, Sonata in A Major, K. 113


Traversi, Concerto (detail of Scarlatti tutoring Princess Barbara)

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) is best known for his 555 keyboard sonatas. I featured one his sonatas in this series more than three years ago. At this rate, I will need about 1700 years to get through them all.

Scarlatti was an Italian who spent most of his professional career in Spain. His father, Alessandro Scarlatti, was a prominent composer of opera in Naples. Domenico secured a position as composer and organist at the royal chapel in Naples in 1701 (age 16, in case you’re concerned about the pace of your own life’s accomplishments). In 1719, he took a post in Lisbon where he taught music to Princess Maria Magdalena Barbara, who would become the Queen of Spain when her husband Ferdinand VI ascended to the throne. Barbara was said to be an excellent harpsichordist. After a brief return to Italy, Scarlatti settled permanently in Madrid once again in the employ of Princess Barbara.

Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas tend to be short, single-movement works. The binary form (an A section repeated, followed by a B section repeated) is easy to discern. This particular sonata also features Scarlatti’s trademark: the hands crossing while playing.

As an aside, back in the technological Dark Ages when a hit record called “Switched-On Bach” was popular, my school acquired its first ever Moog synthesizer. Early synthesizers required a laborious process of feeding individual sounds with patch cords through various filters and recording them onto tape in multiple layers. I had the task of creating a “switched-on” version of this sonata. That tedious and obsessive effort seared the sonata into my memory. But that tape is blessedly lost, so we will have to listen to a version played on another instrument that was new in Scarlatti’s time: the piano.

Leave a comment: