Domenico Scarlatti & His Sonatas

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)

1685 is quite a significant year for me. It was the year Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was born —it’s somehow funny: presently we tend to say “Johann Sebastian” but in his lifetime, Bach was called “Sebastian” or “Sebi”, not “Johann” at all—. When I was little, I wanted to become an organist like Bach… but this is another story for another occasion.

1685 was also the year when two other great musicians of the baroque were born: George Friedrich Haendel (1685-1759) and Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757). It’s precisely the latter that I want to refer to here in this article. Domenico was the sixth child -of a total of ten children- of the great musician Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725). He was born in the Kingdom of Naples, which bach then belonged to the Spanish Crown. Alessandro was a really prolific composer and he himself took care of his son’s musical education. Both Scarlattis, father & son, left their own strong imprint in music: Alessandro changed the language of opera and developed the opera overture turning it into a sort of “proto” symphony —a good example of it is the overture of his opera La Griselda (1721)—; Domenico, some years later, developed the language of the keyboard sonata —he composed over 550 of them—. Alessandro’s fame eclipsed Domenico’s career as a musician. In fact, Domenico decided to fly the nest in order to develop his music career away from his father’s fame. So he left for Lisbon where he worked as a music teacher for princess Barbara of Portugal. When Barbara married the Prince of Asturias, the future Ferdinand VI, in 1729, Scarlatti moved to Spain with her, first to Seville and four years later to Madrid, where he would live until his final days in 1757.

We know very little about Domenico Scarlatti’s life. He had nine children, four with his first wife, and Italian woman, and five with his second wife, a woman from Cadiz, Spain. Domenico lived at 35 Calle de Leganitos in Madrid. He taught Antonio Soler (1729-1783) among others. His adiction to gambling brought him to the edge of ruin. It was Barbara, the queen consort of Spain, who saved him and paid off his gambling debts. I think it’s both imprecise and unfair to sum up Scarlatti’s life in just five lines, but I invite you to find out about his life. Luckily, we have his music. On the following videos, you can see the Spanish pianist Julio César Setién playing some three of Scarlatti’s sonatas:

Michael Thallium

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