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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
One of the most fascinating but gargantuan bodies of work is Domenico Scarlatti's set of 555 keyboard sonatas. When I first began exploring Scarlatti, I had a lot of doubts, but soon I discovered that my fears were for nothing. In fact, as Chopin once noted, Scarlatti's style can be more likened to Mozart than to Bach. It dances, it's joyful, it's rhythmically complex, but it's always clear as crystal. His rapid rhythms and love of tonal modes always makes his works a joy to hear, but I love Scarlatti for very different reasons than I love Bach.

Though his works had a major impact on the development of the classical era and the piano works of Clementi, Mozart, and even Beethoven, Scarlatti began to fall out of fashion in the Romantic era, which was further accelerated by the revival of Bach. However, Chopin, who was a Scarlatti enthusiast, predicted that "the day will come when Scarlatti's music will often be played at concerts and that audiences will appreciate and enjoy it". Chopin was right, but it was not until the mid-20th century that this began to happen. Vladimir Horowitz was the most famous Scarlatti exponent of his era who played a handful of the sonatas as romantic-style miniatures in his concerts. Another great exponent was Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, whose clear, calculated style brings out the best of these jewels. Today, we are seeing an even more increased interest in Scarlatti, with top-notch recordings from pianists like Perahia to Pogorelich to Subdin. There has also been a notable development in HIP Scarlatti, where pianists like Scott Ross have picked up the work of Kirkpatrick and recorded all 555 of Scarlatti sonatas, a supreme accomplishment.

The truth is I personally only know Scarlatti through the various recordings I have by Horowitz and Michelangeli. Though this maybe a very narrow representation of his entire oeuvre, I'll admit that I've loved every ounce of it!

The purpose of this thread is to further explore the 555 sonatas and share the love for one of the greatest keyboard composers of all time who is wrongfully not as recognized as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Ravel, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, and Prokofiev in his contribution to solo piano literature.
 

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I was introduced to the music of Scarlatti in a kind of unusual way - guitar transcriptions. So some of my favorite sonatas are admittedly influenced by the guitar versions I initially heard, but I equally enjoy listening to his many sonatas on harpsichord and piano.

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Discussion Starter · #4 · (Edited)
Michelangeli is my favorite Scarlatti interpreter... the one who I feel brings out the best in his works. Simply gorgeous control, touch, and sense of the music. His playing is very evocative, but always in the Baroque style... never flirting with Romanticism like Horowitz too often does.

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I have 6 by Horowitz, but I have access to hundreds on the Naxos website (many of these are by Richard Lester on Nimbus). Unfortunately I think most of these are on harpsichord which is not my favorite instrument. Could you suggest some of your favorites for listening? Do you designate them by the K number (whatever that stands for)?

Do you prefer them on piano or harpsichord?
 

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I have several piano versions, but only about a tenth or less of the total number. Two stand out as my favorites:

The Sonata in E minor, K. 402 is very contemplative, not always perky like many of the rest of them, though it does have moments of lightness. It's also one of the longer ones, but still adheres to the ubiquitous form of two repeated and related sections.

The Sonata in G, K. 455 raises goose flesh when it starts what to my ears sound like very rapid modulations thrown at the listener with abandon, at about 1:30 in this video below. Musical acrobatics seldom get better than this.

Oh - and I wouldn't limit them to either piano or harpsichord. They sound great on both. I've even heard them on accordion, mandolin ensemble, vibraphones, etc. I prefer them on synthesizers and the repeats must be honored. :D
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 · (Edited)
I have 6 by Horowitz, but I have access to hundreds on the Naxos website (many of these are by Richard Lester on Nimbus). Unfortunately I think most of these are on harpsichord which is not my favorite instrument. Could you suggest some of your favorites for listening? Do you designate them by the K number (whatever that stands for)?

Do you prefer them on piano or harpsichord?
Call me a philistine, but I actually prefer the piano for Scarlatti. I think a lot of Scarlatti has to do with tonal coloring and dance rhythms, and somehow the harpsichord just seems a bit stale and sluggish compared to the piano in fulfilling this task. As I've stated before, I feel that Scarlatti himself belonged more to the early Classical Rococo style than to the late Baroque style that Bach epitomizes. His influence in piano music was profound over the Classical era (even more so than Bach in this department) and contains the same sort of crystal-like perfection and beauty that one would find in Mozart. It's only my opinion, but I don't think the harpsichord does this aspect of his music as much justice as the piano does. Of course, it takes a very special sort of pianist like Michelangeli to play Scarlatti well, and I do like HIP Scarlatti enough to prefer any of Ross's work to an insensitive, gratuitously Romantic pianist who bangs out (or sugarcoats) these Sonatas and neglects every ounce of what I love so much about Scarlatti's music.

The Kirkpatrick (K. or Kk.) system of classification is almost always used today though once in awhile you'll see the Longo (L.) system or even more uncommonly the Pestelli (P.) system.
 

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The year 1685 was indeed a historically signifcant year for Baroque music. Three giants were born all in the one year, namely J. S. Bach, Handel and Domenico Scarlatti. We are very, very lucky today to have so much of their music performed and recorded.

For a mere sample of his sonatas on harpsichord, I can warmly recommend two CDs, followed by the whole lot pictured below. I am slowly going through the complete set. I'm sure there are many other fine sets.

Trevor Pinnock, harpsichord. This was my first CD of Scarlatti sonatas.


Christophe Rousset, harpsichord.


The complete set on harpsichord (majority), fortepiano and organ. Peter Jan Belder.
I heard the set by Scott Ross is quite good, too. Member mamascarlatti has it, I think.
 

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The year 1685 was indeed a historically signifcant year for Baroque music. Three giants were born all in the one year, namely J. S. Bach, Handel and Domenico Scarlatti. We are very, very lucky today to have so much of their music performed and recorded.

For a mere sample of his sonatas on harpsichord, I can warmly recommend two CDs, followed by the whole lot pictured below. I am slowly going through the complete set. I'm sure there are many other fine sets.

Trevor Pinnock, harpsichord. This was my first CD of Scarlatti sonatas.


Christophe Rousset, harpsichord.


The complete set on harpsichord (majority), fortepiano and organ. Peter Jan Belder.
I heard the set by Scott Ross is quite good, too. Member mamascarlatti has it, I think.
No, I'm afraid I don't. I prefer Scarlatti on the piano (or fortepiano) too:eek: and in fact prefer the harpsichord as a continuo rather than solo instrument. I went through a period of complete obsession with Scarlatti and collected a lot of CDs, but the majority were piano. I learned to play the piano so I could play K402, and managed to get far enough to play all the notes (if not the music:D).
 

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Here is a scintillating performance of the sonata in D minor, K.517. It is a little imperfect, perhaps but gives the listener a dazzling experience! I picked this clip so the viewer can see the skills involved.

 

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Discussion Starter · #12 · (Edited)
Wow! :eek:

Thanks for sharing, HC. That is prestissimo indeed, and it's a good reflection of Scarlatti's own skill on the harpsichord, which was apparently very good (and he had to have been good to perform that!).

Talking about awe-inspiring technical feats, here's another one...


Of course, incredible and lovely Martha takes it faster than everyone else. She has a very unique but effective way with those repeated notes that I just envy.
 

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The K. 455, K. 517, and K. 141 are all wonderful. The repeated notes have a distinctive sound that remind me somewhat of parts of Bach's unaccompanied violin sonatas and Partitas. Argerich is fantastic! it almost looks as though her fingers are not quite playing the repeated notes.

For the Classical Music Project Scarlatti's Essercizi Sonatas were nominated. Could some of you tell me why this particular group was nominated? Was it simply that they stand as a unit, or is there something considered especially wonderful about them? I did read Richard Lester's Thoughts on Scarlatti's Essercizi per Gravicembalo
(http://www.harpsichord.org.uk/EH/Vol2/No1/scarlattiessercizi.pdf) which was interesting.
 

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For the Classical Music Project Scarlatti's Essercizi Sonatas were nominated. Could some of you tell me why this particular group was nominated? Was it simply that they stand as a unit, or is there something considered especially wonderful about them? I did read Richard Lester's Thoughts on Scarlatti's Essercizi per Gravicembalo
(http://www.harpsichord.org.uk/EH/Vol2/No1/scarlattiessercizi.pdf) which was interesting.
I think it was mainly because they stand as a unit. Its easier than picking a bunch of different sonatas and trying to somehow group them together etc. Also because a lot of great sonatas are definetely in that set.

On another note this was a great thread idea, and I too have been floored by many of the awesome videos posted here.
 

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The K. 455, K. 517, and K. 141 are all wonderful. The repeated notes have a distinctive sound that remind me somewhat of parts of Bach's unaccompanied violin sonatas and Partitas. Argerich is fantastic! it almost looks as though her fingers are not quite playing the repeated notes.
To me they sound more like a plucked instrument. I always imagine Scarlatti surrounded by the street sounds of Spain and incorporating them into his sonatas.
 

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For the Classical Music Project Scarlatti's Essercizi Sonatas were nominated. Could some of you tell me why this particular group was nominated? Was it simply that they stand as a unit, or is there something considered especially wonderful about them? I did read Richard Lester's Thoughts on Scarlatti's Essercizi per Gravicembalo
(http://www.harpsichord.org.uk/EH/Vol2/No1/scarlattiessercizi.pdf) which was interesting.
I would have loved to nominate ALL of them, but that's just too much to nominate in one shot the way the board is set-up. So it was just a way to get a coherent group of 10 of them in. Plus they are great :D
 

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They're lots of fun to play, I can say that! Most of them are easy enough to mostly sight-read through for an experienced pianist. Each sonata emphasizes a particular technical difficulty of the piano: crossing over, rapid leaps, repeated notes, etc. While I can't say they're miniature masterpieces on the level of Chopin (the development sections aren't very intriguing for the most part), they're still a groundbreaking body of work for the piano.
 

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They're lots of fun to play, I can say that! Most of them are easy enough to mostly sight-read through for an experienced pianist. Each sonata emphasizes a particular technical difficulty of the piano: crossing over, rapid leaps, repeated notes, etc. While I can't say they're miniature masterpieces on the level of Chopin (the development sections aren't very intriguing for the most part), they're still a groundbreaking body of work for the piano.
I don't think thats really a fair comparison. We are talking a fair stretch of time between the baroque and romantic periods. That'd be similar to me saying 'Chopin's development sections are very intriguing, but his pieces are not masterpieces on the level of Debussy and Schoenberg because Chopin's pieces are so predictably tonal.' You just can't fairly compare and contrast musical pieces across such wide spans of time.

I would suggest that for his time Scarlatti's musical contributions were more or less equivalent to those of Chopin in his time. They actually were kind of similar in ways, ie - sticking mostly to mastery of a solo instrument over orchestrated pieces.
 

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I compared them to Chopin because they both wrote primarily A-B-A form pieces (If you want to get technical, Scarlatti's sonatas are closer to rounded binary, but the overall structures are still very similar).

Regardless of the time span between Scarlatti and Chopin, you can tell when something was written by an inspired hand, regardless of how 'new' the compositional procedure was. And for the most part, the Scarlatti development sections are either bland and uninteresting or completely unrelated to the preceding material. I still love the sonatas, just for everything except the developments.
 
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