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Recently a piano student of mine came to a lesson with a Scarlatti sonata (K. 27/L.449) and played the piece at a tempo that seemed much too fast to my ears. Since then I've been pondering the topic of tempo, specifically in relation to the grand piano vs. the harpsichord in performing Baroque music, wondering if there's something about the modern grand that facilitates or even encourages extremely fast playing -- playing that for mechanical/physical/technical/musical reasons would have been inappropriate or even impossible on an earlier keyboard.

I've also been looking for some musicologically-informed writing on the topic but haven't yet come across much. What little I've found includes very general comments from Maurice Hinson ("Most of us play Scarlatti too fast... Remember, a fast tempo seems even faster to the listener than to the performer," from "At the Piano with Scarlatti," p.19) and Ralph Kirkpatrick ("All of us, especially the young, have been guilty of playing Scarlatti too fast," from "Domenico Scarlatti," p. 294)

Is anyone aware of in-depth writing on this topic? If so, could you please share references?


There is also the related matter of rapidly repeated notes, as in Scarlatti K.141/L.422. Consider, for instance, this performance of the piece:

Martha Argerich is repeatedly striking the same key at a rate of >11 times/second in the opening measures. I have to wonder: Is that sort of single-key repetition speed even possible on a harpsichord, with an action involving a plectrum which plucks and then continues past the string, and which is housed in a jack that then must fall back down under its own weight (compared to a grand piano action involving a hammer that strikes the strings from below and rebounds)?

Again, if anyone is knowledgeable and has information to share, please let me know.
 

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See if you can get hold of Dean Sutcliffe’s book on Scarlatti.

Just reading your post quickly I’d advise you to be wary of assuming that all of Scarlatti’s music was written for harpsichord, I believe that the princess he wrote for had both pianos and organs at her disposal. As you can imagine there’s a lot of scholarship about this.

To see what’s possible on harpsichord (which are themselves far from uniform in design) maybe contrast Pierre Hantai’s approach with Sergio Vartolo’s. And if piano is your instrument, maybe listened to some informed performances - like Anna Zylberajch.
 
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