Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


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Haiku Wednesday: Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonatas To Match Your Mood

Portrait of Domenico Scarlatti painted in 1738 by Domingo Antonio Velasco

Melancholy? Blue?
Domenico Scarlatti
Wrote something for you.

Overjoyed? Happy?
Domenico Scarlatti
Wrote something snappy!

Need soothing and mild?
Domenico Scarlatti
Lulls you like a child.

Whatever your mood,
Domenico Scarlatti
Has that attitude.

A few nights ago I heard a keyboard sonata by Domenico Scarlatti at a student recital, and it caught my ear.  It was bright and delicate, and simply wonderful.  So I went home and listened to a bunch of Scarlatti.

It’s easy to do.  Scarlatti wrote over 500 keyboard sonatas, and they are short pieces, typically one movement (nonetheless, the Scarlatti Complete Sonatas box set by Scott Ross consists of 34 CDs!).  So if you look long enough, you’re sure to find something to match your mood.

Looking to start your day with something light and cheerful?  Try the Sonata in G major, K. 2.

Or perhaps you’re in the middle of your day, and ready for something really lively.  How about the Sonata in C major, K. 159?

Maybe you’ve already finished a full day of work, and are looking for something soothing.  Here is Vladimir Horowitz performing Scarlatti’s Sonata in B minor, L. 33 (K. 87), one of my favorites.

If you’re a Horowitz fan, there are a number of videos of his performances of Scarlatti, and it’s a delight to watch his fingers dance across the keys.  If you’re a fan of Glenn Gould, Andras Schiff, Mikhail Pletnev, Ivo Pogorelich, or, going back further, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, they made fine recordings of Scarlatti keyboard sonatas, each with their own take on the music.

Want to hear all of them on virtual harpsichord?  John Sankey has all the Scarlatti sonatas available for listening or download on his websiteClaudio Colombo has recorded them on a digital piano.  You can also hear and download Scarlatti sonatas on this beautifully illustrated Czech Radio site (they have a project underway and hope to offer all of them at some point).  The latter site has useful categories such as melancholic, cheerful, hit song, fast, slow, and…difficult (for you keyboard players who would like to road test them).

So why not do a little exploring?  You’re sure to find something to suit your mood!

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Image attribution: Portrait of Domenico Scarlatti painted in 1738 by Domingo Antonio Velasco. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARetrato_de_Domenico_Scarlatti.jpg


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Happy Birthday, Alessandro Scarlatti!

Autograph score of Dixit Dominus by Alessandro Scarlatti. Archivio Storico Ricordi, copyright 2013 Ricordi & C. S.r.l., Milan

Autograph score of Dixit Dominus by Alessandro Scarlatti. Archivio Storico Ricordi, copyright 2013 Ricordi & C. S.r.l., Milan. http://www.archivioricordi.com, http://www.ricordicompany.com/en/page/64.  His signature is at the top right.

I was all ready to present a post on Domenico Scarlatti sonatas this morning…and then realized it was his father Alessandro’s birthday today (May 2, 1660-October 22, 1725).

Well, I hate to slight old Alessandro, and since I didn’t even send him a card, the least I could do was write a post about him.  So I guess Domenico will have to wait.

Alessandro Scarlatti was best known for his vocal works, in particular, his operas.  When I listen to some of his arias, it is hard to believe they were written in the 1600s, they sound much more modern.  For example, listen to the incomparable José Carreras as he sings the aria O cessate di piagarmi

He also wrote a large number of solo cantatas, and here you can find the exquisite aria Non mannae dulcedo from the cantata Totus Amore Languens.

Let us not neglect his keyboard works.  Here you can find a collection of his toccatas.

Alessandro also wrote a number of religious works, and here is a sample, Exultate Deo.

Want to know more?  Research into the music of Alessandro Scarlatti can be found at the Scarlatti Project website.  Or you can curl up with Alessandro Scarlatti: His Life and Works by Edward Joseph Dent, available as a free ebook.

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Image attribution: Autograph score of Dixit Dominus by Alessandro Scarlatti. Archivio Storico Ricordi, copyright 2013 Ricordi & C. S.r.l., Milan.  Use authorized for non-commercial educational purposes. www.archivioricordi.com, http://www.ricordicompany.com/en/page/64


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Haiku Wednesday: Chaconne

He came home that night
And called her name; no reply.
There never would be.

And then they told him:
In his absence she had died,
And was laid to rest.

His love, his wife, and
The mother of his children,
Gone.  How could this be?

How would he go on?
A home so full; so empty.
How would he go on?

Bach’s Chaconne, performed by Jascha Heifetz on a 1742 Guarneri del Gesù, the David

“The greatest structure for solo violin that exists”

Yehudi Menuhin2

“Not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history.  It’s a spiritually powerful piece, emotionally powerful, structurally perfect.”

Joshua Bell3

“On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings.  If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.”

Johannes Brahms4

The Chaconne performed so exquisitely above by Jascha Heifetz is the last movement of Bach’s Partita in D minor for solo violin (BWV 1004).  The Chaconne is widely believed to have been written in memory of Bach’s first wife, Maria Barbara, though we can never know for sure.

Maria Barbara Bach died suddenly, unexpectedly, in 1720 at the age of 35.  By that time she had borne seven children.  Three of them had died at a young age.

At the time of her death, Johann Sebastian Bach was in Carlsbad with Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, his employer.  In these days of instant communication, we forget that there once was a time when news travelled slowly, or sometimes not at all.  By the time he returned home, his wife had already been buried.  He faced life alone, with four children to raise.

He soldiered onward.  And in the Chaconne one might see a grief ennobled, and made universal.

One cannot help but be struck by the quote from Brahms, the composer of his own testimony to grief, the German Requiem.

But we cannot end on such a dark note; let me tell the rest of the story.

Seventeen months later, Bach married Anna Magdalena Wilcke, and the Bach family grew ever larger.  He lived a long and musically productive life.  He left us many masterworks.  But that Chaconne…it is in a category of its own.

If you visit YouTube, you will find many fine performances of the Chaconne on many different instruments, from organ to guitar to marimba.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partita_for_Violin_No._2_(Bach)
  2. Menuhin, Yehudi, Unfinished Journey, 1976, p 236.
  3. Weingarten, Gene, “Pearls before Breakfast” Washington Post Magazine, April 8, 2007.
  4. Litzman, Berthold, ed., Letters of Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms, 1853-1896. Hyperion Press, 1979, p. 16.
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Barbara_Bach
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Magdalena_Bach