Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing


Composers’ Cats, Cat Composers, and Fugues for Friday

Drawing of cat walking on music manuscript

It’s almost Caturday, people, almost the weekend.  So let’s have some fun!

Wait, not a cat fan?  OK, here’s a Fugue for Friday for you (free sheet music available; see link).

In researching the post on Borodin’s cats, I found some fun stuff for the cat fans among you.

Here you can see the history of classical music in cat GIFs.

Here is a collection of composers and their favorite felines.

And then (as if that weren’t enough) cats that look like famous composers.

As you could imagine from the scene at Borodin’s house, cats probably regularly “helped” him as he wrote and played his music.  This kind of help has been offered for a long time:  in the 15th century, a cat left its mark on a medieval manuscript.

And then, in the 1700s, according to legend, Domenico Scarlatti’s cat Pulcinella walked across the keyboard (which was said to be a common occurrence) prompting him to write a fugue on the cat’s theme.  While Scarlatti himself never called it the Cat Fugue, the Fugue in G Minor (K. 30, L. 499) has been known by that nickname ever since.

You might also enjoy this jazzy adaptation of Scarlatti’s cat fugue by Greg Anderson, performed here by Anderson and Roe.

And if this hasn’t been enough frivolity for you, here’s the Nyan Cat Fugue, featuring triple invertible counterpoint and humorous commentary.

Have a relaxing weekend!  Here is a photo of composer Amy Beach enjoying tea with a friend and a cat.

Composer Amy Beach (right), Marcella Craft, and cat warily eyeing photographer H. Wiedenmann, 1913. Courtesy University of New Hampshire Library.

Composer Amy Beach (right), Marcella Craft, and cat warily eyeing photographer H. Wiedenmann, 1913. Courtesy University of New Hampshire Library.


Photo attribution:  Photo of Amy Beach, Marcella Craft, and cat from the University of New Hampshire Library, Special Collections, the Amy Cheney Beach collection.  Photo taken February 14, 1913 by H. Wiedenmann, Munich.  This photo available at Flicker:

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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!


Image attribution: Portrait of Domenico Scarlatti painted in 1738 by Domingo Antonio Velasco. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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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.,  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.


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.,


Happy Birthday, Domenico Scarlatti!

Portrait of Domenico Scarlatti painted in 1738 by Domingo Antonio Velasco

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) is best known for his 555 keyboard sonatas.  Although he was a composer of the Baroque period, his influence of his work extended into the Classical period.

Born in the same year as Bach and Handel, he was the son of Alessandro Scarlatti, also a composer of note.  Domenico Scarlatti spent most of his career in Spain and Portugal, where he was the music tutor of the Portuguese princess Maria Magdalena Barbara.  He continued to serve her when she married into the Spanish royal family.

His sonatas consist of a single movement.  Some are in sonata form, others in binary form.  Some are known for their unusual harmonies.

Lesser known are his operas and masses.  He wrote a number of operas for Maria Casimira, Queen of Poland, before his sojourn in Portugal and Spain.  He also wrote masses and other sacred music for the Capella Giulia, the quintessential Vatican choir formerly directed by none other than Palestrina.

Here is the jaunty Sonata in C Major K 159 played on the harpsichord by Luc Beauséjour.

I can’t resist including a video of the incomparable Vladimir Horowitz, shown here playing the beautiful Sonata in B Minor K 87 in Moscow.

And let’s not neglect Scarlatti’s exquisite choral music.  Here is his Salve Regina in A minor.

Scarlatti can be like potato chips: you can’t stop at just one sonata.  In case you crave more, check out the delightful Sonata in E Major K 380 played by Vadim Chaimovich or the Sonata in B Minor K 27 played with speed and bravura by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.  Abundant videos of Scarlatti sonatas and some of his sacred music can be found on YouTube.



Image attribution: Domenico Scarlatti by Domingo Antonio Velasco, 1738.


Haiku Wednesday: Bartolomeo Cristofori

Bartolomeo Cristofori

Bartolomeo Cristofori

Cristofori fa
“il piano e il forte.”
Grazie mille.

[Cristofori makes
The pianoforte. (For this)
Thank you very much.]

Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731) was a maker of a variety of keyboard instruments.  While in the employ of the Medici court, he initially created harpsichords and virginals.  But they weren’t very loud.  But then he hit upon an idea to make the instrument louder.  Hit upon the strings…with a hammer.

Not like this.



Cristofori developed a mechanism that allowed the performer to play both loud and soft.  His name for the instrument is believed to be arpicembalo (a harp-harpsichord).  But fortepiano>pianoforte>piano stuck.

Today nine of the instruments he built, including three pianos, survive.  Here is a picture of one of them.

By Shriram Rajagopalan, via Wikimedia Commons.

One of Cristofori’s pianos. Photo by Shriram Rajagopalan, via Wikimedia Commons.

The piano continued to undergo development, in particular by John Broadwood and Sons in England. Thomas Broadwood made a gift of his finest instrument to Beethoven.  The instrument later came to the hands of Franz Liszt.  Liszt also had a Érard piano (France), which featured an innovation that allowed him to play notes in more rapid succession.  Chopin played a piano produced by the Pleyel family in France (whom you may remember from Hector Berlioz’ ill-fated engagement).

Broadwood, Érard, Pleyel, Steinway, Bösendorfer, Fazioli…the list goes on and on. Beautiful pianos made all over the world, at every price point (check out the Fazioli special models!).

Mille grazie, Bartolomeo Cristofori!

Here is a sonata by Domenico Scarlatti played on one of Cristofori’s surviving pianos at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


Image attributions:

Photo of a 1726 portrait of Bartolomeo Cristofori. The original was lost in the Second World War. Public domain.  Via Wikimedia Commons.

Member of Blue Man Group and piano.

Cristofori pianoforte, 1720.  Photo by Shriram Rajagopalan (Flickr: Met-32) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.