Sat, Aug 18, 2018 - Page 14 News List

Bilingual Music: Scarlatti, pan-European Baroque keyboard master

A painting by the 18th-century Italian painter Gaspare Traversi, titled “Concerto,” depicts Domenico Scarlatti, back row center, tutoring Maria Barbara of Portugal in playing the harpsichord.

Photo: Wikicommons

Domenico Scarlatti, the sixth child of the Italian composer Alessandro Scarlatti, demonstrated a talent for musical composition and performance from a young age, and received a comprehensive musical education from his father. His keyboard works espoused outstanding technique, including hand-crossing, voice-exchange, jumps of two octaves or more, rapid arpeggios and nimble alternation of fingering for the same note.

Certainly, exquisite playing technique is a defining characteristic of Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas, but at the same time one cannot overlook the influence on the composer of Spanish and Portuguese folk music and the guitar playing that was so prevalent in the Iberian Peninsula, where Scarlatti lived from his 30s.

During the Baroque period, keyboard music and plucked string instruments such as the guitar were intimately related, as the harpsicord employed a lever mechanism in which the strings inside the instrument are plucked by quill plectra triggered by pressing a key, in much the same way as a plucked string instrument, placed horizontally, would produce notes.

During his life, Scarlatti wrote 555 keyboard sonatas, the vast majority of which were composed during the time he was musical director for the Spanish and Portuguese royal courts. At the time, the Portuguese monarch entrusted Scarlatti with his daughter Maria Barbara’s musical education. The princess was to be married to the Spanish prince, Fernando, and Scarlatti would accompany the princess on her travels around the peninsula, soaking in the customs and traditions of the local populace and drinking in traditional Spanish music.

Scarlatti’s harpsicord pieces command an important place in the history of Western music. His borrowings from the folk music tradition of the Iberian Peninsula, together with the innovative keyboard playing techniques he introduced, had a significant impact on later composers and piano virtuosos such as Chopin, Brahms and Bartok. Quite distinct from the polyphonic compositions popular in his day, the majority of Scarlatti’s keyboard pieces employed a single melodic theme to construct a simple binary form structure consisting of two sections, usually repeated.

In concerts today, the performer will generally open the programme with several Scarlatti sonatas according to their own preference, or which best reflect their personality, or perhaps bring their own creativity to play and combine several works to embody an invigorating musical journey.

(Translated by Paul Cooper, TAIPEI TIMES)








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