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Preserved in the 1752 first Venice volume of Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas, this work likely predated that manuscript source by a year or two. That makes this C major effort a late work, despite the fact that almost 400 more keyboard sonatas would flow from Scarlatti’s pen before his death in 1757. Listening to the work, however, one might believe its joviality and youthful playfulness clearly suggest it was the creation of a young man. But the ever-spirited, forward-looking Scarlatti produced many such pieces, early and late, throughout his distinguished set of 555 sonatas.

Marked Allegro, the Sonata opens with a lively theme whose perky character and sense of joy are, if anything, enhanced by the mostly descending contour. The music effervesces as it moves in light patter about the keyboard, seeming to cackle or giggle in its busy but carefree work. The exposition, which is repeated in accordance with Scarlatti’s usual sonata structure, is quite short, lasting but a minute or so, and is followed by the lengthier development portion of the work. Here the music transforms relatively little and the mood, too, remains quite joyful and light.

Of course, the original we’re not savages here at DWR. :>

Scarlatti, Sonate K.141 by Martha Argerich.

 

 This D minor effort is one of Scarlatti’s finest Sonatas and also one of his most unusual: it is really a toccata whose focus on repeated notes is said to be an attempt to imitate the sonorities of a mandolin. In addition, it makes considerable demands on the soloist with hand-crossings and other keyboard acrobatics executed at rapid tempos.

Marked Allegro, the work’s opening is striking: the sound world of a mandolin is immediately invoked in the manic character of the repeated notes. Some listeners may identify this rapid-fire, tremolo-like effect more with the guitar, another instrument Scarlatti often imitated in his keyboard works.

The main theme scurries about playfully, but with a sense of urgency in its hyperactivity. The material of the second subject is just as driven, but focuses less on repeated notes, more on heightening the sense of conflict and resolution, but always with elegance, if a breathless elegance. Midway through Scarlatti turns to development of his thematic material, as was his usual course. Here the music maintains the same busy mood in expanding largely on the secondary material, and in those nervous repeated notes as well. Without a doubt this three-and-a-half minute gem is one of Scarlatti’s finest and most challenging sonatas.

This D minor effort is one of Scarlatti’s finest Sonatas and also one of his most unusual: it is really a toccata whose focus on repeated notes is said to be an attempt to imitate the sonorities of a mandolin. In addition, it makes considerable demands on the soloist with hand-crossings and other keyboard acrobatics executed at rapid tempos.

Marked Allegro, the work’s opening is striking: the sound world of a mandolin is immediately invoked in the manic character of the repeated notes. Some listeners may identify this rapid-fire, tremolo-like effect more with the guitar, another instrument Scarlatti often imitated in his keyboard works.

The main theme scurries about playfully, but with a sense of urgency in its hyperactivity. The material of the second subject is just as driven, but focuses less on repeated notes, more on heightening the sense of conflict and resolution, but always with elegance, if a breathless elegance. Midway through Scarlatti turns to development of his thematic material, as was his usual course. Here the music maintains the same busy mood in expanding largely on the secondary material, and in those nervous repeated notes as well. Without a doubt this three-and-a-half minute gem is one of Scarlatti’s finest and most challenging sonatas.

 

The nickname, which was never used by the composer himself but was introduced only early in the 19th century, originates from a story about how Scarlatti came up with the strikingly unusual motif on which the fugue is built. Legend has it that Scarlatti had a pet cat called Pulcinella, who was described by the composer as prone to walking across the keyboard, always curious about its sounds.

On one occasion, according to the story, Scarlatti wrote down a phrase from one of these “improvisation sessions”, and used it as a lead motif in a fugue:

Catfuguemotif.png

The nickname was used in concert programmes in the 19th Century (see Performances section below), and was also used by publishers including Muzio Clementi, Carl Czerny and Alessandro Longo.[1]

Influence

The piece was published in London in 1739. George Frideric Handel, famous for his reuse of his own music and ‘borrowings’ from the works of others, wrote his Grand Concertos, Op. 6 between late September and late October 1739 and the strange descending intervals of the second movement of No. 3 are reminiscent of Scarlatti’s piece.[2] Early 19th century theorist and composer Anton Reicha knew the work and wrote a fugue on the same subject for his 36 Fugues of 1803.[3]

Beethoven’s 9th, the fourth movement is not out yet, so we’ll kick it back a bit to the late baroque era, please enjoy and learn about Domenico Scarlatti.

Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti (Naples, 26 October 1685 – Madrid, 23 July 1757) was an Italian composer who spent much of his life in the service of the Portuguese and Spanish royal families. He is classified as a Baroque composer chronologically, although his music was influential in the development of the Classical style. Like his renowned father Alessandro Scarlatti he composed in a variety of musical forms although today he is known almost exclusively for his 555 keyboard sonatas.

Only a small fraction of Scarlatti’s compositions were published during his lifetime; Scarlatti himself seems to have overseen the publication in 1738 of the most famous collection, his 30 Essercizi (“Exercises”). These were rapturously received throughout Europe, and were championed by the foremost English writer on music of the eighteenth century, Dr. Charles Burney.

The many sonatas which were unpublished during Scarlatti’s lifetime have appeared in print irregularly in the two and a half centuries since. Scarlatti has, however, attracted notable admirers, including Frédéric Chopin, Johannes Brahms, Béla Bartók, Dmitri Shostakovich, Heinrich Schenker, Vladimir Horowitz, Emil Gilels, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, and Marc-André Hamelin.

Frédéric Chopin, as a piano teacher, notably wrote:

“Those of my dear colleagues who teach the piano are unhappy that I make my own pupils work on Scarlatti. But I am surprised that they are so blinkered. His music contains finger-exercises aplenty and more than a touch of the most elevated spirituality. Sometimes he is even a match for Mozart. If I were not afraid of incurring the disapprobation of numerous fools, I would play Scarlatti at my concerts. I maintain that the day will come when Scarlatti’s music will often be played at concerts and that audiences will appreciate and enjoy it”.[1]

Scarlatti’s 555 keyboard sonatas are single movements, mostly in binary form, and mostly written for the harpsichord or the earliest pianofortes. (There are four for organ, and a few for small instrumental group). Some of them display harmonic audacity in their use of discords, and also unconventional modulations to remote keys.

Other distinctive attributes of Scarlatti’s style are the following:

  • The influence of Iberian (Portuguese and Spanish) folk music. An example is Scarlatti’s use of the Phrygian mode and other tonal inflections more or less alien to European art music. Many of Scarlatti’s figurations and dissonances are suggestive of the guitar.
  • A formal device in which each half of a sonata leads to a pivotal point, which the Scarlatti scholar Ralph Kirkpatrick termed “the crux”, and which is sometimes underlined by a pause or fermata. Before the crux, Scarlatti sonatas often contain their main thematic variety, and after the crux the music makes more use of repetitive figurations as it modulates away from the home key (in the first half) or back to the home key (in the second half).

The harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick produced an edition of the sonatas in 1953, and the numbering from this edition is now nearly always used – the Kk. or K. number. Previously, the numbering commonly used was from the 1906 edition compiled by the Neapolitan pianist Alessandro Longo (L. numbers). Kirkpatrick’s numbering is chronological, while Longo’s ordering is a result of his grouping the sonatas into “suites”. In 1967 the Italian musicologist Giorgio Pestelli published a revised catalogue (using P. numbers), which corrected what he considered to be some anachronisms. See [1] for a list converting Longo, Kirkpatrick and Pestelli numbers of Scarlatti’s sonatas.

Aside from his many sonatas he composed a quantity of operas and cantatas, symphonias, and liturgical pieces. Well known works include the Stabat Mater of 1715 and the Salve Regina of 1757 that is thought to be his last composition.

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