Scarlatti, Domenico and Alessandro (Pietro) Alessandro (1660–1725) and (Giuseppe) Domenico (1685–1757)

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SCARLATTI, DOMENICO AND ALESSANDRO (Pietro) Alessandro (16601725) and (Giuseppe) Domenico (16851757)

SCARLATTI, DOMENICO AND ALESSANDRO (Pietro) Alessandro (16601725) and (Giuseppe) Domenico (16851757), members of a renowned family of musicians, originally from Sicily. Alessandro has traditionally been credited as the founder of the Neapolitan school of opera; his son Domenico was a noted harpsichordist and composer. Not much is known about Alessandro's parents except that they were involved in Palermo's musical life and that his father, Pietro, was a tenor. Alessandro proved to be a gifted young musician and continued his studies in Rome, where he moved with his mother and several siblings in 1672.

Alessandro cultivated his musical skills as well as an influential circle of friends in Rome. In April 1678 he married Antonia Anzaloni, and in the same year he was appointed maestro di capella of the church of San Giacomo degli Incurabili and also composed his first opera, an untitled work, for Filippo Bernini, son of sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini (15981680). Two years later, Alessandro's short comic opera Gli equivoci nel sembiante (1679) not only established him as one of Rome's leading operatic composers, but also introduced him to his most famous patron, Queen Christina of Sweden (ruled 16321654), who was living there in exile. He served as her maestro di capella until 1683, and she sponsored private productions of several of his operas. In Rome during this period, operas were presented only occasionally and in private to the aristocracy and to foreign ambassadors, since public opera and theater performances were banned under Innocent XI (reigned 16761689), who closed Rome's first public opera house three years after it had opened.

Desiring more artistic freedom, Alessandro accepted a commission from Domenico Marzio Carafa, the viceroy of Naples, and moved there in 1684, becoming maestro di capella at the vice-regal court at the age of twenty-four. The following year, his sixth child, Domenico, was born. As master of the royal chapel in Naples until 1702, Alessandro composed nine oratorios and sixty-five cantatas, and composed and produced more than eighty operas. His most successful operas from this period were Il Pirro e Demetrio (1694), his only opera to be produced internationally during his lifetime; La caduta de' Decemviri (1697), the first piece to employ a three-part rather than two-part Italian sinfonia; and Tito Sempronio Gracco (1702), one of his most financially successful endeavors. Significant during Scarlatti's tenure in Naples is the change from the five-act opera popular in Rome to works of three acts. He also maintained his contacts in Rome, returning there occasionally for performances of cantatas and oratorios and to put on new operas for private patrons such as Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (16671740) and Cardinal Benedetto Pamphili. At the weekly concerts established by Ottoboni, he met virtuosos and composers including Arcangelo Corelli (16531713). One of Scarlatti's operas, La Statira (1690), was even given a public performance in Rome when Alexander VIII (reigned 16891691), Cardinal Ottoboni's uncle, reopened the theater that Innocent XI had closed; but Alexander's successor, Innocent XII (reigned 16911700) renewed the ban on public opera productions and finally dismantled the theater in 1697.

In 1702, with the position of the Neapolitan nobility becoming insecure due to the onset of the War of the Spanish Succession (17011714), Alessandro and his family left Naples and went to Florence, where he sought work for himself and Domenico from Prince Ferdinand de' Medici. Receiving commissions for several operas but no fulltime job there, he took his family back to Rome, where he accepted an appointment as assistant maestro di cappella at the church of Santa Maria Maggiore, composing motets and masses. He remained in Rome until 1708, supplementing his income with commissions from Cardinals Ottoboni and Pamphili, and from a new patron, Marquis Ruspoli, as well as from Prince Ferdinand. In 1706 he was elected, along with Corelli and Bernardo Pasquini (16371710), to the Arcadian Academy, a circle of poets and musicians devoted to a classical aesthetic modeled on Greek antiquity, and he must have met George Frideric Handel (16851759) at one of the Arcadians' gatherings in 1707. With the papal ban on public opera still in effect in Rome, he concentrated on oratorios, serenatas, and cantatas, although he wrote four operas for Ferdinand in Florence during this period and in 1707 went to Venice to direct two new five-act operas, which were not successful there. He returned to Rome briefly as maestro di cappella at Santa Maria Maggiore, but when he was offered his old position in Naples in 1708 by the new Austrian viceroy therethat city having come under Austrian occupationhe accepted it. Naples remained his center of activity for the rest of his life, as a composer and a teacher (with such students as Hasse and Quantz), although he made periodic visits to his patrons in Rome, where he was able to produce some of his finest late operas, including his last, La Griselda (1721).

Oratorios at that time were a substitute for opera during the seven-week period of Lent, and Alessandro wrote approximately forty of them, including La Giuditta (1697), based on the biblical account of Judith of Bethulia. He also wrote at least twenty-two serenatas, large festive cantatas on secular themes, often political in nature, written to commemorate important events and performed in open-air theaters. Among the more politically oriented serenatas was Pace, amor, e providenza (1714), composed for the nameday of Emperor Charles VI to celebrate the 1714 Treaty of Rastatt, one of several treaties comprising the Peace of Utrecht, which ended the War of the Spanish Succession. The libretto's allegorical figures each claim responsibility for Charles's diplomatic triumphs. Among Alessandro's most celebrated compositions are his more than six hundred chamber cantatas, both sacred and secular, most set for solo soprano accompanied with basso continuo, with lyrical poetic texts frequently focused on the theme of love. Alessandro's church music, including masses, motets, and psalm settings, spans both the stile antico and the stile moderno. He also wrote purely instrumental music, including seven toccatas for harpsichord, and twelve concerti grossi in the style of Corelli.

Alessandro Scarlatti's reputation rests largely on his dramatic compositions for the stage. The opening sinfonias of these works are of particular importance. The majority of his approximately 114 operas can be categorized as drammae per musica (musical dramas); many are based on ancient history (sometimes apocryphal). Some use literary subjects as their basis, such as La Griselda, which draws its libretto from Boccaccio; others can be classified as commedie in musica, or pastorales. The three-part Italian sinfonia, consisting of an introductory Allegro, followed by a slower contrasting section, and concluding with a fast movement in triple meter, was the precursor to the classical symphonies of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (17561791) and Franz Joseph Haydn (17321809).

The most famous of Alessandro Scarlatti's children was Domenico, born in 1685, the same year as Handel and as Johann Sebastian Bach (16851750). His keyboard-playing talent was recognized at an early age; he may have studied harpsichord with Pasquini or Gaetano Greco (16571728) in Rome. Alessandro helped him procure the position of composer and organist at the Cappella Reale in Naples in 1700 when Domenico was fifteen. After a brief period in Florence with his father, he returned to Naples to take over his father's duties for the 17031704 season while Alessandro was in Rome and then was sent by his father to Venice, where he was "escorted only by his own ability" (as Alessandro wrote to Ferdinand de' Medici in 1705). Domenico returned to Rome in 1707, where he is reported to have entered a keyboard competition under the auspices of Cardinal Ottoboni in 1708 or early 1709. Among the contestants was Handel, who was judged Domenico's equal on the harpsichord, but whose organ skills surpassed those of Scarlatti. In 1713 and 1714, Domenico was appointed to two of the most important positions in Rome: first as maestro di cappella in service to Maria Casimira, the exiled dowager queen of Poland, and then as chapelmaster of the Cappella Giulia at St. Peter's. Both titles afforded him financial security. In addition to the seven operas Domenico composed from 1710 to 1714 while in Rome, it is believed that he went briefly to England in 1719 to revise an earlier work, which Handel produced at Drury Lane in 1720.

In 1719, Domenico finally freed himself from his father's control when he was granted legal independence from Alessandro and resigned his positions in Rome. His most important position came soon after that, when he was appointed mestre de capela in Lisbon, where he also oversaw the education of John V's younger brother, Don Antonio, and John's daughter Maria Barbara. He returned to Rome for a visit in 1728 to marry the sixteen-yearold Maria Catarina Gentili. In 1729, when Princess Maria Barbara married the Spanish crown prince and became queen of Spain, Domenico followed her to Seville, and then in 1733 to Madrid, becoming her maestro da cámera and spending the rest of his life there. His wife died in 1739, and sometime before 1742 he married Anastasia Maxarti Ximenes.

Most of his approximately 550 keyboard works were written at the Portuguese and Spanish courts, and many of these reflect an influence of Iberian folk-music idioms. Known for his ability to improvise at the harpsichord, Domenico did not write down his compositions until 1738, when he published his first collection of keyboard pieces, thirty Essercizi per gravicembalo. He was knighted by John V that same year, and in return he dedicated the Essercizi to the king.

Domenico organized a large number of his harpsichord works into two volumes (1742, 1749) and presented them to Maria Barbara. It was through this patron that he met the famous castrato Farinelli (17051782), who inherited several volumes of the composer's keyboard manuscripts after the queen's death. Between 1752 and 1757, Domenico composed an additional 200 keyboard suites (or sonatas, as he called them), which he compiled and edited for publication, possibly with the assistance of one of his students, Catalan composer Antonio Soler (17291783), as his copyist.

Domenico Scarlatti's compositions include fourteen operas, over seventy cantatas, several serenatas (of which only two have survived, including the Festeggio armonico, written in 1728 for the engagement of Maria Barbara to the Spanish crown prince), and various sacred pieces. He is best remembered for his large output of single-movement keyboard sonatas, which place him as one of the founders of modern keyboard technique. Scarlatti's sonatas are technically innovative in their use of hand crossings, quickly repeated notes, and wide leaps, requiring a high level of technical proficiency. The sonatas skillfully utilize the harpsichord to its fullest capacity and demonstrate the composer's gift of melodic and harmonic invention. The elegance and graceful ornamentation of these works epitomize the refined qualities of the early rococo style. The binary structure of Scarlatti's sonatas is noteworthy; an antecedent to sonata form, it is similar to the Italian sinfonias of his father, in that both were influential to the development of later Classicalperiod music. The sonatas have remained an integral part of the keyboardist's repertory.

See also Handel, George Frideric ; Music ; Opera .


Boyd, Malcolm. Domenico ScarlattiMaster of Music. London, 1986.

Grout, Donald J. Alessandro Scarlatti: An Introduction to His Operas. Berkeley, 1979.

Pagano, Robert, and Malcolm Boyd. "Scarlatti, Alessandro." In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., edited by Stanley Sadie, vol. 22, pp. 372396. London, 2001.

. "Scarlatti, Domenico." In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., edited by Stanley Sadie. Vol. 22, pp. 398417. London, 2001.

Gregory Maldonado