Important composer of the baroque period; b. Palermo, May 2, 1660 (christened Pietro Alessandro Gasparo);d. Naples, Oct. 24, 1725. As a boy of 12 he became a student of carissimi in Rome, where his first known opera was produced in 1679 and where he was for a time in charge of music for Queen Christina of Sweden. He was again in Rome (1703–09) as maestro di cappella at St. Mary Major. In 1710 he was appointed maestro to the royal court at Naples, a post he held for life. Scarlatti wrote more than 115 operas (50 of which are extant) and more than 500 chamber cantatas for one or two voices and harpsichord. He founded the so-called Neapolitan school of opera, whose chief stylistic characteristics are florid and elegant melodic lines, extensive use of the da capo aria form, and rapid, staccato recitatives. He also influenced the development of the Italian overture (fast section, slow section, fast section). Most, though not all, of his church music is inferior to his operas and cantatas. It is set in either of two styles: the "old style" in imitation of Palestrinian counterpoint; or the prevalent operatic style of Scarlatti's day. Research by Beekman C. Cannon of Yale University indicates that Scarlatti was apparently the first composer to set the complete, unaltered text of the St. John Passion. Because he composed in great haste his music is of uneven quality, but his best works rank among the baroque masterpieces.
Bibliography: e. j. dent, Alessandro Scarlatti, ed. f. walker (rev. ed. London 1960). e. hanley, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. f. blume (Kassel-Basel 1949–) 11:1482–1506. f. a. d'accone, The History of a Baroque Opera: Alessandro Scarlatti's 'Gli equivoci nel sembiante' (Hillsboro 1985). l. damuth, "Interrelationships between the Operas and Datable Cantatas of Alessandro Scarlatti" (Ph.D. diss. Columbia University, 1993). u. d'arpa, "La famiglia Scarlatti: nuovi documenti biografici," Recercare 2 (1990), 243–248. d. j. grout, e. hanley, and m. boyd, "(Pietro) Alessandro (Gaspare) Scarlatti" in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, vol. 16, ed. s. sadie (New York 1980) 549–567. g. g. jones, "Alessandro Scarlattis Il Ciro, " Hamburger Jahrbuch für Musikwissenschaft 1 (1978), 225–237. d. poultney, "Alessandro Scarlatti" in International Dictionary of Opera 2 vols. ed. c. s. larue (Detroit 1993) 1184–1187. d. swale, "The Judith Oratorios of Alessandro Scarlatti," Miscellanea Musicologica 9 (1977), 145–155.
[w. c. holmes]
Scarlatti, (Petro) Alessandro (Gaspare)
Alessandro Scarlatti (älĕs-sän´drō skärlät´tē), 1660–1725, Italian composer. He may have studied with Carissimi in Rome, where his first opera was produced in 1679. In 1684 he went to Naples as master of the royal chapel and there composed operas for the royal palace and chamber music for the aristocracy. Later he was also active in Florence, Rome, and Venice. He wrote more than 100 operas, of which Mitridate Eupatore (1707) and Il Tigrane (1715) are considered the finest. As a leader of the Neapolitan school, he helped establish the conventions of the opera seria, perfecting the aria da capo and the three-part overture. His church music includes motets and masses; he also wrote serenades and madrigals, and he composed almost 700 chamber cantatas, which represent the highest development of his art.
His son, (Giuseppe) Domenico Scarlatti, 1685–1757, was a harpsichord virtuoso and composer. As a young man he is said to have engaged in friendly keyboard competition with his contemporary Handel, and thereafter the two had lifelong admiration for each other. From 1709 to 1714, Scarlatti was composer to the Polish Queen Maria Casimira in her court at Rome, and then for a time he was chapel master of St. Peter's. About 1719 he went to Lisbon as music master of the royal chapel and teacher of the Princess Maria Barbara. He accompanied her to Madrid in 1729, and spent the rest of his life at the Spanish court. Scarlatti wrote operas, oratorios, and cantatas, but his fame rests chiefly on his keyboard sonatas, of which he wrote well over 500. They exploit the instrument to its fullest capacity, exemplifying his mastery of the homophonic "free style" of composition. His works display the vivacity, grace, and ornamentation of the rococo, and at the same time show boundless invention and originality. Scarlatti is widely considered to be the founder of modern keyboard technique.
See biography of Alessandro by E. J. Dent (1905, new ed. 1960); biography of Domenico by R. Kirkpatrick (1953, rev. ed. 1968); S. Sitwell, A Background for Domenico Scarlatti (1935, repr. 1970).