The Keyboard Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and Eighteenth-Century Music Style

The Keyboard Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and Eighteenth-Century Music Style

The Keyboard Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and Eighteenth-Century Music Style

The Keyboard Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and Eighteenth-Century Music Style

Excerpt

This book deals with one of the greatest but least well understood and covered repertories of Western keyboard music, the 555 keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti. Their composer occupies a position of somewhat solitary splendour in musical history. The sources of his style are often obscure, there are no contemporaries of his with whom he can be more than loosely grouped, and his immediate historical influence, with the exception of a few composers of the next generation in Spain, is difficult to discern. Yet enthusiastic testimonials on his behalf have been provided by many later musicians, whether composers, performers or writers. For all the acknowledgement of mastery, however, the fact remains that the acknowledgement is usually brief. The extreme lack of hard documentary evidence together with Scarlatti's uneasy historical position has hindered sustained musicological engagement with his music, and this has a flow-on effect into other spheres of musical life. Nevertheless, there is undoubtedly a wide gap between the general public's and performers’ interest in the composer and the amount of writing available to answer that. Thus my principal task is to remove the composer from his critical ghetto (however honourable), redefine his image, and to place him more firmly in the context of eighteenth-century musical style. At the same time I would hope to offer some useful thoughts on just this larger context, and indeed on the concept of style as well.

An uncertain and sporadic critical tradition has determined my approach to the task. Reception history and close reading constitute the basic lines of thought. Given the lack of so many contextual and documentary resources, reception history fills the gap – not just faute de mieux but also as a way of investigating how one constructs a composer when so many issues are floating. Chapter 2 forms the focus for this, building on aspects outlined in Chapter 1. In view of the justified charge that Scarlattian research has been uncoordinated, I wanted here to coordinate as many views as possible, even at the risk of overloading the discussion. Further, I can hardly assume a familiarity on the part of the reader with so much far-flung literature, in many different languages. There is insufficient scholarly momentum for any views to

The often quoted total number of 555 sonatas is in fact something of a fabrication on the part of Ralph Kirkpatrick. In his determination to produce a memorable figure, he numbered two sonatas K. 204a and K. 204b, for instance, and allowed to stand as authentic several works that have since been widely regarded as dubious. See Joel Sheveloff, ‘Tercentenary Frustrations’, The Musical Quarterly 71/4 (1985), 433.

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