Magazine article Musical Times

Father and Son

Magazine article Musical Times

Father and Son

Article excerpt

Father and son Alessandro and Domemco Scarlatti; two lives in one Roberto Pagano Translated by Frederick Hammond Pendragon Press (Hillsdale, NY, 2006); xxvii, 381pp;$56. ISBN 1 57647 108 x.

APITY THIS BOOK WAS NOT OUT WHEN I reviewed various musical biographies in the Winter 2006 MT, for it would have made a wonderful foil to those worthy volumes. It must be unique, certainly in recent times, both for its tone (personal, conversational) and technique (rather like a novel), in expressing the imagined feelings, reactions and motivations of a huge cast of colourful characters - all the popes, cardinals, kings, queens, princes, dukes, counts and the rest with whom Scarlatti padre efiglio had contact, in locations from Palermo to Rome to Venice to Lisbon to Madrid. Of course, most incidents in this dual biography feature in earlier accounts but never, I think, so colourfully as here.

From the point of view of scholarship, at least two things stand out. One is Pagano's wide knowledge of Italian and other documentation. This never subsides into a Hansard-like gazette of the kind common in Musikwissenschaft but paints a lively canvas of Italian-Portguese-Spanish society's goingson, often as wild and baroque as the music and its settings. The second point is the author's belief that only Sicilian people understand the Sicilian mentalité, an interesting (if challengeable) idea. While constantly praising Kirkpatrick's work now more than half-a-century old, Pagano is convinced 'that I can read the human experience of the musician in a new way', i.e. more clearly from Palermo than from Connecticut, a place distant in many respects. Pagano does not quite say this, of course, being a scholar of old-fashioned politesse, but the assumption is there. (Interestingly, he shows himself sorely tried only by the blatant tabrications, so he says, of a scholar from - horrors! - Florence.)

Music enters the story as part of the two composers' biographies, but without musical examples or other detail. The focus is more on the dramatis personae, with fascinating accounts of the Polish pseudo-royal court in Rome, the complex machinations in Iberia, the various Hapsburg campaigns etc., all tangential but entertaining. At the same time, some important musicians such as FarinelU and Soler are looked at anew, with many glimpses of Handel, Corelli, Alberti, Pergolesi, Burney and others, and if the language is literally romantic ('like a novel'), factual nuggets can still emerge. Thus, from reading that to 'expiate the sin of pride that he had committed in Naples, Domenico Scarlatti followed his father to Rome, a city of penances symbolized by the absence of theatrical activity and one given to Arcadian longings' one at least learns that son followed father and worked in genres other than opera, trying for a new kind of patronage and able to adapt styles as required. …

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