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Classical Composers A-Z: Alessandro Scarlatti

Peter Wintersgill summarises the life of Alessandro Scarlatti who composed 115 operas.

Palermo, Sicily, May 2nd, 1660.

Pietro, from Trapani, Sicily.

Eleonora, from Palermo

Second of eight children, four sisters and three brothers; one brother Francesco became Maestro in Palermo.

Early Life
Studied under Carissimi in Rome from 1672, wrote first opera in 1679. Was conductor to Queen Christina of Sweden 1680-84, who had a private theatre.

Married Antonia Anzalone in Rome in 1678 at eighteen. They had ten children between 1679 and 1695, including Domenico.

He alternated between Naples, where he was Choirmaster 1684-1702 and 1709 -1717 and Rome, where he was Choirmaster between 1703-1709 and 1717-1723.

Scarlatti was primarily an opera composer, initiating several new methods such as the Da Capo aria, as in Teodora (1693) and Tigraine (1715). He also introduced the three movement overture, as in Dal Male in bene (1696).

His greatest opera of all was Mitridate Eupatore (1707) written for Prince Ferdinando de Medici, while his only comic opera was Il Trionfo del Onore (1718). He wrote 115 operas altogether, of which only 70 survive.

His influence on opera composition in general, and Mozart in particular, was far reaching. He developed new style and techniques, showing great craftsmanship.

Among other compositions were some 600 solo cantatas, some with strings and continuo, others just with continuo. Perhaps the most celebrated of these was the five movement Christmas cantata (1695).

He also wrote 20 oratorios, including the Stabat Mater, 10 masses, 46 Motets, 30 other cantatas, 12 concerti grossi, sundry chamber and keyboard works, e.g. Sinfonia (1715) and guitar sonata.

He died in Naples on October 24th, 1725, aged 65 and was buried in St.Cecilia's chapel, Montesanto.


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