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Classical Composers A-Z: Domenico Scarlatti

Peter Wintersgill tells us something of the life of Domenico Scarlatti who, as his father had done before him, wrote operas.

Naples, October 26th, 1685.

Alessandro, musician.



Sixth of ten children.

Early Life
Taught by father, later by Pasquini and Gasparini. Became known chiefly as a harpsichordist, but was overshadowed during his life by his father. His fame as a composer came after his death, his work being better known and more often played now than his father's.

He met Handel in Venice in 1709, with whom he had a contest on both the harpsichord and the organ; the harpsichord contest was a tie, but Handel was judged the better organist.

Later Life
He first wrote operas in Naples, but continued them in Rome (1710 -1718) for the Queen of Poland, who was in exile there, and to whom he was appointed cembalist (clavichord player). He became Maestro in the Vatican in 1715, after which he visited London. In 1721 he was appointed Maestro to the court of the King of Portugal and teacher to Princess Maria Barbara. After her marriage to the Spanish Crown Prince he followed her to Madrid, where he spent the rest of his life.

While in Lisbon he wrote 10-part Stabat Mater; but his most important works, some 550 harpsichord sonatas,were written later. More than half of these were written in the last six years of his life. They were all wonderful works of great exhuberance and originality, often spiced with humour. The sonatas often had a flavour of Spanish folk music. He did for the harpsichord what his father did for opera; he blazed the trail, with technique, harmony and form, which became known as sonata form.

He also wrote 15 chamber cantatas, including Salve Regina, 12 concerti grossi and sundry masses and organ works. His works were catalogued in 1906 by Longo and later by Kirkpatrick.

He died in Madrid on 23rd July, 1757, aged 72.


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