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Domenico Scarlatti's keyboard sonatas
December 9, 2011 7:21 PM   Subscribe

Combining the architectural grace of Bach with the sprightly melodicism of Mozart, the 555 keyboard sonatas (3 MB PDF) of Domenico Scarlatti are a cornucopia of exquisite music*. The first musician to record all of them was the colorful Scott Ross - who died of AIDS-related pneumonia at the age of 38. Here he performs one of the masterpieces, K.209, in Le Château de Maisons-Laffitte on a harpsichord built by David Ley.

Distinguished proponents of Scarlatti on piano have included Vladimir Horowitz* and Martha Argerich*.

Here guitarist John Williams performs the Sonata in D minor.
posted by Trurl (29 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite

 
The more recent complete set by Peter-Jan Belder records the instrument more distantly - which I find a liability in this music.

My go-to guy is Andreas Staier - whose rhythms are courtlier than Ross's. I imagine this is closer to what the composer's audiences heard.
posted by Trurl at 7:22 PM on December 9, 2011


(presses Favorite button wishing that it would somehow apply more than once)
posted by a small part of the world at 7:24 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm somehow disappointed to see that the [more inside] isn't a list of 555 youtube links.
posted by hippybear at 7:26 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm a big Scarlatti fan. I know it's heresy but I do much prefer him to Bach, whose mathematicism sometimes gets too much for me.
posted by unSane at 7:38 PM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is really neat! I hadn't heard of him before; thanks for posting, Trurl.

(At one point in the video, my mind slipped for a second into 8 bit music for an early horizontal scrolling shooter)
posted by carter at 7:39 PM on December 9, 2011


I was momenterally confused before I realized you weren't talking about 555's, or the type of "music" you can make with them.
posted by inedible at 7:40 PM on December 9, 2011


Although I'm shocked by unSane's heresy, I must say yay for Scarlatti.
posted by winna at 7:43 PM on December 9, 2011


I, too, prefer Scarlatti to Bach... thanks for the post!
posted by trip and a half at 8:00 PM on December 9, 2011


(At one point in the video, my mind slipped for a second into 8 bit music for an early horizontal scrolling shooter)

I had a similar thought about prolific classical-style composers of short pieces and chiptunes. Time to compile a whole tonne of mp3s and scores and see where it goes.
posted by curious nu at 8:03 PM on December 9, 2011


the chiptune/bach/scarlatti thing is totally on point
posted by unSane at 8:18 PM on December 9, 2011


I think that Bach is the greater composer. But what amazes me about Scarlatti is how often he manages to surprise me.

Listening to Bach that I've never heard before, I often am struck by how beautiful and satisfying the music is, but I never have a moment where I say, "Wait -- what is that? Who wrote this? Is this Baroque music, or something later?"

I have that reaction to Scarlatti's sonatas all the time. They are are endlessly inventive, full of hooks. He has 555 different ways to make you sit up and pay attention.

They're also lots of fun to watch, because he uses lots of dramatic hand crossing. Or at least until you get to the Sonatas composed after he became too fat to do that anymore.
posted by straight at 8:21 PM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


But what amazes me about Scarlatti is how often he manages to surprise me.

Yeah the mental image I have is that Bach is a builder of beautiful geometric patterns and Scarlatti is the guy who dumps out the carton of lego blocks and makes something with the randomness of whatever results. They both have their own beauty. Bach is endlessly analysable, Scarlatti (for me anway) much less so.
posted by unSane at 8:24 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Just looked at the PDF. I've never seen music written this way, and have no idea how to parse it, or even what to call it; the PDF refers to them as "maps", it seems, but some basic googling (of 'music map' or 'music map notation' and similar) doesn't turn up anything. What is this called, and where do I learn how to read it? Or is this not meant to be used to actually reproduce the music?
posted by curious nu at 8:25 PM on December 9, 2011


Yeah, I've never seen music notated that way, either. It looks more like a structural analysis than actual music in any recognizable form. I certainly couldn't sit at a piano with any of these and ever reproduce the actual pieces.
posted by hippybear at 8:31 PM on December 9, 2011


Also, while we're committing heresy, John Sankey, "Harpsichordist to the Internet" recorded all 555 of Scarlatti's Sonatas and a sizeable portion of Bach, Bryd, and other harpsichord repertoire as MIDI files and released them to be distributed freely, along with a sound font made from his personal harpsichord.

(Think of them like the piano rolls that performers like Gershwin and Rachmaninov created.)

All 555 have been converted to mp3 files using Sankey's sound font and are available here.

Direct recordings of a performance on harpsichord are much better, of course, but I enjoy Sankey's playing and I admit he introduced me to quite a few of Scarlatti's sonatas that I couldn't find recordings for. This was a bigger deal back when bandwidth and storage space were more of an issue.
posted by straight at 8:32 PM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


died of AIDS-related pneumonia

Why can't we just say "died of AIDS?" Do people die of "strangulation-related choking?" I don't mean to be sensitive to other people's suffering; far from it. But awkward usage like that trivializes tragedy as something sterile and bureaucratic.
posted by Yakuman at 8:50 PM on December 9, 2011


Great post! Personally I don't rank Scarlatti - or anybody else - with Bach - for me Bach has an emotional depth that's unmatched - but I still love Scarlatti. Love em both.

Since we're talking complete sets, Carlo Grante has begun recording the whole series on piano, and it's great so far - the more complete sets, the merrier!

Also, let's not forget Pogorelich and Michelangeli (greatest pianist ever?).
posted by facetious at 9:05 PM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


I love Scarlatti. He gets nowhere near the recognition he deserves. (But please folks, Bach is the better composer.)

I'm glad you included the Williams performance. The guitar is a very expressive instrument which creates all sorts of problems when doing baroque music. You can hear this in Williams' own recordings of Bach but Scarlatti's music feels like it can handle that little extra flair that Williams brings to it. Really good stuff.

In a similar vein Horowitz's version is not period perfect but adds just the right amount of romanticism while still not forgetting the baroque origins of the music.

I guess maybe that says something about Scarlatti.
posted by bfootdav at 9:15 PM on December 9, 2011


Why can't we just say "died of AIDS?"

We don't say that because AIDS itself is not fatal. What makes it a life-taking disease is that it opens the body's immune system to infections which otherwise would not probably be deadly and gives them the opportunity to run rampant (even with treatment) and kill their host.

That's why managing HIV infection is crucial. If you can control HIV infection, you give the body's immune system the chance to fight off what would otherwise be fatal to someone with AIDS.

"Died of AIDS-related pneumonia" is exactly the right phrase to use in a case like this. It doesn't trivialize or make anything sterile or anything like that. It describes exactly what happened -- someone with AIDS contracted pneumonia and died. Which, for someone only 38 years old, would be unusual if they didn't have a compromised immune system.
posted by hippybear at 9:19 PM on December 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


facetious: Good call on Pogorelich. His performance of K. 87 has become my favorite Scarlatti performance lately.
posted by Wemmick at 9:20 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Combining the architectural grace of Bach with the sprightly melodicism of Mozart..."

It's like a Mach piece, really.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:24 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


@mr_crash_davis: You ernst yourself a fave for that Machery.
posted by Twang at 10:20 PM on December 9, 2011


Quality over quantity. Love Pogorelich!
posted by Alles at 10:30 PM on December 9, 2011


Why does it matter what he died from?
posted by spitbull at 5:31 AM on December 10, 2011


Why does it matter what he died from?

Because it remains important to point out how devastating HIV/AIDS has been to the artistic & creative community. It's an epidemic which continues to this very day, even in countries like the US, and the way our government ignored it until it was a bonfire of horribleness is shameful. The result was a giant gutting of the best and the brightest.

Plus, if someone dies at 38, it's usually noted how they died. It's pretty unusual to die at that age.
posted by hippybear at 6:10 AM on December 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why does it matter what he died from?

Because it identifies him as part of an historical tragedy - one that wrought an even greater devastation on the arts than on the society at large. 1989 in particular saw US deaths from AIDS triple over the year before. (Although Ross was living in France then, apparently without health insurance.)
posted by Trurl at 6:12 AM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


My fave Scarlatti is his Variations on La Folia.

La Folia is the unstoppable riff. Salieri also did excellent Variations on it.
posted by ovvl at 7:23 AM on December 10, 2011


My fave Scarlatti is his Variations on La Folia.

i think that's by his dad Alessandro? talented family...
posted by facetious at 8:38 AM on December 10, 2011


Scarlatti is the best. There is very little music that does as good a job as his for putting me in a good mood. I bought the 34-CD Scott Ross set ages ago and have never regretted it.

He was also very forward-looking; his lifespan lay squarely in the Baroque but his wit and use of drama prefigured the Classical era, particularly Haydn.
posted by dfan at 4:08 PM on December 10, 2011


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