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Music to Write By: Domenico Scarlatti

This is the fourth and final post about the music I listen to while writing, editing, researching or, let’s be honest, napping. I’ve previously talked about listening to nature music (rain falling, waves lapping on a beach, the sounds of a tropical jungle) and the composer/musicians, Deuter and R. Carlos Nakai. Both compose in what is considered the New Age genre, have had long and successful careers and both are still very active. Today’s artist is long dead, but no less pleasing or successful: Domenico Scarlatti.

For some time, when I asked my Google Home Mini to “play Scarlatti,” it would automatically play the works of Domenico, the son, rather than Alessandro, the father. Why that is so, I have no idea. Alessandro was no slouch and an innovator of operas and oratorios; both father and son had long and illustrious careers. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of the son eclipsing the father and more of his works being available on the Internet (or Google having a mind of its own). Whatever the case, I was more than happy with the result.

Domenico Scarlatti was born in Naples in 1685, an auspicious year, being also the birth year of G.F. Handel and J.S. Bach. At the age of 23, he met and competed with Handel (although they were deemed equal in talent on the harpsichord, Handel bested him on the organ). Scarlatti became a prolific and renowned composer of the Baroque era — 555 keyboard sonatas alone! As luck would have it, he became music master to a princess, Maria Barbara, daughter of Portugal’s King John V. The Princess went on to become Queen of Spain by marrying Ferdinand VI (that’s a fascinating story in itself, worthy of TV series), taking Scarlatti along on an auspicious twenty-five-year ride.

A link to a biography can be found here.

A link to his birthdate and four short pieces from the wonderful Interlude website.

Scarlatti’s many musical admirers included many distinguished European composers and performers of the next four centuries, including Mozart and Beethoven. His music is judged playful rather than serious. Scarlatti himself in an introduction to his Exercises said, “Do not expect any profound learning, but rather an ingenious jesting with art, to accommodate you to the mastery of the harpsichord.” 

Whatever the case, I find his compositions both delightful and satisfying. And, since he composed so many, listening to him never gets boring.

The Queen’s favorite royal palace was in Aranjuez, a name made famous to music lovers by Joaquin Rodrigo’s magical, evocative 1939 Concierto de Aranjuez, a guitar work that for me will always epitomize Spain (and who can forget Miles Davis’s jazz version, Sketches of Spain!). It’s said that Spain had a great influence on Scarlatti’s music, which may be another reason why I appreciate his works as much as I do.

Queen Maria Barbara and Domenico Scarlatti died a year apart, he in 1757 at the age of seventy-two and she in 1758, at only forty-six years old. She had no children but he had five, although I’ve come across no information as to whether any of them became musicians.

But I digress. The Google Mini began playing a piece I did not recognize. My attempts to find out what it was — checking with both Google Play Music and Google Nest Hub, which provides a video display as well as an audio feed — proved fruitless. As a result, I was forced to listen to a whole raft of Scarlatti before coming up with the answer: the Keyboard Sonata in D Minor, K.9.

The piece always makes me think of my sister, whose piano practices I would enjoy while resting on the living room sofa (yet more napping!). It must be admitted that my memory is faulty on this score, for she reminds me that it was primarily Bach and Clementi she played rather than the more demanding Scarlatti. No matter; it was all a treat.