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Welcome Bach!

It's Komposers for Kossacks! I am droogie, your humble host and narrator for this journey backwards through classical music history and appreciation.

Once again, the caveat. I am only a fan of this music. I am not a professional musician, nor am I a music instructor, nor can I even play an instrument! But my goal here is to introduce you to a few composers so you might feel informed enough to dive in and find some music that you like without getting too intimidated.

We're still solidly in the Baroque period, but today's composer is a little different. Unlike last time, when we did Bach -- who everyone knows -- we're doing a composer you probably haven't heard of. Indeed, I myself wasn't aware of his name before I started doing these diaries. He was recommended to me by a reader, and I've loved everything I've heard so far.

So that's the whole idea of Komposers for Kossacks. I learn a little, you learn a little.

Here we go!

Above: Scarlatti would often
sweep his wig back into wings,
setting a trend that repeated
itself in the 1970s.

Composer: Domenico Scarlatti
Born: October 26, 1685
Died: July 23, 1757
Nationality: Italian (birthplace: Kingdom of Naples)
Occupation: Composer to Spanish and Portuguese royals, harpsichordist, organist
Influenced: Chopin, Bartok, Brahms, Shostakovich

By the date of his birth, Domenico Scarlatti is classified as being a product of the Baroque period, and indeed his music has many of the period's hallmarks. However listening to what he wrote, you get the sense that the composer was ahead of his time.

Some music scholars have called Scarlatti an influence on the Classical style (that's with a big C there, meaning the period between the Baroque and Romantic period, which included such composers as Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn -- a tighter, brighter, cleaner sound than the elegant and complicated Baroque).

Here is a solid example of Scarlatti's distinct style. It's his sonata K101 in A major:

As is the case with some other earlier composers, we don't have a tremendous amount of detail on the arc of Scarlatti's career or his personal life. Much of it is lost to history, and some may be anecdotal in nature and therefore apocryphal.

What we do know is that he spent much of his career working on the commission of nobles and royals in Western Europe. Like Bach, who we reviewed last time, Scarlatti came from a musical family and his father Alessandro was likely his first teacher.

Here is Sonata, K. 455, played on the harpsichord for the Music Animation Machine. Watch for the way multiple notes are played together to create harmony that adds a nice texture to the piece. I love the little "lift" that happens at the end of a couple phrases.

Scarlatti served as composer and organist at the royal church in Naples beginning in 1701, writing and revising operas before moving to Venice and then Rome. His sonatas were received well as far away as London, and one story tells of a keyboard battle between Scarlatti and Handel. The legend has it that Scarlatti was judged as superior on the harpsichord, whereas Handel was found to be the better organist.

Here's some more harpsichord for ya. It's Scarlatti's Sonata K209.

One thing that makes Scarlatti's music easy to spot is the influence of Spanish and Portugese music. He drew inspiration from the folk music of the Iberian Peninsula, leading to inflections not commonly used by his less cosmopolitan contemporaries. He lived in Lisbon and Sevilla for a while, and there he picked up his taste for Flamenco -- before it became a more formal musical style.

Here is sonata K214 in D major (Allegro vivo):

While in Rome, Scarlatti wrote operas for royalty and served as maestro di cappella at St Peter's Basilica from 1715 to 1719. He taught music to a Spanish princess Maria Barbara, who became queen later on. Madrid was where Scarlatti wrote the 555 keyboard compositions that he became known for.

Guess what? I got a fever. And the only prescription is more harpsichord! Here is Scarlatti's sonatas K535 and K371:

We know much of what we know about Scarlatti from the accounts of a Neapolitan castrato named Farinelli, with whom Scarlatti had a friendship toward the end of his life.

Just a few of Scarlatti's compositions were published during his lifetime, but those that were made some serious waves. In the centuries since his death, his work has gradually become more widely appreciated and influenced a good many professionals.

We'll close out today with my favorite Scarlatti piece that I've heard so far, Sonata K 96 in D major, this time played on the piano:

Now that's badass!

Like I said before, I learned about Scarlatti at the recommendation of a reader here, so feel free to make your own recommendations in the comments!

Originally posted to droogie6655321 on Wed Jul 29, 2009 at 07:24 AM PDT.

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