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I'm going to postpone the Dvorak American Quartet until next week when I can do a proper job.  But fear not: We'll have some fun with whatever I can slap together quickly.

I've been composing.  No, I'm not going to inflict it on you.  I've never composed anything, so I'm just dicking around with the Sibelius app, seeing what I can do, for my own entertainment and education.  I decided to go for it, though, and compose a fugue.  Why set your sights too low?  Really, how hard it can be?  Just RTFM: Read the Fucking Manual, right?  

In the process I've been going back and listening to Bach and reading some books on counterpoint, of which I knew absolutely zilch before this.  And I've been listening to Domenico Scarlatti, a composer of which I wasn't very well acquainted.  I have really enjoyed this.

Some Scarlatti to get us started:

Domenico Scarlatti Sonata in G major L28, Vladimir Horowitz

To save us some confusion -- there are two famous Scarlatti composers.  Allesandro was Domenico's famous father.  Everything today is Domenico, whom I find more interesting.

More Horowitz playing Scarlatti:

D. Scarlatti Sonata in A minor K 54, performed by Vladimir Horowitz

Why would I be listening to Scarlatti if I wanted to compose a fugue?  As you might point out, Scarlatti didn't really do fugues, the way Bach did.  But he was a master of counterpoint, the art of combining different musical streams of notes together so they don't collide all over the place and sound like gibberish.

D. Scarlatti's music falls into a category of music that slides edgewise between the baroque period (probably describes him best) and the early classical period.  Thus his musical form doesn't follow the classical Sonata-Allegro pattern.

A brief explanation on the difference between Baroque and Classical:

The baroque style was very polyphonic.  Lots of counterpoint, lots of stuff happening simultaneously, lots of complexity...  Too complex for many people.  The classical style that began to replace the baroque style at the end was simpler.  There was less polyphony, more melody + chords.  It was easier for the average Joe (or average Johann) to follow.  Once the lines of the music became simpler and less entwined, it was easier for the composers to introduce new dynamics into the music -- episodes of loud and soft music, slow and fast music, all in the same piece.  

Music of the very early classical period before things got sorted out tends to be pretty awful, actually.  Well, that's my opinion.  And Milos Forman's.  When he made the film Valmont, he set out to get non-Mozarty early classical period music that would be contemporaneous with the story line... and was shocked (as he put it in an interview) to find it was a difficult task he had set for himself.  

Another Scarlatti piece, the Sonata in B Minor K. 87, performed by Clara Haskil, this one where the counterpoint is more prominent.

I hear three "seams" in that piece, places where the music seems to come to a stable point before taking off again.  One at 2:07, another at 3:16.  This breaks it up into three parts, the middle part being the more complicated and tense.  

Scarlatti wrote hundreds of keyboard sonatas, all of them one movement pieces in his own form.  Wikipedia describes Scarlatti's methods in his keyboard sonatas this way:

Other distinctive attributes of Scarlatti's style are the following:

    The influence of Iberian (Portuguese and Spanish) folk music. An example is Scarlatti's use of the Phrygian mode and other tonal inflections more or less alien to European art music. Many of Scarlatti's figurations and dissonances are suggestive of the guitar.
    A formal device in which each half of a sonata leads to a pivotal point, which the Scarlatti scholar Ralph Kirkpatrick termed "the crux", and which is sometimes underlined by a pause or fermata. Before the crux, Scarlatti sonatas often contain their main thematic variety, and after the crux the music makes more use of repetitive figurations as it modulates away from the home key (in the first half) or back to the home key (in the second half).

The piece above obviously has two crux points, or cruces, if my understanding of how plurals work in English is right.  

Despite what it says above, I can't find any clear examples of a Phrygian Scarlatti sonata, elsewise I would post it, because I love Phrygian mode (think: Led Zeppelin's Kashmir).  

Many of his works are somber and introspective, like the one above.  Or like this one.

D. Scarlatti Sonata in F Minor, K. 466, performed by Youtube uploader Cubus

In the above, I like the little dissonances that he creates around the trills.  This is very emotional performing.  It has a sense of yearning to it as it progresses.  I have no idea who cubus is, but this is damn good stuff.  Click through and give him a like-click if you can.  

Now let's try something a little faster.  Margaret Argerich specialized in this piece.

Tocatta (or Sonata) in D minor by D. Scarlatti, K.141, performed by Martha Argerich.

LATE UPDATE: How could I have forgot this one?  Sharhyar in comments reminded me of Wendy Carlos's old Moog synthesizer album, The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, which had some Scarlatti on it.  And it's AWESOME.  So here it is:

Scarlatti Sonata in G Major, Wendy Carlos on the Moog Synthesizer, from The Well-Tempered Synthesizer

Let's finish off with the same performer we started with, Horowitz.

D. Scarlatti Sonata L224, performed by Vladimir Horowitz

Next Week: My schedule has been a mess around here the last two weeks.  I decided to save the Dvorak for next week so I can do a proper job of it.

And a BIG THANK YOU to Lone1c for posting his great diary on Brahms' German Requiem last week.  

Originally posted to Dumbo on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 07:17 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA.

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Comment Preferences

  •  My biggest complaint is that his works are too (9+ / 0-)

    short!

    I fell in love with his work when WFMT played the entire Scott Ross playing Scarlatti series several years ago.

    Thanks for the series (diehard lurker, seldom commenter).

    'Cause growing up is awfuller than all the awful things there ever were.

    by Waterbug on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 07:29:55 PM PDT

  •  Vladimir Horowitz. Wow (5+ / 0-)

    just wow.

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 07:39:06 PM PDT

  •  for me it was Wendy Carlos (7+ / 0-)

    on that Well-Tempered Synthesizer LP. Then Ida Presti and Alexandre LaGoya doing K 380.

  •  funny (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, Anna M, pico, cfk, rl en france, martyc35

    i had been somewhat obsessed with a scarlatti piece recently. i originally came across it via this extremely talented young student, who plays with tremendous heart and musical sense. K322.

    as i looked into this piece a bit more, as i was somewhat obsessed and i really haven't had much music education, i found K322 was played on the harpischord, played most beautifully as well by Horowitz here on the piano.

    i don't know much about this piece. i've downloaded a transcript and it's not too difficult to play but, as always, such a wonder when played tremendously well.

    i can't choose whether i like guitar or piano for K322. what a decision.

  •  I always liked the pensive, melancholy works (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, rl en france, martyc35

    Scarlatti had a few good ones (like the Sonata in F Minor), but Chopin was the absolute master in that area.  Some of his pieces could almost make you go suicidal, both in listening and in playing difficulty.

    •  Chopin's great, but it's apples and oranges. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Anna M, rl en france, martyc35

      Chopin was the razor-sharp extreme edge of romanticism, music that was supposed to emerge from some cluttered id of the soul.  His music sounds like that frequently.  

      Scarlatti's music is more analytical, I think.  (Not so much as Bach's, perhaps.)  Bach and Scarlatti's music have powerful emotions in them, but unlike Chopin, their music is tightly organized and that tight organization is where most of the fun in their music comes from.

      ... I say the above cautiously, because I'm not as well-informed on Scarlatti, having ignored him most of my life.  Bach's music is embedded so deeply in my head from having listened to it since childhood that it would take brain surgery to get it all out.  

      •  well you know he was an Italian in Spain (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dumbo, rl en france, martyc35

        So he had those two schools crossed and intertwined. I think that's what makes him so unique.

        I also like the fact that he waited until his father died before becoming the Scarlatti we love. It shows that you can have great talent and blossom later in life. His dad must have been a powerful, restrictive force in the younger Scarlatti's life.

  •  D Scarlatti and GF Handel (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, cfk, rl en france, martyc35

    had one of those glorious cutting contests that music history is full of.  Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, etc., and many, many jazz keyboardists have been in musical duels to prove themselves against challengers.

    Scarlatti and Handel were the same age.  Handel was traveling in Italy and the two young musicians found each other.  They went to Rome together and competed on harpsichord and organ before a Cardinal who declared a tie on harpsichord (or Scarlatti the winner -- accounts differ).  Handel was judged the greater organist.  Though Handel moved to England, they remained friends throughout their lives.  Domenico was said to cross himself whenever Handel's name was mentioned and say, "That one..."

    Sunday mornings are more beautiful without Meet the Press.

    by deben on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 08:34:14 PM PDT

  •  Scarlatti and the Phrygian: (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, jessical, rl en france, martyc35

    from what my (very quick) search seems to suggest, he didn't really use the Phrygian mode as the backbone in any of his works, but occasionally used the Phrygian cadence, which despite the name isn't actually based on the mode.  You can hear a (moderately disguised) example of one around the 23 second mark here.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 08:59:20 PM PDT

    •  Oh, that one was cool... (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pico, jessical, rl en france, martyc35

      Too bad there's no Scarlatti Phrygian mode sonata though.  

      I don't think Phrygian cadences themselves are that unusual though.  Strange that they would make such a point of that in the wiki.  That same paragraph has been cut and pasted all over the web as a consequence.

      •  From what I can tell (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dumbo, jessical, martyc35

        there's some debate about whether Scarlatti borrowed them from their not-entirely-uncommon use in church music, or from Andalusian folk music, with the weight of evidence more on the latter due to the 'color' with which he uses them (as in that example I linked).  It's still interesting, though, even if it's not quite as exciting as an outright Phrygian sonata.

        Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

        by pico on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 09:44:23 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Don't forget choral works. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, jessical, rl en france, martyc35

    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Thu Aug 02, 2012 at 09:38:19 PM PDT

  •  No mention of harpsichord? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dumbo, jessical, rl en france, martyc35

    Piano students for decades have been given Scarlatti sonatas to master, but it's possible he wrote them all for harpsichord even though he apparently had access to early pianos.

    For those who don't know, a harpsichord (although it uses a keyboard) is a plucked-string instrument, and the character of the sound is quite different. In particular, an individual note can't be made to stand out from its neighbors in terms of dynamics, whether in a melody or as part of a chord, whereas a piano does allow such differences. (Harpsichords do offer terrace dynamics, but that's a matter of adding or subtracting sets of strings, which requires working a lever or equivalent.) So instead, individual notes are emphasized by changes in timing, such as insertion of a slight pause before a note (which was frequently done by the French Baroque composers), as well as ornamentation, which sounds much better on a harpsichord because of its less massive key mechanism.

    Here's a useful link to a discussion of the issue, including audio clips of the same sonata played on two different pianos and a harpsichord:
    www.wksu.org/classical/2011/02/06/did-scarlatti-play-the-piano.

  •  how magical this music is on harpsichord (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jessical, rl en france, Dumbo, martyc35

    and how muddy and dull on a piano - even when played by someone who knows how.

    Seriously, people, listen to Scarlatti played on the right instrument and it will enrich your life!

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