: Domenico Scarlatti :
pianistic repertoire  
Over the illusory boundaries of time and stile

Domenico Scarlatti, one of the great composers of the 18th century, a keyboard virtuoso, eventually the initiator of modern piano technique; appreciated by his contemporaries, at least by his father Alessandro and by the royal families of Portugal and Spain where he spent the greatest part of his life as a court musician.

Forgotten by his closest successors but otherwise very well known by important composers of th 19th century, like Brahms who as a collector assembled the oldest non-autographic manuscripts of 300 Sonatas; or Chopin who even include Scarlatti's musical figures, fragile albeit as resilient as steel, in his pedagogical praxis.

As far as the totality of his work is concerned, it was re-discovered by Longo, who undoubtely loved his music although never hesitated correcting it as soon as he thought it would be in contrast with the accredited artificial, scholastic rules of his own epoch.
All this may be true. But as cheap and pessimistic as it may sound, I hope I am allowed to say that, considering History, one could in vane look for a man of genius who, according to alternating trends, wasn't triumphally celebrated for a while, then disregarded, buried and subsequently exhumated again; or else long time forgotten.

More than that. Our Cavaliere Domingo Escarlati - as he would have modestly wished to be called, putting himself in this way at the same level of arrogant courtiers and celebrated Castrati - was, on top, systematically misunderstood, mainly by the Anglo-Saxon critics, the only one that happened to examine his work with a certain amount of seriousness, in any case. And such a situation went on till the half of the twentieth century, when finally the both brilliant and scrupulous research carried out by Ralph Kirkpatrick was able to put an end to the legend of the pyrotechnical and superficial musician, that of a Paganini of the keyboard, or even that of another highly distinguished sound-acrobat of unattainable muscular power, showing by this to be brilliantly active within a sort of no-man's-land in musical composition.

In fact, such a devilish racing of hot flashes, of excessively quick musical figures, - totally unheard-of at their time and therefore almost "experimental" - must have curdled the blood of many a virtuoso colleague of his; colleagues whose celebrity was not entangled, like that of Domenico, according to Burney, by an introvertive character and by an overprotecting father: perhaps even too famous and influential at the same time.
Not to mention about the poetic licences he allowed himself to take, without causing the slightest damage to the elegance of a superior compositional logic, when he transforms strict four- or three voices polyphony into a monophonic, extremely convincing cembalistic structure (I was almost tempted to say “pianistic”!) or when he uses non-functional harmonic connections of chords solely as “colours”: both morphologically and syntactically so much ahead of his time. And all that without renouncing his peculiar graciousness, so typical of his style, and a pronounced sense of humour, rare in the music of any epochs; the latter shearing equally the magic space represented by his 555 Sonatas with a dash of childish-popular sensitivity - for Domenico Scarlatti, something having the value of a signature.

A music deprived both of temporary and stylistic connotation, then? By no means. In Scarlatti’s gesture it is very easy to detect not only echoes of the seventeenth century’s harpsichord tradition, but even unequivocal references to operatic-vocal elements as well.
Should we further abandon ourselves to the temptation of skipping a good half- century ahead and land within Goya’s “los Caprichos”, between “mantillas”, “capas”, gallows and bats flying in the darkness? Such an association would be legitimate provided that, both in the case of Scarlatti and Goya, the concrete source of inspiration would not be confused with its poetic transposition. The allusion to some improvised tarantella before the entrance of any Neapolitan “basso”, to flamenco, to seguidillas, or else to the rattling sound of castanets scurrying through the pages of such a master of short form, does not alone convince and move both cultivated and uncultivated people of all races and colours. It is rather the talent of capturing the essence, in such spontaneous manifestations of folk-spirit, and projecting it into an universal human dimension, as if it were coming out from the magician’s light cue.

With similar easiness we hear and wonder to what extent both traditional elements and the most daring turns would come together: the usual, almost trivial formulations and the unheard- of, coexist as “colours”, so to speak, as tesserae of a mosaic; and as such, they are able to convince us naturally with an equal dialectical force.

Even single building stones, like progressions, which a century before, at about Dowland’s time, were announcing a sort of vertical new logic of the musical flow but that already in the music of early 18th century very often appeared to be nothing more than weary rhetorical gestures, in Scarlatti’s hands happen to be transformed into necessary statements, like a striking metaphor, or like the caesuras and rhymes of a sonnet.

Was perhaps such a proteic quality of Scarlatti’s Sonatas the determinant factor that induced me to present them during the same evening, together with other forms taken up by the piano in our time, the so-called “prepared piano” techniques? Or else wasn’t it a dialectical exigency to let the sonic world of Scarlatti and that of our epoch clash together?

Did I want to put on stage a historic transposition of great unconventional and therefore “experimental” music as a suggestion that such a “modus operandi”, on the part of one of the 18th century’s great masters, ought to be taken as an equivalent of our own experiments?

I’ll leave the answer to the audience’s judgement. As far as I am concerned, by offering a compact block of fifteen Scarlatti Sonatas I am just trying gladly to withdraw from a gastronomical tradition, still present unfortunately in our concert life: within the 19th century framework of a stereotipical concert-program, a virtuoso, according to his taste, would play two Sonatas by Scarlatti, no more than two – a dash of spice on the main courses.

Mario Bertoncini

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