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
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
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.
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?
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.