(1) (Pietro) Alessandro (Gaspare) Scarlatti
(b Palermo, 2 May 1660; d Naples, 22 Oct 1725 ). Composer, generally considered the founder of the Neapolitan school of 18th-century opera.
He was the second son of the tenor Pietro Scarlata (the form ‘Scarlatti’ was used from 1672 onwards) and Eleonora d'Amato, who were both involved in Palermo musical life. It was there that Alessandro began the studies that later facilitated his entry into musical life in Rome. In 1670 the death of Vincenzo Amato, a relation of Eleonora, deprived the family of a powerful supporter, and two years later an appalling famine made them decide to leave, first for Rome and then for Naples. Pietro may already have died when, in June 1672, his wife and some of their children moved to Rome; the rapid completion of Alessandro's studies may be attributed to the protection of Marcantonio Sportonio, Pietro's best man. An old legend has Alessandro a pupil of Carissimi, but Carissimi died in January 1674. In any case, the flourishing musical life of Rome offered the young Scarlatti exceptional opportunities for hearing and performing music. He was able to enter the artistic world at the highest level: after his marriage on 12 April 1678 to the ‘puella romana’ Antonia Maria Vittoria Anzaloni, the 18-year old Scarlatti lodged in an apartment in the palace of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (who had had a Cosimo Scarlatti in his service since 1660). On 11 January 1679 Filippo Bernini, the great architect's son, stood godfather to Alessandro's first child, Pietro. Other increasingly illustrious godparents succeeded him at the baptismal font in S Andrea delle Fratte, for the young musician's talent had aroused the attention of powerful patrons who must have supported his appointment as maestro di cappella at S Giacomo degli Incurabili (16 December 1678) and have assisted him in his rise to the heights of Roman musical life. The Duke of Paganica commissioned oratorios from him to be sung at SS Crocifisso during Lent; Cardinal Pamphili provided him with his own poetry to set and was possibly responsible for Scarlatti’s joining the circle of Queen Christina of Sweden. The success of Gli equivoci nel sembiante, a short comic opera, soon taken up in other cities, marked the beginning of the career of the most important opera composer of the period, and Queen Christina was willing to appoint him her maestro di cappella, partly to protect him from the hostility of the Roman Curia, provoked by the marriage his sister Anna Maria had audaciously contracted with a ‘cleric’.
Scarlatti left S Giacomo in November 1682 to become maestro di cappella at S Girolamo della Carità. The six operas performed in Rome between 1679 and 1683 are a sign of his success, but opportunities to compose operas, which Pope Innocent XI viewed with distaste, were a privilege offered only by aristocratic patrons who could defy papal displeasure with private performances. Thus the operas were restricted to a limited circle of aristocratic guests, headed by Queen Christina, who was courted by the more broad-minded cardinals, by aristocrats, such as the Neapolitan Dukes of Maddaloni, and by foreign diplomats appointed to the Roman see. Probably it was the Maddaloni who introduced Scarlatti's gifts to Naples and persuaded the composer to move to a city that offered the best opportunities for him to have his operas performed, with the further prospect of succeeding M.A. Ziani as maestro of the royal chapel. The Viceroy's favour was assured: the Marchese del Carpio had had the opportunity to appreciate Scarlatti's music when he was Spanish ambassador in Rome.
Scarlatti's arrival aroused jealousy and resentment in Neapolitan musical circles. His appointment to the royal chapel was taken badly by the elderly Francesco Provenzale, the vice-maestro, who had expected to succeed Ziani. But all that his protests and his resignation, and that of other musicians who supported him, achieved was to leave posts vacant for other Roman musicians – including Francesco Scarlatti – who had already been engaged for the season at the Teatro S Bartolomeo. Again in Naples, Alessandro's success risked being compromised by the behaviour of one of his singer sisters: soon after his appointment, the resentments of the excluded musicians erupted into a scandal: the Viceroy stripped of their duties three functionaries who ‘had close, illicit relations with several actresses, one of whom is said to be la Scarlatti, whose brother this lord viceroy made his maestro di cappella in competition with native virtuosos’. Hypocritical morality decreed that the royal chapel musicians could keep their posts but that the singers should be punished; the women chose to retreat to a convent rather than face the threat of exile, knowing that after a short period of penitence and confinement Duchess Maddaloni would be able to persuade the Viceroy to free them.
When this momentary crisis had passed, Scarlatti's work provided Neapolitan opera with the impulse that by 1700 would make it rival Venice as the pre-eminent operatic city. New operas often had their first hearing at the royal palace for particular celebrations and immediately went on to the Teatro S Bartolomeo. Scarlatti was also required to compose sacred works and serenatas for specific occasions, while aristocratic entertainments continued to provide an outlet for the many solo cantatas and chamber duets he had begun composing in Rome. Domenico was the first of five children to be born in Naples, on 26 October 1685. Again in his city of adoption the parish registers reflect his privileged position, in the importance of the godparents; but as his family grew Scarlatti's finances, however large his fees (to his colleagues' envy), became precarious. The result was a permanent state of dissatisfaction and a continual search for extra earnings which robbed him of the time and application to carry out the duties of his important posts. For a further ten ducats per month, the appointment as maestro di cappella at the Conservatory of S Maria di Loreto (1 March 1689) carried with it the daily duty of two hours of teaching, but by the end of April Scarlatti had obtained a month's leave of absence to travel to Rome. He did not bother to tell the Conservatory governors when the month had elapsed, and they dismissed him on 15 July.
The death of Queen Christina had not affected his relations with his other Roman patrons, but the continuing ban on theatres made public performances of operas infrequent. There was some respite when the Venetian Pietro Ottoboni became Pope Alexander VIII (6 October 1689 to 1 February 1691) and distributed ecclesiastical posts and privileges to members of his family, showing special favour to a grand-nephew who, a cardinal and vice-chancellor of the church since he was 22, lavished enormous sums on great displays that frequently involved important commissions. The relationship between this sophisticated cardinal and Scarlatti began during Alexander VIII's brief pontificate. In January 1690 La Statira, a dramma per musica by Scarlatti to a libretto by Ottoboni was performed at the Teatro Tordinona, and in the same year Gli equivoci in amore, or La Rosaura, was performed on the double marriage that joined two of the pope's nephews to the powerful Barberini and Colonna families. But others also turned to Scarlatti, now at the peak of his fame as an opera composer. In October 1688 Ferdinando de' Medici, granprincipe of Tuscany and a noted patron of the arts, had sent him a libretto to be set to music; Scarlatti immediately began work ‘with haste’, although he was working on ‘three other comedies’. The prince's letter describing his enjoyment of Scarlatti's score fired hopes of a permanent post, on a salary sufficiently high to allow him to leave Naples. In the meantime, Francesco Scarlatti's move to Palermo resulted in performances of his brother's music in Sicily; only the earliest librettos name the composer, who in Pompeo (1690) flaunts the title ‘Maestro di cappella della Reale di Napoli’ while in the frontispiece of L'Abramo (1691) he recalls that he is ‘from Palermo’. For reasons that are unclear, Scarlatti's increasingly famous name does not appear on the librettos of certain works that can reasonably be attributed to him; in one case – Scipione nelle Spagne, performed in 1721 – he is described as ‘the most noble swan of the Oreto’, a Baroque allusion to the stream running round Palermo.
Ferdinando de' Medici's patronage led to many performances in Tuscany of operas or oratorios by Scarlatti already given in Naples or Rome; such unambiguous signs that his music was appreciated, together with other Roman patrons' continuing demonstrations of their regard, made him feel increasingly ill-disposed towards Naples, where he had constant problems over the late payment of the money due to him and had to beg for the payment of his hard-earned wages, invoking the ‘pressing urgent needs of his own numerous family’.
That family partook of his musical talent. Pietro began an unremarkable career as a second-rate composer, but the memory of the trouble caused by Alessandro's sisters must still have rankled and he would not allow his daughters to go on to the stage, although they were skilled enough as singers to appear in private entertainments or exclusive performances for leading patrons. From 1700 onwards there was a possibility of Flaminia Scarlatti's entering the Medici service. At precisely that time it became clear that Domenico's musical talent was developing. Alessandro now had a new reason for leaving Naples: Domenico could succeed him. This was not before the family had undertaken a long journey to Rome and Florence, essentially in search of new appointments but also intended to astound powerful patrons with his daughters' abilities as singers and with Domenico's prodigious gifts.
With the death of King Carlos II, the War of the Spanish Succession broke out. Italian territories generally favoured Philippe, Duke of Anjou, as opposed to the Habsburg Archduke Karl. To allow the Scarlattis to undertake their planned journey the viceroy, Medinaceli, had allowed him ten months' leave of absence, but this was revoked when it was learnt that the new king, Philip V, was soon to visit Naples. Corelli was called from Rome to add to the splendour of the music, but Philip did not enjoy Corelli's playing. The leading role was taken by Scarlatti, with a ‘bellissima serenata’ (Clori, Dorino e Amore) followed by a firework display and an opera (Tiberio Imperatore d'Oriente), performed at the royal palace so that the king, at risk from attempts on his life by Austrian assassins, ‘could hear it in private’.
After Philip had left, the new viceroy restored Scarlatti's leave of absence, but reduced it to four months. Letters from G.B. Salomoni, the grand-ducal envoy to Naples, provide the background for the journey, which was basically unsuccessful: indiscreetly, Scarlatti took with him ‘half his household, as if he were visiting his closest relation’, arrived in Florence three months before the performance of the opera he had been commissioned to write, Il Flavio Cuniberto, and lingered in the city more than a month after its performance. His letter of thanks, sent from Rome on 24 November, contains professions ‘of the debt of most obedient servants’ on behalf of his entire family. It was more than Ferdinando desired from Scarlatti and his reply pointedly ignores the renewed offers and requests, which must have been made verbally and explicitly during Scarlatti's months in Florence.
While Alessandro continued to delay his return to Naples by stopping in Rome in search of new posts, Domenico returned punctually and was well received. Alessandro returned at the end of December 1702, revealing his intention to move to Rome, where he mistakenly thought he had found ‘a suitable niche’. Following instructions, Salomoni had discouraged Scarlatti from repeating in Rome the disasters of his visit to Florence. When the composer asked to be relieved of his post Salamoni, considering the loss of income that Scarlatti would suffer if he went to Rome, was scandalized by the rash decision and wrote that the viceroy, ‘out of compassion, or to avoid a serious situation for the chapel’, had rejected the musician's request to leave his post and considered him suspended for two months. At the end of that period nothing was heard from Scarlatti, and Ascalona (later to be accused of oppressive and tyrannical behaviour), waited patiently and in vain for seven months for him to return, before advertising a contest to replace the defaulter.
3. Return to Rome.
The situation in Rome was not as Scarlatti had imagined. Even if the arrival of Maria Casimira, former Queen of Poland, hinted at a return to the era of Christina, she was a more modest character and her life in Rome was troubled by the rivalry between the Austrians and the ‘gallispani’. Pressed by the conflicting claims of the respective ambassadors, Clement XI could not make up his mind which of the contenders he would eventually recognize as King of Spain and sought a solution in collective penitence. In this bleak atmosphere there was no room for opera and Scarlatti had to content himself with oratorios and cantatas for his usual patrons. On 9 January 1703 he was appointed assistant to Giovanni Bicilli, the elderly maestro di cappella of the Congregazione dell'Oratorio di S Filippo Neri at the Chiesa Nuova; their representatives had displayed ‘positive repugnance’ to accepting Scarlatti, but continued pressure from Ottoboni saw all the obstacles overcome. The document of appointment clarifies that the representatives assigned the post to Scarlatti, who is referred to as the ‘distinguished maestro di cappella’ and notes his reputation for absenteeism. Given the importance of oratorio in Roman musical life, and the important position of the Chiesa Nuova di S Maria in Vallicella in the genre, Scarlatti's work there assumes particular importance; but he made it clear that he ‘expected to take part only during the principal festivities’. When in May 1705 Ottoboni learnt of the situation, he required his protégé ‘to come to serve the church or else to leave his post as assistant’: Scarlatti resigned, because of ‘the many activities that he undertook in composing music in the service of various persons’. Among these activities some were connected with another important post, obtained through Ottoboni: from 31 December 1703 Scarlatti was assistant to the elderly and ailing Antonio Foggia, director of the Cappella Liberiana in S Maria Maggiore. Here too his negligence created discontent among the chapter, but complaints were directed chiefly at his lack of application in teaching and directing the chapel, not at the quantity of sacred music he composed in that particularly productive period.
To console him for his increasing disappointment, Ottoboni appointed Scarlatti one of his ‘ministers’ in April 1705, but became unhappy and replaced him with Corelli within a year. Scarlatti's self-esteem must have been gratified by his admission to the Arcadian Academy in April 1706, along with Pasquini and Corelli. The account of the admission ceremony shows that Scarlatti was enrolled not only as ‘distinguished master of music’ but also as ‘professor of poetry’.
Living in a city with no opera house remained frustrating to him: during the penitential period the only operatic outlet was that of Ferdinando de' Medici who, between 1702 and 1706, commissioned five operas from Scarlatti to be performed at Pratolino but did not invite the indiscreet composer to take charge of the productions. Accordingly, Scarlatti's correspondence with the prince contains detailed instructions on features indispensable to a satisfactory performance. Ferdinando appreciated Scarlatti's gifts but did not want to entertain the large Pratolino audience with an essentially aristocratic style; this is why Scarlatti's patron repeatedly recommended that the music should be ‘more straightforward and noble’ and ‘more cheerful’ as appropriate. Scarlatti protested his readiness to ‘recompose again and again whatever part of the opera, and all of it if need be’, but Ferdinando was not satisfied and from 1707 turned to Perti for operas to be performed at Pratolino.
While this crisis was developing, the need to express himself in opera led Scarlatti to look increasingly towards Venice, universally regarded as the Mecca of opera. Domenico went on ahead with a letter to Ferdinando de' Medici, which contains an assessment of the talent of ‘an eagle, whose wings have grown and who should not sit idly in the nest’. It is difficult to reconcile Alessandro's declared intention not to impede the little eagle's flight with the imperious tone with which as a father he claims to have ‘forcibly removed’ Domenico from a Naples increasingly unworthy of his ability, or to ‘send him away’ from a Rome which ‘has no home to receive Music, which lives there like a beggar’. It would have been appropriate to pay his respects to Ferdinando while travelling through Florence. Scarlatti's letter goes further and reveals a desire for the prince to take on Domenico in a permanent position, but this hope was also disappointed; Ferdinando merely assured Alessandro of having noted the eagle's progress and having recommended him to a Venetian patrician who would help him ‘display his talent and obtain [fitting] fortune’ in Venice, ‘where ability should find ever greater welcome and favour’.
Anecdotes apart, there are no records of Domenico's activities in Venice. Alessandro's visit must have been sponsored by Ottoboni; in the librettos of the two operas staged at the S Giovanni Grisostomo, Scarlatti declared himself to be in Ottoboni's service. Considering how widely Scarlatti's operas were performed, it is surprising, but significant, that the Venetian public opera houses remained untouched by them. Venetian composers had managed to stop their rival's work penetrating their stronghold, but now Gasparini and Ottoboni had broken the blockade. But this important visit did not bring the desired results, for the severe dramatic approach of Frigimelica Roberti, librettist of Il trionfo della libertà and Il Mitridate Eupatore, if suited to Scarlatti's austere style, was not to Venetian taste. Il trionfo della libertà, of which only fragments have survived, was apparently more favourably (or less coolly) received; Mitridate Eupatore, a masterpiece (which was to influence Handel), was mercilessly attacked and criticized. Nothing is known of the fate of Cain, overo Il primo omicidio, a magnificent oratorio performed during Lent. With Scarlatti's hopes having failed, he had let himself be drawn by calculating rivals into low gossip, and a chilling document of his human as well as artistic failure is the long, treacherous satire Contro lo Scarlatti, the work of Bartolomeo Dotti.
5. Urbino, Rome.
Disappointed at the negative response to his operatic ideals just where he had thought them most likely to succeed, it was a melancholy Scarlatti who set off for home, pausing at Urbino, where his son Pietro was maestro di cappella at the cathedral. All too characteristically, he delayed his return to his post at S Maria Maggiore and, with a desperate but vain hope that help might be forthcoming, he turned once again to Ferdinando de' Medici, telling him of his pathetic state, ‘exposed to uncertain human Providence’ and unable to ‘support the great burden of a large family which, however dressed in the mantle of virtue, is naked of any assistance or favour’. More explicitly than ever, he solicited support for himself and his children, with a lightly-veiled reference to ‘he who should never abandon me in time of need’. Ottoboni had not assisted Scarlatti to the extent he hoped, and now Ferdinando's response was merely to invoke ‘the necessary consolation of heaven’ and to express his conviction that ‘success appropriate’ to Scarlatti's merits would surely be forthcoming. In the meantime Foggia had died, and in the discussion of a successor the usual doubts were raised about Scarlatti. As early as 1706 the chaplains of S Maria Maggiore had bewailed his lack of diligence; now Ottoboni pressed for him to be appointed, adding the composer's own request for a late arrival ‘per totos aestivos calores’. In acceding, the chapter required Scarlatti to agree to ten obligations as maestro di cappella. Alessandro, who had heard the names of other distinguished maestri di cappella interested in succeeding Foggia, declared himself ‘paratus ad omnia’.
Returning to Rome in December 1707, Scarlatti found a deteriorating situation. The Queen of Poland arranged a performance of his oratorio La vittoria della fede on 12 September 1708, but the post at S Maria Maggiore and occasional private commissions did not earn Scarlatti the equivalent of the Neapolitan income on which he had turned his back. Suddenly, there appeared a prospect of regaining the salary and the advantages he had lost, through a deus ex machina. A diplomat in Austrian service who had been principally responsible for the expulsion of the Spanish from Naples, Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani was Austrian ambassador to the Holy See. When he was not threatening the pope, or assembling in his Roman palace an army destined to occupy Naples, Grimani was a generous promoter of serenatas and sacred musical events, in competition with Maria Casimira, Ottoboni, Pamphili, the Colonna and Ruspoli families and other ambassadors to Rome. Thanks to his intrigues, the Austrians took over Naples on 7 July, peacefully; Grimani, although out of favour because of his arrogance and open-mindedness, was appointed viceroy. The steps he took to accede to Scarlatti's entreaty of 1 October 1708 to reclaim the direction of the royal chapel were entirely in keeping with his cynicism and hypocrisy. Scarlatti inventively attributed his failure to return to the post in 1703 to the risk of losing ‘his life and the honour of his Family’ under threat from some unspecified ‘foreign minister’, and Grimani was quick to satisfy him. It was important to have a musician of Scarlatti's fame to initiate the relaunching of Neapolitan musical life which Grimani desired out of hatred for Rome.
6. Return to Naples.
After the bitter experiences of recent years, Naples must have seemed a safe refuge for Scarlatti, now almost 50. To some extent it was; Scarlatti was based there for the remainder of his life, leaving only to visit Rome when commissioned to compose and stage operas. Above all, his departure for Naples left space in Rome for Domenico, who was immediately engaged by the Queen of Poland as her maestro di cappella. Grimani's favour gained Alessandro the renewal of the salary he had received under Viceroy del Carpio, which had been arbitrarily reduced by the Marchese di Villena, as well as the promise of a place as supernumerary organist in the royal chapel for his son Pietro.
A novelty awaited Scarlatti in Naples: to celebrate in triumph the return of a leading figure in the anti-Spanish conspiracy, the Prince of Chiusano had given a performance in his palace on 27 December 1707 of La Cilla, a ‘commedia in musica in lingua napolitana’. Its success initiated the popularity of this form of opera buffa, although established composers at first looked upon it with suspicion. Passages in dialect were already to be found in the comic scenes of serious operas and even in some oratorios; during his visit to Venice Scarlatti had tried composing a cantata in Venetian dialect, but his encounters with Neapolitan vernacular might be thought limited to a single cantata (Ammore, brutto figlio de pottana), a colourful invective against Cupid; the text is surprisingly coarse and far from the elevated tone of Alessandro's other cantatas. This picturesque piece may in fact be the work of a lesser Scarlatti, probably Francesco.
While he continued to compose heroic operas, formal serenatas, cantatas and sacred music, Scarlatti left the writing of operas in this new genre to other members of his family. But he played a hidden role in their various attempts: two arias from Gli inganni felici, for example, were slipped into the score of Francesco Scarlatti's Petracchio scremmetore, staged in Aversa in 1711.
To break away from heroic operas or serenatas, without sinking to a level which might have seemed indecorous, Scarlatti significantly chose the 1718 season, when the impresario of the Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples had decided to switch the comedies ‘from the Neapolitan idiom to the Tuscan, no longer with heroic and regal action but with domestic, family events’. The author of the texts was Francescantonio Tullio, the best dialect librettist of the day (70 years later, Napoli Signorelli took him to task for giving up ‘the strongest part of his armoury, the grace of his native language, which he possessed to perfection’). Scarlatti avoided tarantellas, arias with colascione accompaniment and the other typical successes of the new Neapolitan opera buffa, and the score of Il trionfo dell'onore is consistently close in style to his serious operas, with the usual mixture of serious elements and caricature.
Although Scarlatti's fame grew in this final phase of his career, success eluded him. It was at this time that he chose to demonstrate his inexhaustible creativity, when in fact it was slowing down. In 1705, when he sent Il Tito Manlio to Ferdinando de' Medici, he had declared that it was the 88th of his ‘operas composed in less than 23 years’. The prefaces of subsequent librettos often give an ‘opus number’, which reaches 114 with La Griselda (1722). Il Cambise, his last Neapolitan opera, dates from 1719; the composer did not take part in its performance as he was in Rome staging Marco Attilio Regolo at the Capranica. The previous year the impresario of that theatre, financed by Prince Ruspoli, had asked him for Il Telemaco for the carnival season; it must have been a success, for in subsequent years all Scarlatti's mature operas were reserved for Rome, where papal disapproval was much diminished. Even within the Curia the old prejudice must have disappeared, for in 1716 Clement XI conferred the title of ‘Cavaliere’ on the composer.
A reduction in operatic output, coupled with a desire to emulate the successes of Pasquini and Corelli in instrumental music, led to Scarlatti's taking a late interest in this area, which he had earlier neglected. A lifetime of bitter experience induced him to carry out his duties as maestro di cappella more diligently, as documents published by Cotticelli and Maione (1993) reveal. As he grew older his character must also have softened, with positive effects on his teaching: in his stressful years it had seemed wise to entrust the finishing of Domenico's musical training to Gasparini, and while even in 1708 an ‘acute difference’ had led the young Zipoli to leave Naples, where he had been sent by the Grand Duke of Tuscany to study with Scarlatti, only a few years later Geminiani and possibly Cotumacci (as he told Burney) benefited from his teaching. In his last years Scarlatti showed the ‘benevolence of a father’ to Hasse, who managed to present Quantz to him, overcoming his aversion to wind players' imperfect intonation.
On 15 June 1723 the Naples Avvisi gave the last account of a performance of a work by Scarlatti: the Prince of Stigliano was celebrating his marriage with L'Erminia, a serenata ‘set to music by Cav. Scarlatti, for whom no praise is sufficient, and of whom it can truly be said that as he increases in age so all the more does he acquire new and sublime ideas in his compositions’.
Recently published documents (Cotticelli and Maione) make it clear that even at the end of his life Scarlatti suffered financial hardship: a dramatic plea to the viceroy ten days before his death lays bare the humiliation of the ‘most poor and miserable Cavaliere Alessandro Scarlatti Primo Maestro della Real Cappella’, who ‘engulfed by his countless misfortunes … now finds himself in such extreme need of his daily bread that he has started to ask for the assistance of secret alms’. This was partly because his salary had not been paid for four months and he had undergone a series of misfortunes culminating in the ‘loss of a daughter after six continuous months of desperate and costly infirmity’. The Avviso di Napoli of 30 October 1725 states that ‘In the last week the famous Alessandro Scarlatti, to whom Music owes so much for the many works with which he has enriched it, gave up his soul’. The tombstone, in Ottoboni's words, declares Scarlatti a ‘supreme musical innovator’ and remembers him as ‘most dear to aristocrats and monarchs’. Two further entreaties from his widow reveal that nothing had been done to alleviate the dying man's straits, and that little attention was paid to the desperate state in which the family found itself, burdened with debts.
Scarlatti has often been referred to as ‘the founder of Neapolitan opera’, but it is only with strong reservations that this and similar epithets can be justified. As a composer he was brought up in Rome, and it was for Rome that his earliest operas, and many of his later ones, were composed. As far as both music and libretto are concerned, only one of his operas, Il trionfo dell'onore (1718), might be considered truly Neapolitan in character; the others are more representative of a pan-Italian style with its roots in 17th-century Venetian opera. And although J.A. Hasse probably studied with Scarlatti for a time, there is little in Hasse's operatic style, or for that matter in the style of native Neapolitans such as Leo, Vinci and Porpora (who might with some justification be said to constitute a Neapolitan school), that can be shown to stem directly from him.
Scarlatti's earliest encounters with opera were probably in Palermo, where his father was a professional musician and his uncle Vincenzo Amato reputedly composed at least two operas, and where the singer and opera composer Marcantonio Sportonio was a close friend of the family. In Rome, from 1672, he would have become familiar with Venetian imports and with new Roman operas, particularly those of Bernardo Pasquini. His own first opportunity to compose opera came in 1677, when he was invited to provide a work for performance at the palace of Pietro Filippo Bernini early the following year. It must have caused the young composer (not yet 18) much disappointment when its production was cancelled after Pope Innocent XI banned stage entertainments during Carnival. The only surviving score, which bears neither title nor composer's name, remained unrecognized in the Vatican Library until 1986 (see Lionnet). Scarlatti no doubt found its plot particularly relevant to his own condition, since it concerns the fortunes (and love affairs) of a brother and sister forced to leave Sicily during troublous times and to start a new life in Tuscolo (present-day Frascati).
Just over a year later Scarlatti was able to establish a firm foothold as an opera composer with Gli equivoci nel sembiante, to a libretto by Domenico Filippo Contini, possibly a relation of the architect Giambattista Contini, in whose private theatre the opera was given. Like Scarlatti's first opera, this is an intimate pastoral comedy with a single outdoor set and a small cast accompanied by a few string instruments and continuo. Its first audiences seem to have been attracted above all by the tunefulness of the arias. These are mostly in the ternary form that was to predominate even more in the later operas, but at this stage Scarlatti frequently varied or extended the first section on its repeat – a practice he abandoned as the length of each section, and the number of arias he was called upon to write, gradually increased.
Gli equivoci enjoyed enormous success and attracted the attention of Queen Christina of Sweden, at whose palace Scarlatti's third opera, L'honestà negli amori, was performed in February 1680. This and Tutto il mal non vien per nuocere (1681) are in much the same vein as the earlier pieces, but with Pompeo (1683), written for the private theatre of another Roman patron, Cardinal Colonna, the composer produced the first of many heroic dramas based on episodes from Roman history. The tally of operas from his first Roman period is completed with La guerriera costante (also 1683). Of the six operas known from these years, only Tutto il mal was produced in the public theatre in Rome, the Capranica. To further his career in opera Scarlatti needed to free himself from the restrictions that made public opera such a risky (and for much of the time impossible) enterprise in Rome. The chance came when the new viceroy of Naples, the Marquis del Carpio (no doubt prompted by his friend the Duke of Maddaloni, who had introduced Gli equivoci to the Neapolitans and was shortly to do the same for Pompeo) called on Scarlatti to take charge of the 1684–5 season at the Teatro S Bartolomeo.
The normal practice at Naples was for a new opera to be seen first in the viceroy's private theatre and then to transfer to the adjacent public theatre, the S Bartolomeo, in which the viceroy took a controlling interest. During his first period as maestro di cappella there (1684–1702), Scarlatti wrote at least 32 operas for these theatres, of which fewer than half have survived complete; the others are known only from librettos and, in some cases, aria collections. Scarlatti was also responsible for making adaptations of the Venetian operas that continued to provide the staple operatic diet at Naples, though the extent of his involvement in the process of rifacimento is difficult to gauge. Strohm (1975; Eng. trans., 1985, p.18) argued that it was minimal, but it is difficult to account for the claims made in contemporary librettos or in the scores themselves that, for example, Penelope la casta (1696) was Scarlatti's 60th opera or Lucio Manlio l'imperioso (1705) his 88th unless we assume the total to include collaborative ventures such as La santa Dinna (1687, Rome) as well as rifacimenti with an appreciable amount of new composition.
Scarlatti does, however, seem to have been concerned above all with the composition of completely new works during this period, especially after 1696, when his patron and admirer the Duke of Medinaceli succeeded Del Carpio as viceroy and took personal control of the Teatro S Bartolomeo. Such works as Pirro e Demetrio (1694), which enjoyed international success and was the only Scarlatti opera to be seen in London during the composer's lifetime, and La caduta de' Decemviri (1697), his first collaboration with one of his most important librettists, Silvio Stampiglia, show the composer at the pinnacle of his fame in the theatre. In the opinion of Lorenz (1927), La caduta also marks a new departure in the development of Scarlatti's operatic style, a view not shared by Grout (1979). While much in La caduta, particularly the regular alternation of simple recitative and da capo aria, must be seen as a continuation of stylistic trends seen in earlier works, the opera does break with tradition in one respect: the older type of Venetian instrumental prelude, typically a slow, homophonic section in duple or quadruple metre followed by a quick dance-like movement in triple time and perhaps a second fast movement, is here replaced by the so-called Italian overture that soon became the norm in Scarlatti's operas and those of other composers. In this a fast, homophonic section, usually with rushing scales or trumpet-like figures, is succeeded by a short, slow chordal section which is often no more than a link between the opening Allegro and the final binary dance movement, again in quick tempo.
Other stylistic developments of Scarlatti's first Naples period (though not specifically in La caduta) include a sharper distinction between recitative and aria, the former adopting an even more parlando style and several standard harmonic and melodic formulae, particularly at cadences. The arias remain as numerous as in the earlier operas, but second strophes are abandoned and there is greater diversity in the instrumentation. Other changes reflect more general ones of the period: an enrichment of the harmonic vocabulary (for example in the expressive use of the diminished 7th chord) and a vogue for 12/8 siciliana rhythms. During these years Scarlatti remained in close contact with his Roman patrons, especially the cardinals Pamphili and Ottoboni, and the same stylistic features can be seen in the operas he wrote for them. These include Statira, composed for the reopening of the Tordinona theatre in 1690 to a libretto by Ottoboni himself.
In December 1701 Medinaceli, censured by Madrid (and subsequently replaced) for his bloody quelling of a pro-Austrian conspiracy among the Neapolitan nobles, withdrew his usual subvention of 4000 ducats for the coming season at the S Bartolomeo; the company was now forced to rely on public support. This dwindled after the cool reception of Aldrovandini's Semiramide in December, and the season was saved only by the success of Scarlatti's Tito Sempronio Gracco the following February. Although Scarlatti himself later hinted at darker reasons (see §1), the uncertain future of opera at Naples must have influenced his decision to leave the city and try his luck elsewhere. His departure was delayed until June 1702 by a visit to Naples by King Philip V of Spain; to mark the occasion Scarlatti composed Tiberio imperatore d'Oriente, and he then travelled to Florence, by way of Rome, arriving there probably in early August. Flavio Cuniberto was staged the following month in the private theatre of Prince Ferdinando de' Medici at Pratolino. The prince had already promoted Scarlatti's operas in several north Italian cities and had commissioned at least one new one from him, probably La serva favorita (1689). The operas that Scarlatti went on to compose for Pratolino each September until 1706, while working as a church musician in Rome, were all of the heroic type, with librettos based on incidents from Roman history; but the scores have not survived and all that remains of this period in Scarlatti's operatic career are a few isolated arias and an exchange of letters with Prince Ferdinando which throws valuable light on the composer's working methods and the nature of an opera's gestation.
In 1705 Scarlatti had sent his son Domenico off to Venice ‘to take whatever opportunities arise to make his name’ (as he wrote in a famous letter to Prince Ferdinando), and it was to Venice that he himself turned, some 18 months later, when his Pratolino commissions came to an end. The two works he composed for Carnival 1707 at Venice's most prestigious opera house, the Teatro S Giovanni Grisostomo, were Mitridate Eupatore and Il trionfo della libertà, and they stand apart from his others in several respects. Their librettos, by Girolamo Frigimelica Roberti, include ballets but no comic scenes; unlike the other librettos Scarlatti set, they are designated tragedie and, like the classical French tragedies by which Frigimelica Roberti was strongly influenced, they are in five acts rather than the more usual three. Moreover, Mitridate (the only one of the two to survive) differs from Scarlatti's other heroic operas in having neither involved love intrigues nor a magnanimous tyrant. Dent (1905) drew attention to the libretto's architectural qualities, Grout (1979) to its obsession with political doctrine.
Reasons why both operas failed to please their audiences in 1707 have been outlined above (see §4). They include a xenophobic tendency on the part of the Venetians (it is noticeable that Frigimelica Roberti's other ‘reform’ librettos met with success in settings by C.F. Pollarolo, Caldara and Mancia, all from the Veneto), the composer's own arrogant and condescending attitude towards the theatre management and (most important perhaps) those qualities in the music that we most admire today – its high seriousness, inventive instrumentation and contrapuntal textures. The Venetian operagoers may have preferred something less demanding, with tuneful melodies and light accompaniments. Mitridate, in short, like Mozart's Die Entführung later, was perhaps found to contain ‘too many notes’. This, at any rate, was a reaction strongly expressed in a malicious satire by Bartolomeo Dotti which, among other even more damning observations, referred to the soporific effect that the music had on the audiences at S Giovanni Grisostomo.
When a new Austrian viceroy, Cardinal Grimani, was appointed in Naples in 1708, Scarlatti seized the opportunity to petition for restitution of his post as maestro di cappella. During the 15 years that remained to him he composed at least another 15 new operas, most of them first performed in Naples. But it is plain that changes in operatic style were moving against him, and Teodosio, produced at S Bartolomeo only a few weeks after his return to Naples, earned the censure of the Bolognese Count Francesco Maria Zambeccari, who in a letter of 16 April 1709 spoke of Scarlatti as
a great man, so good indeed that he succeeds ill because his compositions are extremely difficult and in the chamber style, and so do not succeed in the theatre. In primis, those who understand counterpoint will admire him, but in a theatre audience of 1000 people there are not 20 who do understand it, and the rest, not hearing cheerful and theatrical things, are bored. Also, the music being so difficult, the singer has to be extremely careful not to make a slip, and is therefore unable to make the gestures he is used to making and becomes too tired. Thus, [Scarlatti's] theatre style is not pleasing to most audiences, who want cheerful stuff and saltarelli such as they get in Venice.
Zambeccari's criticism, like Dotti's, undoubtedly sprang from motives that were not entirely disinterested, but there is some truth in what he said, and Scarlatti was not the first (or the last) composer to find the tide of popular taste running against him. None of his serious operas after 1708 enjoyed anything like the success of his early Roman operas or some of those he produced during his first, prolific Neapolitan period. Among the most successful of the late operas was Tigrane (1715), described by Grout (1979) as ‘one of the greatest, if not the very greatest, of Scarlatti's operas’, but only the comedy Il trionfo dell'onore, given 18 times at the Teatro dei Fiorentini in 1718, can be said to have been a hit; even this was not revived during his lifetime. It is surely significant that, except for Cambise (1719), all Scarlatti's serious operas after 1716 were intended for performance in Rome, where conservative patrons and audiences were more receptive to a style rapidly becoming outmoded in Naples. These include his last known opera, Griselda (1721), as well as extensive rifacimenti of two others originally written for Pratolino, Tito Sempronio Gracco and Turno Aricino.
In style and structure the operas of Scarlatti's final period are not radically different from those he was writing in the late 1690s: the Italian overture, arias and duets remain the main formal components, and the conventions of recitative have not greatly changed. There is no attempt to create a musical span more extended than that of a da capo aria, although a move towards greater continuity is evident, above all in a more extensive use of accompanied recitative. The proportions of the lyrical items do, however, show a gradual expansion which leads, of course, to a reduction in their number. La caduta de' Decemviri (1697), for example, contained no fewer than 62 arias and duets; Griselda has 41. This expansion is paralleled by an increase in the richness and variety of the accompanying instrumentation: continuo arias are quite rare in the late operas, accompanied recitative much more common.
Despite Scarlatti's central position as an opera composer, he seems to have had little influence on the course of operatic history. Most of the ‘innovations’ with which he has at times been credited – the da capo aria, accompanied recitative, the introduction of french horns into the opera pit, the creation of the Italian overture – can be shown to predate him, while the music itself is seen now more as a refinement of 17th-century styles than as a harbinger of the Classical period.
8. Oratorios, serenatas.
The Italian oratorio of the late Baroque has often been viewed by modern historians as a kind of substitute for opera during Lent, when the theatres were closed. It is easy to see why. Both genres have the same formal constituents: an instrumental overture (after about 1700 usually of the ‘Italian’ type), recitative (both simple and accompanied) and arias, duets and occasionally larger ensemble numbers (almost exclusively in da capo form). Moreover, the librettos of both were predominantly dramatic in concept, and oratorios were performed by the same singers who appeared in the opera house. In certain other equally important respects, however, the oratorio stood in much closer relation to the serenata. Not only did the serenata embody all the features of the oratorio so far mentioned, but it was also divided, like the oratorio, into two parts (not into three acts, like the opera), was of comparable length (considerably shorter than the average opera) and was produced, in the vast majority of cases, without action, costumes or scenery (though both oratorios and serenatas were often performed in front of an elaborate backcloth).
Most of Scarlatti’s oratorios were written for Rome, where the genre originated and where it continued to flourish (partly, no doubt, because of papal opposition to opera there). Of the six Latin oratorios which he is known to have composed for the Arciconfraternita del SS Crocifisso, only one, Davidis pugna et victoria, survives. It was performed at the Crocifisso in 1700, but several elements in the score – the antiquated structure of its two-movement sinfonia, its inclusion of ground bass and strophic arias, the presence of a testo (narrator) and the employment of a harmonic vocabulary that admits the Neapolitan 6th but not the diminished 7th – suggest a much earlier composition date. It may indeed have been a revival of one of the three oratorios written for the Crocifisso between 1679 and 1682 of which not even the title is known. A particular (and again archaic) feature of the work is the writing for double chorus, representing the opposing forces of the Hebrews and the Philistines, and the occasional division of the orchestra into concertino and concerto grosso in the manner of Stradella.
More representative of Scarlatti’s oratorios in general is his second work on the subject of Judith’s liberation of Bethulia, performed in Rome in March 1697 (an earlier oratorio on the same story was performed in Naples three or four years earlier). The ‘Cambridge’ Giuditta (so-called because its only known source is in the library of King’s College, Cambridge) calls for only three singers, representing Judith, her nurse and Holofernes; there is no chorus. Of the 22 arias, 14 are in da capo form; there are no second strophes and only one ground bass (a duet between Judith and the nurse in Part 1). Accompaniments are mostly for continuo only, with a final ‘ritornello’ for the strings, but Giuditta’s ‘Chi m’addita, per pietà’ in Part 1 is unusual in being accompanied only by violins and violas in unison, and her ‘Tu che desti, o eterno Nume’ in Part 2 is noteworthy for its particularly virtuoso solo violin obbligato.
If, as seems likely, Giuditta was performed in the palace of one of Scarlatti’s Roman patrons, its two parts were no doubt separated not by a sermon, as was the custom in an oratory, but by convivial eating and drinking – another feature that tied the oratorio to the serenata. The close rapprochement between the two genres (and that of the cantata; see Gianturco, 1992 and Marx, 1992) is particularly evident in the Christmas entertainments enjoyed at the Vatican each Christmas Eve between 1676 and 1740, when the performance of a work, variously designated ‘componimento’, ‘concerto’ or ‘cantata’, was followed by a feast for the assembled cardinals. Scarlatti was chosen as the composer on four occasions, in 1695 and 1705–7.
The sequence of dramatic and semi-dramatic representations provided by opera (during Carnival) and oratorio (during Lent and at Easter) was continued during the summer months by the serenata. This differed from the oratorio mainly by virtue of its secular, often overtly political text and its open-air performance. While serenatas could be performed, like oratorios, on a temporary stage indoors, they were typically presented of an evening in the courtyard of a palace or in a more public piazza. Performances on water were also common: in Venice on the Grand Canal, in Naples at the bay of Posillipo and in Rome in the Piazza Navona, which was regularly flooded for the purpose. Between the two parts, sumptuous refreshments were served to the distinguished guests, while mountains of more common fare were ‘sacked’ by the hoi polloi. Outdoor performance encouraged the use of a large band, and occasionally a chorus. The Gazzetta di Napoli (31 July 1696), reporting on a performance of Scarlatti’s Il trionfo delle stagioni five days earlier, mentioned the participation of more than 150 instrumentalists and 50 singers (Griffin, 1983, pp.243, 245) – possibly an exaggeration, but an indication nevertheless of the scale of these performances.
9. Church music.
Although it occupies a substantial proportion of his total output, Scarlatti's church music has remained relatively unexplored, and little of it is available in modern editions. Like other church composers of the period, especially perhaps those working in Rome, Scarlatti had to become musically bilingual, and his masses, motets and other liturgical works show equal mastery of the stile antico and the modern concertato style.
Of the ten extant complete masses (including one requiem mass), all but two are a cappella or accompanied only by organ. One would not expect to find in these many signs of Scarlatti’s originality. He treats what he once referred to as ‘lo stile sodo alla Palestrina’ with a certain liberty (unprepared 7ths, minim passing notes and dissonant crotchets are all more abundant than in the older master’s works) and with a leaning towards major-minor tonality, but his contrapuntal skill is much in evidence and two of the masses show extensive and resourceful use of canon. About half of the motets also use stile antico technique. Among the best-known of them today is Tu es Petrus, a double-choir motet much admired also by Scarlatti’s contemporaries to judge from the number of extant manuscript copies.
Of the two stile moderno masses, the St Cecilia Mass, composed for Cardinal Acquaviva in Rome, is a lively setting for five solo voices and ripienists with strings and continuo. Its organization on the lines of a cantata mass, with each subsection having its tonal integrity, encourages contrast, for example between soloistic virtuosity and choral weight and between the sober homophony of ‘Et in terra pax’ in the Gloria and the fugal climax of that section at ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’. As in the gradual Audi filia, composed for the same celebration in 1720, the emphasis is on solo singing; in the gradual the ripienists are not heard until the final ‘Alleluia’, and even then only in relatively brief passages.
Some of Scarlatti’s solo motets come close in style to the secular cantata da camera; Jam sole clarior for soprano, violins and continuo, for example, is a highly florid setting consisting of three da capo arias separated by recitative. Scriptural and liturgical texts, however, provide relatively few opportunities for recitative and da capo arias, and it is the absence of these which in many cases differentiates the stile moderno motets from the cantatas, and the masses from the oratorios. Scarlatti does, however, often employ an instrumental ritornello as a unifying element in a motet or mass section. Another, more archaic means of achieving unity is through the use of a plainchant cantus firmus. At least ten of Scarlatti’s psalm settings include a plainchant melody, as also does the Magnificat primo tono (see Shaffer). One might expect this to be a feature particular to stile antico compositions, but in fact it is found just as frequently in the moderno pieces. In the St Cecilia Mass, for example, the plainsong introit ‘Loquebar de testimoniis tuis’ is quoted in long notes by the two solo sopranos in unison at ‘Et unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam’ in the Credo.
The motet Jam sole clarior is from the Concerti sacri op.2 (1707–8), and is therefore one of Scarlatti’s very few works to appear in print during his lifetime. His other liturgical works include an extensive collection of music (hymns, psalms, lamentations and responsories) for Holy week, most of it composed for Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici in Florence. The St John Passion, dating from about 1680, occupies an isolated position among his sacred works. It is a sober setting of the Latin Gospel text without extraneous tropes, retrospective in style (even for such an early work) but not inexpressive. The strings provide a brief introduction, immediately repeated to accompany the intoning of the work’s title, ‘Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi’ by the testo (narrator); thereafter they serve to support the turba choruses, the words of Christ and occasionally those of the testo, a role that breaks with tradition in being sung not by a tenor but by an alto.
Scarlatti’s chamber cantatas reveal perhaps more strikingly than any other class of his works his unbroken continuity with preceding phases of the Baroque era and his separation from the following period. With more than 600 known cantatas for which his authorship is reasonably certain and well over 100 others less reliably attributed to him, he is clearly the most prolific cantata composer. These works crown the history of a genre which over more than a century of vigorous growth held a rank second only to opera; indeed contemporaries generally placed it above opera in refinement and regarded it as the supreme challenge to a composer’s artistry. Scarlatti was among the last to contribute significantly to its literature.
A decisive majority of Scarlatti’s cantatas are for solo voice, most for soprano but some for alto and a few for bass. A few are for two voices: two sopranos, soprano and alto, or soprano and bass. 90% are accompanied by continuo alone; the remainder, reflecting a contemporary trend, enlist various instrumental ensembles in addition to continuo, mostly strings but occasionally recorders or trumpet. They deal almost exclusively with love; heroic, comic or devotional subjects appear less often than in the past.
The most characteristic text is lyric, presenting in some imagined protagonist’s monologue a series of contrasting reflections centred on some unifying thought. In most cantatas for two voices there is dialogue or an alternation between dialogue and lyric monologue. The protagonist is usually a shepherd or nymph, or may be drawn from mythology or history. Occasionally the monologue is introduced by an explicatory narrative or descriptive passage, and further narrative passages may thread the reflections together. The changes are normally paralleled by changes of poetic metre and rhyme pattern, and reflected too in changes in musical metre, tempo, rhythmic and melodic material, harmonic character, texture and the entire constellation of stylistic elements.
The cantata repertory in Rome in the 1670s included works not only by younger composers, such as Stradella, Pasquini and P.S. Agostini, but by composers of older generations too, including Cesti, Savioni, Carissimi and even Luigi Rossi (d 1653). Scarlatti drew comprehensively on this stylistic inheritance. The retrospective characteristics in his cantatas composed before about 1705 are striking. Musical refrains continue to appear as reflections of textual ones, either with periodic regularity or at irregular intervals. Exact or modified musical repetitions – occasionally only loose, imprecise correspondences – with new words reflect strophes in the texts. Not infrequently, however, a second strophe in the text is set to new music, preserving only a structural parallelism with that of the first; and a second strophe may be separated from the first by intervening sections. Responsiveness to his texts according to such procedures sometimes gives rise to forms that had flourished in earlier decades but, it seems, had been laid aside by Scarlatti’s immediate predecessors, Pasquini and Agostini.
O dolce servitù, the verse of which is in part strophic, resembles in structure many cantatas of around the 1640s (like Rossi’s Da perfida speranza): the first strophe consists of a 4/4 section in aria style, a short recitative and a 3/2 arioso. This entire complex is repeated, in part exactly, with the second strophe of the text. Sometimes only the first strophe’s bass is repeated (only its pitches, its rhythm having been substantially altered) while the vocal line is in part newly composed: here Scarlatti reached back to the strophic variation, a structure prominent in the cantata’s earliest history. An arrangement characteristic of the mid-century cantata survives in Chi vedesse la ferita: ABCAB′C′A, where A is a refrain in music and text while B′C′ is a musical repetition of BC with a second strophe of its text (a similar arrangement is found in Carissimi’s Bel tempo per me).
In most of Scarlatti’s cantatas, late as well as early, diversification is especially conspicuous in composite structures comprising more or less discrete recitatives, arias and ariosos. In works from before about 1705 they appear in the limitlessly varied combinations seen in the past, reflecting long, complicated poetic structures in which sections in various metres and rhyme patterns follow one another in unruly, wayward succession; these in turn reflect unruly successions of contrasting passions. Such arias continue to show the formal variety found in the past, including ABB′ and related patterns (as old as Monteverdi), AB, ostinato arias, and the increasingly popular ABA and ABA′. Most have two strophes. In cantatas with instrumental ensemble many are continuo arias with ritornellos, resembling forms in contemporary operas. Recitatives continue to incorporate lyrical, expressive arioso, with refrains and other organizing devices. The integration of declamatory and aria-like elements often survives in Scarlatti’s cantata recitatives. The ‘curious mixture of air and recitative’ with which Solitudini amene, bersaglio (1705) begins did not escape Burney’s notice (BurneyH, ii, 630, 634).
A more orderly form, perhaps manifesting the spirit of the Age of Reason, became increasingly prominent in Scarlatti’s cantatas in the 1690s: two (sometimes three) da capo arias contrasting in tempo and expressive character, each preceded by a recitative. Second strophes and refrains were laid aside. In his cantatas after 1704 significant deviations from this pattern are exceptional. A search for increased intensity of expression often gave rise to chromaticism, which is especially characteristic of recitatives, as is illustrated in the celebrated Andate, o miei sospiri (‘Con idea inhumana’, 1712). Notes in the most authoritative copies of this work suggest that Francesco Gasparini had presented Scarlatti with his setting as a token of friendship and that Scarlatti responded with two settings of his own, the first ‘Con idea humana’ and the second ‘Con idea inhumana, ma in regolato Cromatico, non è per ogni Professore’. Both typify his mature style at its most beautiful, and the recitatives of the second are further distinguished by unusually daring chromaticisms.
Already singular in his time, Scarlatti’s recitative frequently became even more alien through bold chromaticism, to a degree that his contemporaries could no longer accept. In 1728 J.D. Heinichen censured Scarlatti’s ‘extravagant and irregular harmony … as revealed in the vast production of his cantatas’ (Der General-Bass in der Composition). Encumbrance with chromaticism, he protested, prevented their attaining the quality of ‘rapid recitative’. His strictures reveal that a new conception of recitative had established itself, the rapid parlando, often characterized further by expressive impoverishment and flatness. Regarding this later conception as the norm, Heinichen rejected the impassioned Scarlattian form as ‘unnatural and violent’. In the decade when the ‘Neapolitan’ style triumphantly conquered the European repertory, a contemporary saw Scarlatti not as the founder of any school but as a lonely eccentric, followed by no one except perhaps d’Astorga.
Scarlatti’s cantatas for two voices take various forms. Most are composite structures. Usually a singer delivers on each entry a recitative followed by an aria. Some recitatives engage both singers in rapid dialogue. The concluding section is usually a duet aria or arioso, and most cantatas include additional duet arias. Some open with a duet aria and close with a repetition of it or with a repetition of its music set to the words of a second strophe; some consist wholly of duets. The duet arias rely chiefly on the trio texture developed by Monteverdi and basic to musical style throughout the Baroque era. The bass functions harmonically, but it is nevertheless active and melodically defined; it holds consistently apart, however, from the melody, imitations and parallels of the upper pair.
11. Instrumental music.
The interest and importance of Scarlatti's instrumental works is in direct proportion to their number. One would hardly recognize the father of Domenco Scarlatti from the keyboard works that have survived, most of which seem to have acted as pupil fodder. A didactic intention is in fact explicit in the seven Toccate per cembalo (I-Nc), which are aimed at encouraging a ‘nobile portamento delle mani’. Except for the second, these are multi-sectional pieces obviously designed mainly to develop Fingerfertigkeit in both hands; they make room for three fugal sections and two binary dance movements. The first toccata is fingered throughout its 158 bars, making it a valuable document for Baro