A Scarlatti Celebration

Listen to audio excerpts: 

Friday, October 26, First Parish, Sudbury
Friday, November 2, Emmanuel Church, Boston


Concerto no. 3 in F from 6 Concertos in Seven Parts     Franceso Scarlatti (1666-1741)
  Largo • Allegro
  Largo • Allegro

Chi la speranza    Franceso Scarlatti

Sonata in D Minor, K. 138    Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Sonata in D Major, K. 430   

Quella pace gradita        Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725)

Care luci del ben mio    Pietro Filippo Scarlatti (1679-1750)

Qual pensier, quale ardire        Domenico Scarlatti
Sinfonia no. 8, from 12 sinfonie di concerto grosso        Alessandro Scarlatti
Adagio • Allegro
Adagio • Vivace

Pamela Dellal, mezzo-soprano
Suzanne Stumpf, traverso and recorder; Christina Day Martinson and Tatiana Daubek, violins
Anne Black, viola; Daniel Ryan, cello; Michael Bahmann, harpsichord

Program Notes
Like the musical family dynasties of the Bachs, Couperins, and Mozarts, the Scarlatti family boasted several illustrious musicians spanning multiple generations. The musical patriarch of the family was the tenor Pietro Scarlata, a native of Sicily, who fathered eight children, five of whom became noted musicians. Of this generation, the most famous was the composer Alessandro Scarlatti. His brother Francesco was also a well-regarded composer, and two sisters and a brother were professional singers. Among Alessandro’s ten children, two were composers: Pietro Filippo and the famous Domenico. Although the surviving compositions of the lesser-known members of the family are few in number, many are attractive works that offer a taste of their composers’ distinctive styles and musical milieus.

Alessandro Scarlatti was by far the most enterprising musician of the family. Important in the development of Italian opera, he spent much energy during his career seeking opportunities for patronage and performances in Rome, Naples, Venice, and other cities. It was, however, in the genre of the cantata that Alessandro was most prolific, penning at least 800, mostly for aristocratic patrons. While the majority of these works are scored for one voice and continuo, a significant portion include treble instruments. The cantata Quella pace gradita, the text of which centers on the common theme of the pains of unrequited love, uses flute, violin, and cello as obbligato instruments. This richly expressive work makes excellent use of the instruments’ colors, including in the final aria where the flute is chosen to evoke the tender cooing of a turtledove.

While the quantity of his instrumental works is small, all of them are of very high quality, including the set of 12 Sinfonie di concerto grosso composed in 1715. Like others in the set, Sinfonia no. 8 that concludes this program is composed in a form that contains elements of the Corellian concerto grosso and the Baroque opera overture.

Alessandro’s brother Francesco spent most of his career in his native Sicily as a maestro di cappella at the court in Palermo, although he did work with his brother for a short time at the court in Naples. In the last years of his life he traveled to Great Britain, coming to London at the invitation of Handel or Geminiani. The works selected for this program offer a taste of this neglected composer’s expressive range. While the languorous cantata Chi la speranza shows his lyricism and sensitivity to text, the concerto (originally attributed to Alessandro), displays his brilliant and idiomatic instrumental writing which is infused with textural, contrapuntal, and harmonic interest.

Alessandro’s son Pietro Philippo was a church musician at Urbino and Naples. His surviving compositions are few, consisting of a handful of cantatas and small instrumental works. The aria Care luci del ben mio is in the Neopolitan galant style and of great charm. Here, the violin’s independence from the voice and the rest of the ensemble seems to refer to the elusive, indifferent lover sought by the protagonist.

Alessandro surely recognized the extraordinary musical talent of his son Domenico and helped him early on to secure appointments as composer and harpsichordist. Although Domenico was successful as a composer in Venice and Rome, the positions he held there primarily required the composition of opera and church music and did not afford him opportunities to utilize his abilities as a virtuoso harpsichordist. His move to Spain to take a position as a harpsichord performer and teacher in the court of King Philip V enabled him to develop his unique and distinctive style fully.

The vast majority of Domenico’s harpsichord sonatas were composed during his time at the Spanish court. Here his musical language became influenced by the flavor of Spanish folk idioms, as can be heard in the pair of sonatas included in the program.

The cantata Qual pensier, quale ardire was likely also composed in Spain, possibly for performance by the famous castrato Farinelli. It shows the boldness and uncompromising virtuosity of his vocal writing. Highly instrumental in nature, this unconventional style includes frequent wide leaps, jagged intervals, and brilliant passagework, all of which serve the stormy and passionate text admirably.

© Daniel Ryan and Suzanne Stumpf