Friday, May 3, 2013

Domenico Scarlatti - A Composer With a Magnificent Prescience?

Before discussing the keyboard work of Scarlatti, please allow me to state that not for a  moment do I diminish the work and influence of his contemporary Johann Sebastian Bach, who remains for those of us who understand his unparalleled place in the Pantheon; a place reserved only for the likes of a Bach, or a Schweitzer, or a Galileo, or the few others who cause History to create  a major swerve in its never-ending path.
I simply wish to articulate the case of Scarlatti's keyboard music, as it affects  the performers of import and power in our times.
The magnificence of Bach's works for the harpsichord continues to imbue the musicians of  our time with a glow of recognition of the Master's synthesis of harmony, counterpoint  and just plain mathematics, which remains unabated in power three centuries after his time with us. No other composer has reached the level of universal impact upon the composers who have come after him.
There is, however,  the work of Domenico Scarlatti in the 555-odd works he called "exercises," which we now call "sonatas."
Though Scarlatti was born in Italy, the admixture of Spanish and Portuguese influences upon his style (shall we call them "the Iberian influence?"),  especially in his keyboard works, imparts a special kind of color, folk and the ambient reality of the Baroque, with its clarity of melodic and motif design, laced with uniquely unpredictable harmonic modulations. The result is a style that curiously lends itself beautifully to an instrument just then emerging from the shadows of development; namely, of course, the pianoforte.
We know that Scarlatti wrote a small number of his works for the pianoforte, though the vast majority of the Exercises was designed for the harpsichord.
But the wondrous admixture described above has for some time enraptured a number of the great pianists of our time, and continues to do so. Vladimir Horowitz, of the piano legends performing during the past century , is the most powerful of those who loved playing Scarlatti before the public. He was enraptured by the atmosphere engendered in so many of these brief masterpieces, and has recorded a number of them.
The personal joy  for me is that great pianists such as Horowitz, Gilels and Michelangeli  understood the unique combine of the Baroque and nascent Classical and Romantic elements  that were evident in Scarlatti's incarnations.
I am thankful that these three pianists have given us Scarlatti in many recordings.
I sometimes wonder how Scarlatti would have reacted to his "exercises," as performed on today's piano?
Enraptured? I have to think so.

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