Domenico Scarlatti was a prolific Italian Composer who composed during the Baroque Period (roughly 1600-1800 C.E.). He is known for his service to the Spanish and the Portuguese Royalty, and for his five hundred and fifty five keyboard sonatas.
Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti was born on October 26, 1685 in Naples, Kingdom of Naples. He was the sixth child of the famous Italian Composer Alessandro Scarlatti, who was known as the founder of the Neopolitan School of Opera. Scarlatti, like his elder brother Pietro Filippo, followed the footsteps of his father. He first studied music under his father, and then he went on to study under other famous Italian composers including Bernardo Pasquini, Gaetano Greco, and Francesco Gasparini.
Scarlatti started off as an organist at the Royal Chapel in Naples when he was only sixteen years old. His earliest known works were revisions of Carlo Francesco’s Opera titled “Irene” for special performances in Naples. He continued to work at the Royal Chapel until 1704. Then, in 1709, Scarlatti was commissioned for service to the exiled queen of Poland, Marie Casimire. This was where he met the famous German Composer George Frederic Handel. Scarlatti and Handel performed at the palace of Cardinal Ottoboni in a trial of skill. When Scarlatti was judged to be better than Handel at the harpsichord, word began to spread about the young composer. Scarlatti then went on to teach music to Maria Magdalena Barbara, a Portuguese princess. He then became the master of music for Maria’s household, and when the princess was crowned Queen of Spain, Scarlatti served the Spanish Royalty till his death in 1757. Much of the knowledge that historians have about Scarlatti today is from the celebrated Neapolitan Castrato Singer George Farinelli.
Despite his servitude for the Portuguese and Spanish Royalty, Scarlatti composed many great works. However, due to the nature of his appointment, much of his works were published after his death. Even so, in 1738, Scarlatti published “Essercizi”, a collection of thirty exercises that received widespread praise and acclaim, even from esteemed music writers such as Charles Burney. Scarlatti’s music was highly influenced by Spanish and Portuguese folk music. His musical style consisted extensive usage of the Phrygian mode. Scarlatti often switched keys in many of his works. He often employed two to three keys, and in most of his works, he normally returned to his home key after his key switches.
Perhaps Scarlatti is best known for his five hundred and fifty five keyboard sonatas. Most of these sonatas were written for his favorite keyboard instrument, the harpsichord. These sonatas helped Scarlatti win the approval of many esteemed musicians such as Johannes Brahms, Frederic Chopin, Béla Bartók and Heinrich Schenker. Like much of his other works, the majority of these sonatas were recorded and produced after his death, and almost all of them were produced by 1953. Scarlatti was also known for writing “Stabat Mater” in 1715 and for his last work “Salve Regina” which he wrote in 1757.
Domenico Scarlatti died in Madrid, Spain on July 23, 1757. His residence and his music have been preserved as part of Spanish Cultural Heritage. Many of his descendants still live in Madrid to this day.