The Kennedy Center

Domenico Scarlatti



Biography

Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) composed a variety of music including operas, oratorios, and sacred music. He is most remembered, however, for his 555 short sonatas for harpsichord, written originally as exercises. The sonatas are original and technically difficult, with a freshness and variety of invention.

Scarlatti is thought to have begun his musical studies under his father, Baroque composer Alessandro Scarlatti. Young Domenico began his career as a composer and organist at the royal chapel of Naples in 1701. Two years later, he and his father settled in Rome, where the young man became a pupil of eminent Italian musicians. He later traveled to Venice, where he met composers Antonio Vivaldi and George Frideric Handel.

Scarlatti subsequently moved to Lisbon, Portugal, where he taught music to the Portuguese princess, Maria Barbara. After she married the Spanish crown prince and became Queen of Spain, he moved to Seville, Spain, and later to Madrid, where he remained in service to her for the rest of his life.

When he died in Madrid, Scarlatti left a large collection of his harpsichord sonata manuscripts, which were largely unknown beyond Spain and Portugal until pianist Carl Czerny published a selection of the sonatas in 1839. In 1953, American harpsichordist and scholar Ralph Kirkpatrick published a critical edition of Scarlatti’s complete works. It is Kirkpatrick who developed the numbering system of the sonatas that is most widely used today.  Pianist Vladimir Horowitz’s 1964 recording of Scarlatti pieces popularized Scarlatti in the 20th century.

Domenico Scarlatti