top of page

Domenico Scarlatti

1685 - 1757

Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti (Naples, 26 October 1685 – Madrid, 23 July 1757) was an Italian composer who spent much of his life in the service of the Portuguese and Spanish royal families. He is classified primarily as a Baroque composer chronologically, although his music was influential in the development of the Classical style and he was one of the few Baroque composers to transition into the classical period. Like his renowned father Alessandro Scarlatti, he composed in a variety of musical forms, although today he is known mainly for his 555 keyboard sonatas.

(b. Naples, October 26, 1685; d. Madrid, July 23, 1757)

ITALIAN COMPOSER AND HARPSICHORDIST, son of Alessandro Scarlatti. His father arranged for his musical education and, recognizing his special talent at the keyboard, saw to it that he was appointed organist of the royal chapel in Naples (where the elder Scarlatti was maestro di cappella) and that he received bonus pay for being court chamber harpsichordist as well. Alessandro continued to manage his son’s early career, sending him to Venice and Rome (where the young man met George Frideric Handel, his exact contemporary—the two forming a warm friendship after a keyboard “duel” in which they played each other to a draw). But the father’s dearest ambition—that his son follow in his footsteps as a composer of operas and vocal works—was not realized. While the younger Scarlatti did pen more than a dozen operas and a large number of oratorios and cantatas, he would find his natural expression not in vocal music, but at the keyboard, and not in his homeland, but on the Iberian peninsula. At the age of 34, he left Italy to take up duties in Lisbon as music master to the eldest daughter of King John V of Portugal, the Infanta Maria Barbara de Braganza. When, in 1728, Maria Barbara married the heir to the Spanish throne, Scarlatti went with her, first to Seville, and later to Madrid, where he spent the final 24 years of his life.

The Palace of Aranjuez, the primary residence of King Fernando VI and Queen Maria Barbara, became the seat of a thriving musical establishment, at the center of which stood Scarlatti and the great Italian castrato Carlo Broschi, known as Farinelli. Maria Barbara’s interest in music, and her remarkable talent as both a harpsichordist and a pianist, was the stimulus that drew from Scarlatti the great work of his career, more than 500 single-movement keyboard sonatas. Under the queen’s patronage, these were copied and bound, the collection eventually running to 15 volumes.

Key Works

Detail of a painting by Gaspare Traversi, showing Scarlatti tutoring Princess Barbara of Portugal

Harpsichord Sonatas, part 1

1. Sonata in A Major (Kirkpatrick 24) 
2. Sonata D Minor (K.141) 
3. Sonata In G Minor (K.426) 
4. Sonata In G Major (K.427) 
5. Sonata In C Minor (K.158) 
6. Sonata In C Major (K.159) 
7. Sonata In A Major (K.208) 
8. Sonata In A Major (K.209) 
9. Sonata In E Major (K.46) 
10. Sonata In G Minor (K.30) 'The Cat's Fugue' 
11. Sonata In E Major (K.380) 'Cortege' 
12. Sonata In E Major (K.381) 
13. Sonata In D Major (K.118) 
14. Sonata In D Major (K.119) 
15. Sonata In D Minor (K.120)

Harpsichord Sonatas, part 2

60 Sonatas


No. I (K. 3, Longo 378) in A Minor
No. II (K. 7, Longo 379) in A Minor
No. III (K. 16, Longo 397) in B-Flat Major
No. IV (K. 18, Longo 416) in D Minor
No. V (K. 28. Longo 373) in E Major
No. VI (K. 29, Longo 461) in D Major
No. VII (K. 44, Longo 432) in F Major
No. VIII (K. 46, Longo 25) in E Major
No. IX (K. 54, Longo 241) in A Minor
No. X (K. 57, Longo S. 38) in B-Flat Major
No. XI (K. 84, Longo 10) in C Minor
No. XII (K. 52, Longo 267) in D Minor
No. XIII (K. 96, Longo 465) in D Major
No. XIV (K. 105, Longo 204 in G Major

No. XV (K. 115, Longo 407) in C Minor
No. XVI (K. 116, Longo 452) in C Minor

No. XVII (K. 119, Longo 415) in D Major
No. XVIII (K. 120, Longo 215) in D Minor

No. XIX (K. 132, Longo 457 in C Major
No. XX (K. 133, Longo 282) in C Major

No. XXI (K. 175, Longo 429) in A Minor

Ralph Kirkpatrick harpsichord

Domenico Scarlatti 

These sonatas, though nearly all in two-part form, show an extraordinary range of color, mood, and affect. In many, there is an identifiably Spanish cast, whether from the use of characteristic dance rhythms, inflections drawn from the flamenco style of singing, or figuration evocative of a guitar’s strumming and repeated notes (such as are found in the Sonatas in A minor, K. 175, and E major, K. 206), or from the incorporation of actual Spanish melodies. Some of the sonatas focus on striking, often peculiar harmonic twists, which Scarlatti found far more interesting than spinning out conventional counterpoint, while others emphasize rhythmic figures or ornaments, a good example being the Sonata in C, K 497. As a rule, the sonatas are earthy in character, inhabiting a suggestive rather than an abstract world. The majority are dashing and virtuosic, often calling for rapid hand-crossings, sudden jumps, and high-velocity fingerwork. These outward expressions of brio, along with the inner vitality of the musical ideas themselves, have ensured the works a place in the repertoires not only of harpsichordists, but of many pianists as well. In fact, the repeated-note figuration in the Sonata in D major, K. 96, works even better on piano.

Domenico Scarlatti was one of the ten children of Alessandro Scarlatti, himself a notable opera composer. Domenico grew up in Naples and by the age of 16 had become organist and composer at the Neapolitan Royal chapel. Accompanied by his father, he sought work in Florence before returning to Naples and composing two Neapolitan operas in 1703 and performing a substantial rewrite of Pollarolo's Irene the following year.

Scarlatti spent the next four years in Venice, and in 1709 went directly into the service of Maria Casimira, the exiled Polish queen then living in Rome. He composed intensively, producing seven operas for the court, including in 1712 Tetide in Sciro, one of his 70 surviving operas. In 1713 he was appointed Maestro di Cappella to the Basilica Giulia in the Vatican, followed the next year by an appointment to the Portuguese ambassador to the Vatican, the Marquis de Fontes. This succession of posts allowed him to expand his interests in both sacred and secular music. Regular weekly recitals under the auspices of Cardinal Ottoboni, who had already taken Corelli under his wing, gave him the opportunity to meet Corelli and Thomas Roseingrave, an Irishman who later helped spread his fame in England. The Cardinal also introduced Scarlatti to Handel, and arranged a harpsichord-playing contest between the two.

In 1719 Scarlatti resigned his position. He spent two years as harpsichordist at the Italian Opera m London, and then went to Lisbon in Portugal, where he became the Mestre to the Patriarchal chapel. He made only a handful of return visits to his native country: one in 1725 to visit his dying father; and another to Rome in 1728 to marry Maria Gentili, aged 16 and some 27 years his junior.

Scarlatti finally settled m the employ of the musically gifted daughter of King John V, the Infanta Maria Barbara, and entered an extraordinary period of writing. His two 15-volume collections of sonatas for unaccompanied keyboard, mostly written for the Infanta, contain more than 500 works and established Scarlatti as one of the leading composers for the harpsichord. The Iberian influence is at times evident in these works, revealed in a guitar-like strumming effect achieved by rapid repetition of notes, and the sudden shifts from major to minor. These notoriously difficult pieces require the player to cross hands and play very rapid scales and arpeggios.

When the Infanta moved to Madrid, Scarlatti with his wife and five children moved as part of her court, and he eventually became Maestro de Camara in 1746. Such loyalty to his daughter impressed Kingjohn, who sponsored Scarlatti in his application to become a Knight of the Order of Santiago.

Scarlatti's move to the Iberian Peninsula was a significant event for the development of keyboard music. The Neapolitan style at that time, based around opera, was very limiting. Scarlatti, by moving away from this tendency, allowed himself a greater degree of experimentation and freedom to develop a wholly new form and style of keyboard composition.

Stabat Mater

00:00 - 01. Stabat Mater
02:44 - 02. Cujus animam gementem
06:56 - 03. Quis non posset
09:50 - 04. Eja Mater, fons amoris
11:58 - 05. Sancta mater, istud agas
15:20 - 06. Fac me vere tecum flere
16:25 - 07. Juxta crucem
18:43 - 08. Inflammatus et accensus
21:58 - 09. Fac ut animae donetur paradisi gloria
24:43 - 10. Amen

Salve Regina

I Salve Regina
II Ad te clamarus
III Ad te suspriamus
IV Eja ergo
V Nobis post hoc
VI O Clemens
VII Amen


2_Fecit potentiam
4_Gloria Patri

Te Deum

Viola D'Amore

60 Sonatas


No. XXII (K. 140, Longo 107) in D Major

No. XXIII (K. 208, Longo 238) in A Major
No. XXIV (K. 209, Longo 428) in A Major

No. XXV (K. 215, Longo 323) in E Major
No. XXVI (K. 216, Longo 273) in E Major

No. XXVII (K. 238. Longo 27) in F Minor
No. XXVIII (K. 239, Longo 281) in F Minor

No. XXIX (K. 259, Longo 103) in G Major
No. XXX (K. 260, Longo 124) in G Major

No. XXXI (K. 263, Longo 321) in E Minor
No. XXXII (K. 264, Longo 466) in E Major

No. XXXIII (K. 308, Longo 359) in C Major
No. XXXIV (K. 309, Longo 454) in C Major

No. XXXV (K. 366, Longo 119) in F Major
No. XXXVI (K. 367, Longo 172) in F Major

No. XXXVII (K. 394, Longo 275) in E Minor
No. XXXVIII (K. 395, Longo 65) in E Major

Ralph Kirkpatrick harpsichord

60 Sonatas


No. XXXIX (K. 402, Longo 427) in E Minor
No. XL (K. 403, Longo 470) in E Major

No. XLI (K. 420, Longo S. 2) in C Major
No. XLII (K. 421, Longo 252) in C Major

No. XLIII (K. 426, Longo 128) in C Minor
No. XLIV (K. 427, Longo 286) in G Major

No. XLV (K. 460, Longo 324) in C Major
No. XLVI (K. 461, Longo 8) in C Major

No. XLVII (K. 470, Longo 304) in G Major
No. XLVIII (K. 471, Longo 82) in G Major

No. XLIX (K. 490, Longo 206) in D Major
No. L (K. 491, Longo 164) in D Major
No. LI (K. 492, Longo 14) in D Major

No. LII (K. 493, Longo S. 24) in G Major
No. LIII (K. 494, Longo 287) in G Major

No. LIV (K. 513, Longo S. 3) in C Major

No. LV (K. 516, Longo S. 12) in D Minor
No. LVI (K. 517, Longo 266) in D Minor

No. LVII (K. 518, Longo 116) in F Major
No. LVIII (K. 519, Longo 475) in F Minor

No. LIX (K. 544, Longo 497) in B-Flat Major
No. LX (K. 545, Longo 500) in B-Flat Major

Ralph Kirkpatrick harpsichord

bottom of page