40 Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti for solo guitar by Andrew Zohn
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The Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) are so common to the guitarist’s repertoire that one could easily assume that they were written originally for the instrument. In fact, despite the prodigious output of this composer, Scarlatti never composed for guitar. This is a bit surprising considering he spent much of his adult life on the Iberian Peninsula where the guitar (chitarra spagnola) was, at that time, enjoying considerable popularity. The following sonatas are transcriptions of a small portion of the 555 sonatas which Scarlatti composed for the keyboard. These works were most likely composed after 1720 when Scarlatti left his native Italy to take a post as chapelmaster at the court of King João V of Portugal. One of his duties in this appointment was to tutor the daughter of the King, Maria Barbara, who would eventually become Queen of Spain. Scarlatti would follow her to Seville and then to Madrid. Maria Barbara was known as an accomplished harpsichordist, and it is quite possible that these sonatas were the product of her close relationship with the composer.
The first known catalogue of Scarlatti’s sonatas was compiled by Alessandro Longo (1864-1945). Though it remains an important historical document, this publication [D. Scarlatti, Opere Complete per Clavicembalo, (a cura di A. Longo) 10 vol. e 1 supplemento (Ricordi, Milano, 1906/10)] is largely considered antiquated by modern historians. Longo purposely regrouped the sonatas into suites and, in some cases, changed tempo indications and harmonies. A more commonly accepted catalogue of the Sonatas of Scarlatti was assembled by Ralph Kirkpatrick (1911-1984). His catalogue [Ralph Kirkpatrick, Domenico Scarlatti (Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1953)] attempted to order the sonatas chronologically and provided insight into how the works were grouped: often in pairs, sometimes in groups of 3 or 4 and some with multiple movements contained within. The following transcriptions were adapted from facsimile editions taken from the Biblioteca Nazionale in Venezia, and the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma and compiled by Kirkpatrick [Domenico Scarlatti, Complete Keyboard Works (edited by Ralph Kirkpatrick) 18 vol. (Johnson Reprint Corporation, New York and London, 1972)]. Each work is identified by both Kirkpatrick’s (K.) and Longo’s (L.) catalog numbers.
Within these sonatas lay a wealth of creativity and variety. Although most of them fall into the category of binary form, there exists great diversity in tone, tempo, and internal construction. Beyond the generic title Sonata, Scarlatti makes little use of the term as a unifying factor for his collection. Some works are to be played slowly and lyrically and thus have indications as Larghetto and Adagio e Cantabile, while others are meant to be played rapidly, having tempo indications as Allegro, Vivo, and Allegrissimo. Additionally, Scarlatti models some of his sonatas after common dance forms of his day titling some as Minuetto or Gavotta. Examples of all the above appear in this collection. Moreover, Scarlatti’s mastery of the keyboard and, in some cases, his disregard of common voice-leading and harmonic practices, have produced works of unique diversity with striking harmonies, sudden and unusual modulations, and passages of uncommon texture and virtuosity.