Alessandro Scarlatti

Scarlatti was a child prodigy who, after his first studies in Palermo and, most likely, short apprenticeship with Giacomo Carissimi in Rome, had already admirably mastered musical technique. This led to a great melodic freshness that earned him, at a young age, a place of absolute importance in the Capital. So much so, that at less than twenty years old, he was commissioned to write an Oratorio for a very important client. The composer always showed a fondness for the styles of Oratorio and Cantata, particularly enjoying vocal writing: although ironically, for a long time he was remembered for his instrumental works, which are really just a small part of his immense work. At this time Rome was certainly very fruitful in its production of dramatic sacred music and Scarlatti’s inclination for vocal writing meant he did not neglect the operatic genre either. It was the ‘melodrama profano’ which prompted him to move to Naples where, in under twenty years, his impressive number of cantatas, musical dramas and sacred music were performed . In Naples he had the role of the Master of the Chapel Royal, a true centre of the music of the time which introduced, among others, two reforms of the operatic language, namely the increasing use of recitative accompanied by instruments, and the reprise of the opening Aria. By now, his fame had transcended national borders, spreading throughout Europe; but despite his great success in Naples, at the beginning of the new century Scarlatti left the Neapolitan city both for economic reasons as well as to enable him more freedom to experiment with musical forms that were more complex and inevitably not in line with the public’s taste. He did however return to Rome again, where he worked with Arcangelo Corelli: at this time, his music increasingly moved away from the current trends, becoming more complex and demanding. For this reason much of his immense vocal repertoire fell into oblivion (indeed he wrote about 200 Masses in addition to other forms of sacred music, such as Stabat Mater, motets and sacred Concerts; twenty Oratorios, more than 600 chamber cantatas, and sixty profane works – not including the large body of instrumental music which is equally important). Scarlatti ended his life in Naples where he retired, composing his last masterpieces which were so estranged from the time that they were developing into new musical styles, although they were bestowed honors and praise. His work provided the fundamental exponents of the Neapolitan opera school which was spreading around the world. A true experimenter and innovator, Scarlatti is a giant figure of the music scene: one of his most famous sons, Domenico, suffered this difficult and comlex heritage, as we would identify today in psychology.

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