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Domenico Scarlatti's Biography

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Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti was born in 1685 in Naples (then part of Spain now part of Italy), the sixth of the ten children of composer and teacher Alessandro. Growing up in Naples he most likely studied under his father and Francesco Gasparini, a Venetian composer. While in Venice it appears Scarlatti became a close friend of George Frederick Handel. Domenico Scarlatti was a famous Italian harpsichordist, organist, and composer of the baroque period, transitioning into the classical period. He composed primarily for keyboard (harpsichord and early pianofortes). Domenico Scarlatti began his career by writing operas, chamber cantatas, and other vocal music, but he is most remembered for his 555 keyboard sonatas, written between approximately 1719 and 1757.

Domenico’s harpsichord pieces are all unique without many unifying similarities, but contrasting textures and bold dissonance were focused of his famous “virtuoso pieces”. Earliest pieces he composed for the harpsichord appear to be most likely dance pieces or informs imitating what his father wrote. He was made composer and organist of the royal chapel in Naples in 1701, at which time he would have been only 16 years old. It is known that he helped rewrite an opera in Naples in 1704. The next that is known of him is that he was in Rome in 1709 working as court composer for the exiled Polish queen Casimire and wrote several operas for her theater. During this time in Rome, he also took part in a competition against Georg Friedrich Handel at the home of the Cardinal. Scarlatti won the prize for best harpsichordist and Handel won the best organist. Throughout his life, Scarlatti held Handel in the highest respect as a musician.

Until 1719 Domenico was a maestro at the Basilica of St. Peter, and at some point, after this, he moved to London and produced an opera. After this period in Britain, Scarlatti began working for the court of Portugal as court composer and music teacher to the princess. He returned to Rome in 1727 and married his wife Maria Caterina Gentili on 6 May 1728. In 1729 he moved to Seville (Spain), staying for four years. In 1733 he went to Madrid as music master to Princess Maria Barbara, who had married into the Spanish royal house. The Princess later became Queen of Spain. Scarlatti remained in the country for the remaining twenty-five years of his life and had five children there. After the death of his first wife in 1742, he married a Spaniard, Anastasia Maxarti Ximenes. Among his compositions during his time in Madrid were a number of the 555 keyboard sonatas for which he is best known. In his lifetime he only published 30 of his most famous works, his “Exercises”, and they were well received throughout Europe. He also wrote some operas, cantatas, symphonies, and religious pieces. Hundreds of his sonatas continued to be published in the centuries after his death. He is regarded as one of the great baroque composers, considered by many to be second only to Johann Sebastian Bach, and is known mainly for his “Exercise” and his 555 sonatas. Domenico’s sonatas were of both the sonata da Chiesa (that is, suitable for use in church) and the sonata da camera (proper for use at court). The latter was usually followed by dances and all movements were in the same key.

The fugue is a compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject (a musical theme) that is introduced at the beginning in imitation (repetition at different pitches) and which recurs frequently in the course of the composition. A fugue usually has three sections. In the Middle Ages, the term was widely used to denote any works in canonic style; by the Renaissance, it had come to denote specifically imitative works. Since the 17th century, the term fugue has described what is commonly regarded as the most fully developed procedure of imitative counterpoint.

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