Thursday, September 1, 2022

Supererogatory Scarlatti

There are several discretionary goals I’ve set, over and above playing every town: identifying a local collaborator or composer when I can, finding a playable acoustic piano wherever possible, crafting rich post-concert write-ups, and learning a new Scarlatti sonata for every concert.

These make the project harder and logistically much more complicated. But they give the project great added value for me. Honestly, I think the Scarlatti thing is just really cool, in an inside/geeky way, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with Vermont (apart from the ii-V-I intro gag). And not just “cool”. I have discovered—as approximately zero keyboard players and aficionados will be surprised to hear—that Scarlatti was, like, wicked good.

Scarlatti’s inventiveness in the sonatas is boundless. It’s not just that there are 555 of the things. (Of course, they’re one-movement works, so the catalog is comparable to “only” about 160 3- or 4-movement Classical sonatas.) Most of them are also individually teeming with ideas. Almost every phrase has a new motive: he’s more like Mozart in this, less like the spartanly economical Haydn and Beethoven.

There is music that is fun/rewarding to listen to and music that is fun/gratifying to play. They don’t always intersect. Scarlatti’s ideas are both exciting to hear and a joy for the hands and fingers. And for the arms: he’s big on extreme jumps and dramatic hand-crossings.

He also sounds like a beautiful person. Here’s his preface to the publication of the first 30 keyboard sonatas:

Reader, Whether you be Dilettante or Professor, in these Compositions do not expect any profound Learning, but rather an ingenious Jesting with Art, to accommodate you with the Mastery of the Harpsichord. Neither self-interest, nor ambition led me to publish them, but obedience. perhaps they may please you, in which case I may more willingly obey further commands to gratify you in a simpler and more varied style. Be therefore kind rather than critical, and your pleasure will be greater. To understand the disposition of the hands, be advised that the right is indicated with a D, and the left with an M. Live happily.

I realize this preamble belongs to a type—the self-abnegating sucking up to potential patrons—but still...“Be therefore kind rather than critical, and your pleasure will be greater...Live happily.” want to hang with that guy! And I feel lucky that in a way, we get to.

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Northfield write-up

The  Northfield concert write-up  is now posted.  In it I talk about the perilousness of doing a new Scarlatti at every concert, especially ...