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How do I even approach Scarlatti?
#1305212 11/14/09 12:05 AM
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The boyfriend and I were at a wonderful recital by Joyce Yang this past Sunday, and the program consisted of Liebermann's Gargoyles, Beethoven's Op 31 No 3 Piano Sonata, Brahms' Op 119, a well-deserved intermission, then a handful of Scarlatti sonatas, concluding with Schumann's Carnaval (wow!) Funnily enough, I made the comment "I think Scarlatti is overrated. He wrote, I donno, about 3000 keyboard sonatas, and they hardly seem worth the effort. I don't understand why they keep showing up on concert programs."

Ms. Yang's playing was great, but when she reached her 4 Scarlatti sonatas, I was bored to tears. While my boyfriend gave me a hard time for my negativity as we were waiting for the recital to begin, he agreed at the end that the Scarlatti selection was the "most boring" part of the recital.



On Thursday as I was leaving my teacher's studio, he says to me, "Have you ever played any Scarlatti? I definitely think you should look into his music, I think it would suit you, and be very good for you." I didn't even know how to reply to that. Almost felt like punishment...



So, I've never studied anything by Scarlatti, and I am only familiar with a handful of his sonatas, K27, K141, K380, and a couple others but can't think of the catalog numbers off the top of my head. While I'm not that excited about it, I figure I may actually learn something from exploring some of his music. The fact that you can't get away from the sonatas suggests to me that I may be missing something.

How do I even begin to traverse the 555 sonatas? I don't intend on studying any immediately, but figured I should closely listen to a fair selection of them. Do most people just flip pages with their eyes closed, and see which sonata they land on? Do I draw numbers out of a hat? Fibonacci sequence? How many should I listen to to give them a fair shot? 10? 50? 100?

Anyone with any suggestions, or feel like sharing their experience in becoming familiar with Scarlatti's sonatas?

Daniel


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Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
Ridicolosamente #1305220 11/14/09 12:31 AM
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Gosh, I love Scarlatti! Entranced ever since Horowitz's dazzling first album of them.

I'd take my cue from the Maestro and try those he recorded and see if you can play them as wonderfully as he did.

Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
JonBrom #1305224 11/14/09 12:58 AM
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Originally Posted by JonBrom
I'd take my cue from [Horowitz] and try those he recorded and see if you can play them as wonderfully as he did.


Horowitz is indeed a great way to get familiar with several of the sonatas; his touch, slightly romanticized, has the effect of making this music feel like it was written recently. I'd start by listening to some of his performances on YouTube, like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-5yWDliZZw&feature=related

To learn to appreciate Scarlatti, I recommend taking a sonata and listening to it many, many times, preferably with the score. For me, Scarlatti is one of these composers (Haydn is another) whose genius in a given work often doesn't present itself on a first hearing. It's only after I've listened to what first sounded banal several times that I hear the musical significance of an unexpected rest, a phrase repeated three times, the sadness of an unexpected lilt. The greatness of the piece sort of crystallizes in front of you after the nth hearing.

I'd say getting that kind of appreciation for a few of the sonatas, and then picking among the few you know, is a better approach then trying to familiarize yourself with hundreds of them. Let us know if you start listening to any sonata in particular; I'd be happy to point out what I find not boring in it!


-Jason


Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
beet31425 #1305249 11/14/09 02:46 AM
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Horowitz went through all of the sonatas before he decided which to play. However, if you would like a good introduction, I suggest picking up the 60 Sonatas edited by Ralph Kirkpatrick from Schirmers. His notes are valuable to any pianist, not just for Scarlatti.

To really appreciate Scarlatti, you need to play it. It makes your fingers dance.


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Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
JonBrom #1305257 11/14/09 03:46 AM
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Horowitz was how I first got on to Scarlatti too, and I've never gotten off it.

Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
beet31425 #1305258 11/14/09 03:48 AM
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.....and I'd recommend almost the OPPOSITE approach: browsing/listening to a lot of the sonatas, one at a time (and not necessarily all the way through for each), to get an idea of the range of them and to find some that really grab you.

Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
BDB #1305259 11/14/09 03:49 AM
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Yes -- and I'd say Ralph Kirkpatrick's Scarlatti is one of the few "yellow plague" editions (i.e. Schirmer) that should be recommended.
Another is Joseffy's Chopin.

Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
Mark_C #1305299 11/14/09 07:32 AM
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Daniel,

Several pages of Friskin and Freundlich's Music for the Piano are devoted to Scarlatti, including a chart that lists at least 50 of the sonatas by Longo number. Along with time signature and key, they provide a very succinct description of the type of figuration and musical character of each.

The pages in question (pp. 38-42) should be previewable:

http://books.google.com/books?id=humFNAE595QC

Steven

Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
sotto voce #1305304 11/14/09 07:58 AM
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You only have to listen to enough of them to find some you're interested in learning. 100's of Youtube performances available. Schiff, Pogorelich, Tipo, Gilels are some other good pianists in this repertoire.

I think the scores are all available for free on the net.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 11/14/09 08:31 AM.
Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
sotto voce #1305305 11/14/09 07:59 AM
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I recently rediscovered Scarlatti and now I really love him. I strongly recommend that you listen to one or a pair of sonatas at the time, not 20 of them in a row. Scarlattis sonatas are shorter but very dense, they really need your attention and they need time to be digested.

It must also be said that quality is not always even among the 555 that are left. It would be quite inhuman to write 555 masterpieces of even quality within a period of 20 years or so.

Then of course there are a lot of the fast sonatas that are just played by pianist as show-off numbers, and then they become mindless crap. Scarlatti wrote these pieces when he was aged 50 and more (all of them were written when he lived in Madrid). You need to find the melancholy and the meaning even in the fast ones.

Listen to several pianist until you find one that really speaks to you. Matsuda, Schiff and Zacharias are my favourites. My favourite sonatas right now are the ones in g-moll (K426, L128) and F major (K462, L438).

Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
beet31425 #1305317 11/14/09 08:53 AM
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Originally Posted by beet31425
Originally Posted by JonBrom
I'd take my cue from [Horowitz] and try those he recorded and see if you can play them as wonderfully as he did.


Horowitz is indeed a great way to get familiar with several of the sonatas; his touch, slightly romanticized, has the effect of making this music feel like it was written recently. I'd start by listening to some of his performances on YouTube, like this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-5yWDliZZw&feature=related

To learn to appreciate Scarlatti, I recommend taking a sonata and listening to it many, many times, preferably with the score. For me, Scarlatti is one of these composers (Haydn is another) whose genius in a given work often doesn't present itself on a first hearing. It's only after I've listened to what first sounded banal several times that I hear the musical significance of an unexpected rest, a phrase repeated three times, the sadness of an unexpected lilt. The greatness of the piece sort of crystallizes in front of you after the nth hearing.

-Jason



Wow, I think Jason gave a great description of Scarlatti! I second this.

Here is one of my fave Scarlatti sonatas, played by Horowitz... easy to play but not easy to play well.

K380: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Y6TGGPq3MI&translated=1


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Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
Sparkler #1305324 11/14/09 09:31 AM
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Check out K.87 in B minor. A really beautiful piece of music, and one of the more contrapuntal sonatas.

Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
beet31425 #1305325 11/14/09 09:33 AM
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Originally Posted by beet31425

To learn to appreciate Scarlatti, I recommend taking a sonata and listening to it many, many times, preferably with the score. For me, Scarlatti is one of these composers (Haydn is another) whose genius in a given work often doesn't present itself on a first hearing. It's only after I've listened to what first sounded banal several times that I hear the musical significance of an unexpected rest, a phrase repeated three times, the sadness of an unexpected lilt. The greatness of the piece sort of crystallizes in front of you after the nth hearing.


I think Scarlatti is one of the easiest composers to appreciate and enjoy on first hearing. I've never heard passages that sound banal on a first hearing. Of course, there's nothing wrong with listening to any piece many times.

Which sonatas sounded banal to you on first hearing?

Last edited by pianoloverus; 11/14/09 09:36 AM.
Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
Sparkler #1305331 11/14/09 09:46 AM
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i find baroque music soooo interesting.

Scarlatti's world was of opera, royal families, princesses, the then rather savage expanse of all Iberia,a friendship with Farinelli, a composer father, association with Handel.

I was given THREE books of Scarlatti sonatas. (thank you piano world friends). What i really like about them is that for the most part they are relatively easy to sight read. Yet within the melodies, that are wonderfully outside the scope of church and chamber music of the period, are extraordinary gems of virtuosity to master... little leaps, trills, vagaries.. he has no problem in expecting the keyboard to imitate the human voice.

I used to have have a tendency to simplify and skip those displays of dexterity, craftsmanship, artistry and imagination.. Now i search the music for skills to conquer.

His music is so rewarding.. you can hear how he explores the keyboard with a thought or sentiment, as if he were daydreaming, pondering, solving the problems of the world.

I really love this minor sonata .. (the music is hard to find - mine is handwritten) it sounds so simple, but it's delicate complexity is so fun to explore.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YV3Avalm5KM

I have Henle editions and they give me little in the way of direction. .. like nothing. His methods of playing are completely novel.. I am sure there are editions that tell you how to cross the hands or such.. still, you have to be creative in finding ways to play. (i just watch horowitz on you tube)


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love and peace, Õun (apple in Estonian)
Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
apple* #1305338 11/14/09 10:22 AM
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I addition to the excellent albums by Browning and Horowitz and the famous video of Argerich's 141, Michelangeli deserves mention:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FiZc7kbrWw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jy92VKaaarE
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtqEIwgPM9U
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DVdEMGnA9JM

For K. 27, I also like Pletnev's interpretation. It's a bit slower than some, but more colorful and richly textured, I think:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cW9D4bgB7x0


"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

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Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
Kreisler #1305346 11/14/09 10:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Kreisler

For K. 27, I also like Pletnev's interpretation. It's a bit slower than some, but more colorful and richly textured, I think:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cW9D4bgB7x0


And Gilels is even much slower:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKywH1uc2l0
I much prefer Pletnev and Gilels to the usually faster versions even though I think this sonata is marked Allegro.

Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
Ridicolosamente #1305349 11/14/09 10:54 AM
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Daniel,

Thank you for this thread! Not so long ago I was also pondering on how might I begin my exploration of this vast composer.

I recently took a stab at L33 (Which, Horowitz beautifully brought to life here). I can't say this about Scarlatti's music in general since I haven't tried a lot of his pieces, but I find that this sonata lies under the fingers pretty well.

However, I personally don't think of these pieces as 'sonatas' as they are too miniature. I wonder why the man chose to call them it :P


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Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
Drunk3nFist #1305361 11/14/09 11:31 AM
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Daniel,

I found myself in a similar situation during undergrad as well - I didn't hate Scarlatti, I was just not aware of his work, and I was told by my teacher that I should play a few sonatas. My approach was to go out and buy a lot of recordings - I bought the complete Horowitz Scarlatti, plus quite a few CDs from the Naxos complete set. I added them to my iTunes and listened to nothing buy Scarlatti any time I wasn't practicing.

One of my general guidelines about "great" composers is that they really show their greatness in slow movements. IMO it's easier to write a fun bouncy work that is enjoyable than a deep slow work that is enjoyable. By that metric I don't consider Scarlatti a "great" composer, because I've yet to find a slow sonata that holds my interest at all. However, I find that about 1/3 of the Scarlatti recordings I have are quite worthwhile, playful, exuberant and surprisingly harmonically experimental works that are great palate cleansers between heavier works. And I also don't find that Horowitz recorded all the best ones. Everybody plays the ones he recorded, but there are plenty of other great ones that will interest experienced listeners more because they'll be fresh in their ears.

Since we're all submitting examples, check out this recording of K. 175 (currently my favorite Scarlatti Sonata) - it has a lot of what I like best in Scarlatti.

Last edited by MarkH; 11/14/09 11:32 AM.
Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
MarkH #1305523 11/14/09 06:09 PM
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For those looking for good Scarlatti sonatas to play, keep in mind that one of the big-name editors (was it Kirkpatrick? I forget) made a pretty convincing case that many of the sonatas belong in pairs. If you choose one member of a pair, it would certainly be nice to play its sibling as well.

The usage of the word "Sonata" has evolved through history, and didn't have the same meaning for Scarlatti as it did in the 18th or 19th century. At the very beginning of its use as a musical term, "sonata" simply meant "an instrumental composition with no singers". The word may have become somewhat more evolved or differentiated before Scarlatti used it, but obviously not as far as it had for Haydn or Beethoven.


(I'm a piano teacher.)
Re: How do I even approach Scarlatti?
david_a #1305560 11/14/09 07:29 PM
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Kirkpatrick's argument was that in the order the sonatas occur in bound manuscript volumes (one in Venice, one in Parma), sonatas in the same key occurred quite frequently in pairs (there are one or two triptychs).

Tovey comments that the root of sonata style is found in Scarlatti, because of the way he handles key relationships (tonic, dominant or higher key, ending in tonic).

Chopin used Scarlatti sonatas to teach his students, stating that "he at times reaches Mozart." I can't tell you, Daniel, what to like and what not to like, but but we often find that our tastes evolve over the years, and I do hope that you eventually come to enjoy Domenico's "ingenious jesting with art," as he himself put it in the introduction to the 30 sonatas published (as "Essercizi") in England in 1738.


There is no end of learning. -Robert Schumann Rules for Young Musicians
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