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Learn About the Italian Composer, Domenico Scarlatti's Works and Life

Domenico Scarlatti: Overview 

  • Born: 1685 - Naples, Italy
  • Died: 1757 - Madrid, Spain
  • Historical Period: Late Baroque
  • Musical Media: keyboard, opera, choral

Composer Domenico Scarlatti

Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti or simply Domenico Scarlatti was born in Naples in the year 1685. Although this was the same year as when Bach and Handel were born, with many critics considering Domenico inferior to the other two, he was able to leave a significant mark on the musical scene. After having a large plethora of work to his name, particularly his keyboard sonatas, which were 555 in total, Domenico Scarlatti passed away in 1757.

Domenico Scarlatti: The Harpsichord Giant 

Domenico’s father, Alessandro Scarlatti was the maestro di cappella of his time. The young composer’s prodigious talents manifested at an incredible rate, and Domenico was appointed as organista e compositore di musica at the Naples royal chapel in 1701. In 1702, Domenico made the acquaintance with Bartolomeo Cristofori, an instrument maker in Florence. This followed a shift to Rome, where he had the opportunity to study and improve his brilliance under well-known musicians. 

Domenico’s very first works, the pieces Il Giustino and L’Ottavia restituita al trono were debuted in 1703. In 1705, he was sent to Venice by his father, to learn under composer Francesco Gasparini. The year 1708 saw Queen Maria Casimira of Poland construct a private theatre within her palace, and by 1709, Domenico had succeeded his father as the Musical Director to the queen. Domenico wrote La Silvia (1710), which was followed by seven operas, including Tolomeo e Alessandro (1711), which earned him tremendous fame and reverence. He also wrote the opera L'Orlando (1711).

Domenico had built strong ties with the Vatican, and directed music at St. Peter’s Julian Chapel, between 1714 to 1719. Stabat Mater (1715) is a fine example of his work from this age gifting us with a glimpse of the master’s genius. Ambleto (1715) with its intermezzo, La Dirindina, Berenice regina d'Egitto (1718), whose music he created in collaboration with Nicola Porpora, are some great examples of Baroque music. Citing his good relations with the Portuguese, Domenico composed a cantata in 1714, when the crown prince of Portugal was born. 

The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore was honored by Domenico through the composition of the beautiful pieces, Cibavit nos Dominus and Missa breve la stella. Domenico visited Lisbon in 1720, where his serenata Contesa delle Stagioni debuted too much appreciation. He assumed the position of musical director to Portugal’s King John V. Domenico was also the musical instructor to Don Antonio, the king’s brother, along with Princess Maria Bárbara de Bragança.

Domenico’s overbearing father passed away in 1725. In the year 1728, the composer visited Italy to marry Maria Caterina Gentili, who was only 16, as opposed to his age of 43. They had six children together before she passed. Domenico had a second marriage and his wife, Anastasia Maxarti Ximenes, bore him four children. 

His “Esercizi per gravicembalo” was published in 1738 and it contained 30 sonatas. Domenico’s huge body of 555 sonatas, the majority focused on the use of the instrument harpsichord than on the violin or organ. Domenico also displayed a tremendous talent through his Fandango portugués (1756). The Salve Regina, utilizing soprano and strings, was an attempt to produce vocal music shortly before his passing.

A continuous and growing development is obvious in Domenico’s harpsichord compositions, which are typically characteristic of thematic organization and the prolonging of the tonal range. His earlier works had fast movements with the middle period of his work bearing slower movements added to a vaster focus on lyrics. The final period of his work was typical of immense concentration in his style, composed with the one-manual Mediterranean harpsichord. 

Domenico Scarlatti was one of the best and most talented musical savants of Baroque age. Although he had many highly esteemed peers, he proved to his age and beyond that, he had both the capacity and urge to produce some of the most respected and referenced music of all time. 


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