Domenico Scarlatti


Born in 1685 in Naples to a family of musicians as the sixth child of composer Alessandro Scarlatti, Domenico trained in Venice and Rome. In the Eternal City he fought a famous musical duel with George Friedric Handel that ended in a telling tie: Handel was pronounced the master of the organ, while Scarlatti had the upper hand as far as the harpsichord went. From 1709 he was engaged at the Rome court of Maria Casimire Sobieska, widow of king Jan III Sobieski of Poland, then in 1714 he became a musician and subsequently the maestro di capella of the Vatican Cappella Giulia. The function enabled him to make international contacts that secured him a position at the Portuguese royal court. From 1729 until the end of his life he was engaged at the Spanish royal court. He travelled with an entourage between Seville and Madrid, and was an accompanist for the famous castrate Farinelli. In 1738 a collection of his harpsichord works was published in London, titled Essercizi per gravicembalo after a piece that proved one and for all that he was a harbinger of a new epoch in instrumental music. 

At the time keyboard music was treated as accompaniment only. Domenico Scarlatti changed that. In his works, it was becoming independent, autonomous. He turned the harpsichord into a virtuoso instrument. This also triggered a change in the repertoire of instrumental music forms. Scarlatti laid the groundwork for the development of the sonata, which lead to the emergence of the symphony and the concerto. He died in 1757.