Like father like son? Domenico Scarlatti as an opera composer



“Though there were many new pleasing passages and effects, those acquainted with the original and happy freaks of this composer in his harpsichord music, would be surprised at the sobriety and almost dullness of the songs“1. For over two centuries Charles Burney’s dismissive remarks on the quality of Domenico Scarlatti’s opera Narciso have been echoed and repeated by writers who persist in looking for “original and happy freaks” in places where one would hardly expect to find them. Keyboard music springs largely from improvisation — from the fingers, one might say — and can therefore easily result in the felicities and idiosyncrasies that Burney so much admired in Scarlatti’s sonatas. Vocal music, on the other hand, is always subject to the rules of Good Composition. But it is not only by comparison with his harpsichord music that Scarlatti’s operas and other vocal works have attracted adverse comment. They have inevitably been compared also to the operas and cantatas of his illustrious father, Alessandro, and almost invariably dismissed as feeble imitations of them. Burney himself went on to say: “[Domenico Scarlatti’s] genius was not yet expanded, and he was not so much used to write for the voice as his father, who was the greatest vocal composer of his time …” and other writers who have expressed a similar opinion include Ralph Kirkpatrick: “Diese Periode [bis 1725], in der fast alle geistl. und weltl. Vokalmusik entstanden ist, wird stilistisch durch die starke Ausrichtung am Werk Alessandros und seiner Generationsgenossen gekennzeichnet … Die aus den Opern erhaltenen Stücke [Domenico Scarlattis] heben sich kaum von der Durchschnittsproduktion in dieser Gattung ab.“2


General History Adverse Comment Vocal Music Temary Aria Opera Composer 
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  1. 1.
    Charles Burney, A General History of Music, London 1776–89; ed. Frank Mercer, London, 1935, ii, p. 706.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Gerald Abraham, The Concise Oxford History of Music, London, 1979, p. 512.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Wendy Thompson, Scarlatti, The New Oxford Companion to Music, Oxford, 1983, p. 1629.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    John Warrack and Ewan West, The Oxford Dictionary of Opera, Oxford 1992, p. 635.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    The late Dr. Burney’s Musical Library. A Catalogue of the Valuable and Very Fine Collection of Music, Printed and MS. of the Late Charles Burney, Mus. D. F.R.S. … which will be Sold by Auction by Mr. White …on Monday, the 8th of August, 1814, and Following Days, at Twelve o’clock, London, 1814; facsimile, ed. Alexander Hyatt King, Amsterdam, 1973.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Ralph Kirkpatrick, Domenico Scarlatti, Princeton 1953, pp. 413–18Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Joel Sheveloff, (Giuseppe) Domenico Scarlatti, in: New Grove, London, 1980, vol 16, pp. 568–78.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Stanley Sadie (ed.), The New Grove Italian Baroque Masters, London, 1984, pp. 327–63.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Malcolm Boyd, „The music very good indeed“: Scarlatti’s Tolomeo et Alessandro, in: Recovered, Studies in Music History Presented to H. C. Robbins Landon on his Seventieth Birthday, ed. Otto Biba and David Wyn Jones, London, 1996, pp. 9–20.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    On La Dirindina see especially Francesco Degrada: Una sconosciuta esperienza teatrale di Domenico Scarlatti: La Dirindina, in: Memorie e contributi alla musica dal Medioevo all’età moderna offerti a Federico Ghisi, Quadrivium, xii, 1971, pp. 229–65Google Scholar
  11. revised in Francesco Degrada: Il palazzo incantato: studi sulla tradizione del melodramma dal Barocco al Romanticismo, Fiesole, 1979, pp. 67–97.Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    Reinhard Strohm, Italienische Opernarien des frühen Settecento (1720–1730), Cologne, 1976, i, pp. 226–7.Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    Isolated examples from Alessandro Scarlatti’s operas after 1698 are cited in Carl R. Morey, The Late Operas of Alessandro Scarlatti (dissertation, Indiana University, 1965), pp. 157–8.Google Scholar

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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Deutschland 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CardiffUK

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