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Domenico Scarlatti & Bach

Escarlati y Barbara

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 12, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote:
< Peter Bright kindly shared a rather nice interview with András Schiff in which the performer indicated the following:
>> We finish our super-healthy, low-calorie Japanese lunch, and Schiff returns one more time to the Goldberg Variations and offers a cautionary dietary tale.

He tells me about the technical difficulties of crossing hands at the keyboard, a technique much used by Bach but not so much by his contemporary Domenico Scarlatti. "In the early sonatas you get some incredible passages of crossing hands, but you don't find it in his later work. You know why? He got too fat."<<
This anecdotal information about Domenico Scarlatti is a myth that is often resurrected but infrequently corrected to what may be much closer to the truth.

1) The myth is ascribable to Dr. Burney in his "The Present State of Music in Germany, Vol. I, pp. 247-249.

2) The chronological listing of Scarlatti's sonatas reveals that a few of his latest sonatas also include quite a bit of handcrossings.

3) A portrait of Scarlatti (1752) by Amiconi does not reveal a tendency toward corpulency, however the Queen, who was his student was known to be extremely corpulent even before she had ascended to the throne.

Information gathered primarily from pp. 170-171 of "Domenico Scarlatti" by Ralph Kirckpatrick (Princeton University Press, 1953, 1981.) >
You're right, Thomas, and thanks for pointing out that Scarlatti myth.

Another part of it: that patroness' name was Maria Barbara, and there is a theory in some scholarly circles that she helped to compose some of Scarlatti's sonatas. In school we referred to this amongst ourselves as the "Barbarian" thesis.

Here's that famous portrait with Barbie in the middle, and Scarlatti and Farinelli up in the balcony to the right: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/amigoni_flipart_barbara.jpg
(Painting by Amigoni, 1752, engraved by Flipart; scooped from: http://www.calcografianacional.com/ )

There's also the joke by Peter Schickele based on this whole thing, where he sets up "PDQ Bach's" continuo playing...that PDQ got so fat that he eventually just had to dispense with the part of improvising the right-hand, which was the harder part anyway, and just play the bass.

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 13, 2004):
< Another part of it: that patroness' name was Maria Barbara, and there is a theory in some scholarly circles that she helped to compose some of Scarlatti's sonatas. In school we referred to this amongst ourselves as the "Barbarian" thesis. >
A good summary of the Scarlatti research since Ralph Kirkpatrick's book (i.e. from 1953 through 1993) is the chapter by Frederick Hammond in this book: Amazon.com
Extensive bibliography there, too.

I have not yet looked at the newest New Grove article about Scarlatti; that of course would have some newer citations than Hammond's. Hammond's chapter here in the Marshall book is a good read, anyway, for anyone seeking information more recent than Kirkpatrick's (already excellent) book about the composer. He brings up all sorts of issues about the source situations, the chronologies, performance practices, and instrumentation that simply weren't available yet when Kirkpatrick did the bulk of his work.

The crack about "Barbarian" is (IIRC) in an article by Kirkpatrick himself, the one from 1973 published in Notes. He responded somewhat sarcastically to some of the recent Scarlatti research at the time, especially (IIRC) Joel Sheveloff's dissertation where many of his own findings and assumptions were questioned. There was certainly some discomfort there.

Also, something more recent: a musician named John Sankey is attempting to publish on the Internet all of Scarlatti's sonatas in a new edition of his own devising based on the Parma readings (the ones available in facsimile, resequenced by Kirkpatrick according to his Venice chronology). Sankey uses round note-heads and diamond shaped note-heads to distinguish which hand should play what. Pretty interesting; I've downloaded some of them and played through them a few years ago. Quite an enterprise there: http://www.johnsankey.ca/scarlattimus.html

 

Bach's encyclopedic enquiry

Jack Botelho wrote (February 13, 2004):
Johan van Veen said:
"It is also suggested Bach was inspired by the 30 'Essercizi per gravicembalo' by Domenico Scarlatti which were published in London in 1738. I understand it is not known for sure, though, whether Bach knew Scarlatti's music, so maybe that is just speculation."
There has been some debate on this list concerning music by other composers that Bach may have known. The following is a point of view on this matter:

Bach was a most prodigious music collector. He became familiar with almost all published works that were circulated by the German book sellers. He was intensely interested in the work of other composers; although he did not travel to any French or Italian music centres himself, he believed it unnecessary as he could keep abreast of the latest developments in musical style by reading the work of others. The list of music given in his estate is by no means an indication of the only material he was familiar with. Large numbers of works which we now know Bach was aquainted with are not present on that list. A more accurate investigation into this matter would be an enquiry into the total inventory of music various German book sellers dealt with during Bach's lifetime. Publications travelled rapidly by coach, and correspondence by post with these sellers meant that Bach did not always have to travel to acquire such material. It may also be well-worth investigating whether various sellers loaned out music for a fee, which could then be accessed and subsequently returned.

In short, Bach's encyclopedic interest in music insured nothing less than a most fervent exploration of the work of others; it went hand-in-hand with the scope of his composing art.

Perhaps the above is highly speculative, but worth stating nonetheless.

 

Bach influenced by Scarlatti?

Bradley Lehman wrote (February 13, 2004):
< It is also suggested Bach was inspired by the 30 'Essercizi per gravicembalo' by Domenico Scarlatti which were published in London in 1738. I understand it is not known for sure, though, whether Bach knew Scarlatti's music, so maybe that is just speculation. >
Stylistically and formally: Bach's C Minor Fantasia 906 is a Scarlatti-esque sonata in everything but name.

But, there's an autograph source of it from the mid to late 1720s, and another autograph of ten years later. There are facsimiles of both of these, and detailed explanation, in: Amazon.com

Marshall there suggests that the first version may have been in some draft of the C minor partita (BWV 826) instead of the present opening movement of it (the "Sinfonia"). And, the second version was maybe entertained at some time for the second book of preludes and fugues (i.e. the "Well-Tempered Clavier" II), as there is part of a fugue after it in this copy.

That's plausible; but, in any case, Bach didn't end up using this piece for either the partita or preludes/fugues. Still, it is a nice little example of binary-sonata form (and a blast to play).

My own little suggestion is: when the Scarlatti collection came out in 1738 and 1739, what if Bach made this second copy of BWV 906 to show somebody that he'd already written something like those Scarlatti pieces? The appearance a prominent collection of binary sonatas would be a good excuse to revisit that older piece of his own.

In that first autograph there's a funny accident in each half. Bach gets to the end of each page (i.e. the double bar where it repeats) and in both cases everything fits into the pre-ruled staves...except for one measure! So, in both places, he crams the last measure into the bottom margin on tiny new staves. It's pretty easy to imagine Bach's verbal invective (to himself) having already crammed the notes in as tightly as they can be, only to find that it still doesn't quite fit on the page as anticipated. #^#*$&*#&$$!!!!!

 

Bach - Scarlatti Connection

Thomas Braatz wrote (February 14, 2004):
With all this discussion of the Goldberg Variations (cross-hand variations) and Bach's possible acquaintance with the works of Domenico Scarlatti, here is Dorothea Schröder's article on Brunckhorst in the New Grove (Oxford University Press, 2003):

>>Brunckhorst, Arnold [Andreas] Matthias [Melchior, Martin]

(b Celle or Wietzendorf, 1670; d ?Hanover, 1725). German composer and organist. From 1693 to 1697 he was employed as an organist at Hildesheim, first at the church of St Martini, then at the Andreaskirche. In 1697 he was called by Duke Georg Wilhelm of Brunswick-Lüneburg to become organist of the Stadtkirche in Celle, where a large organ had been erected in 1653 as a ducal donation. Around 1700 he may have met the young J.S. Bach on one of his visits from Lüneburg to hear the duke’s famous French instrumentalists. When the court was dissolved after Georg Wilhelm’s death in 1705, Brunckhorst retained his post until, in 1720, he was appointed court organist at Hanover. In this capacity he is last mentioned in the ‘Hamburgischer Relations-Courier’ of 10 August 1723. The paper reported that the organ of the residential church had been greatly enlarged at Brunckhorst’s instigation. He was also frequently called on to test new organs, but he did not work as an organ-builder himself, as some writers have supposed from a misinterpretation of a passage in J.H. Biermann’s ‘Organographia’ (Hildesheim, 1738).

Brunckhorst’s one-movement keyboard sonata, written about 1715–20, is a remarkably early testimony to the reception of Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas in Germany; Bach is said to have owned the autograph at one time. The only surviving example of Brunckhorst’s organ music, a prelude and fugue, shows features typical of the post-Buxtehude north German style, while his Christmas and Easter cantatas are obviously influenced by the Thuringian tradition: choral polyphony has been abandoned in favour of simple homophonic movements, most of them in the same key. The melodic invention, however, is original. During his years at Celle Brunckhorst dedicated to the duke several Passion works, now lost, the payment for which is documented in the account books.<<

 

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Last update: ýJanuary 25, 2011 ý17:49:20