On today’s date in 1719, the Papal ambassador in Lisbon noted the arrival of a fellow Italian, a composer named Domenico Scarlatti. Domenico was in his early 30s, and the son of Alessandro Scarlatti, a very famous and influential composer of Baroque operas in Naples.
At the time, Domenico was nowhere near as famous as his father, and had come to Lisbon to serve as the music teacher for an 8-year old Portuguese princess named Maria Magdalena Barbara. Well, this teaching gig turned out to be the most important event in the life of Domenico Scarlatti for two reasons.
First, the little princess was mad about music, and became a very talented performer on the harpsichord. Second, in 1733, when the princess was 22, she married into the Spanish royal house, becoming the Queen of Spain. Scarlatti remained in her service for the next 25 years, composing for her amusement over 500 harpsichord sonatas.
These sonatas include the rhythms and colors of Spanish and Portuguese folk music, with the plucked sound of the harpsichord often mimicking a Spanish guitar. Only a small number of Scarlatti’s sonatas were published during his lifetime, but long after his death they attracted the attention and admiration of composers ranging from Chopin to Brahms to Bartok, and eventually all the sonatas that survived in manuscript were published, attracting the attention and admiration of modern performers on both the harpsichord and piano.
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