Thursday, July 30, 2009

Domenico 1° & 2°

I spent the first weeks of spring/summer finishing a chapter for an upcoming book, entitled Weinzweig; Essays on his Life and Music, edited by John Beckwith and Brian Cherney. I had spent parts of the previous two years working on that project, but I was very glad to learn more about the music of one of the truly great icons of Canadian music. I may elaborate on this in future blogs.

Having finished the chapter meant I could focus my energies on composing music once again, and the first project I gleefully tackled was a solo piano piece inspired by Domenico Scarlatti for my friend and colleague, Kristina Szutor.

In early 2010, Dr. Szutor will be recording a CD of contemporary piano works inspired by the Italian Baroque composer, Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), and she had asked me to compose something for that purpose. The name for the CD is Après Scarlatti. Other composers represented on this CD are Clifford Crawley, Dennis Farell, Norman Dello Joio, Marcel Bitsch, Marcelle de Manziarly, and Marc-André Hamelin.

I wasn't quite sure of how to go about writing a contemporary piece based on Scarlatti's music at first, but, as with so many initially-perplexing ideas in life, once I began to delve more deeply into it I discovered there was much to work with. I soon became quite excited by the project and ended up enjoying the experience very much (which doesn't always happen when I compose).

So much so, in fact, that when I was finished I decided to write another. Part of my rationale in composing a second work was a familiarity with musicologist/harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick's claim that the great majority (almost 400) of Scarlatti's 555 sonatas were written in pairs1 (and they are often performed this way), so it seemed somewhat anomalous to be composing an azygous Scarlatti-influenced sonata. ;)

As I subsequently learned, however, more recent scholarship (notably by W. Dean Sutcliffe, in The Keyboard Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and Eighteenth-Century Musical Style, Cambridge University Press, 2003) has challenged Kirkpatrick's claim,2 so it really came down to my feeling that having completed one, it would be fun to write another.

My introduction to Scarlatti's music came through learning guitar transcriptions of his sonatas, and one of the most popular of these amongst guitarists is K. 208 (L. 238) in A major (listen to a performance by Leo Brouwer here). Two of the most pervasive characteristics of that sonata are the steady, repeated, quarter notes in the left hand, and the flowing melody in the right hand with frequent syncopations; these ideas formed the basis of Domenico 1°. The working title for this piece was originally "Domenico Daybreak," and perhaps this will make sense if you hear it (click the "play" arrow in the audio player below; if it doesn't work, click here instead).

Domenico 1° (5:52):

The great majority of Scarlatti's professional life was spent on the Iberian peninsula, most of it in Spain, where he had five children, composed the majority of his single-movement harpsichord sonatas, and became familiar with flamenco music, the influence of which can be heard in some of his sonatas.

I had therefore planned Domenico 2° as a kind of fantasy based on flamenco-like scales (for example, phrygian mode with the possibility of raised third and seventh degrees), but I decided to make it an even-more overt homage to Scarlatti by quoting four bars of his Sonata in B minor (K. 27, which I transposed to A minor) that use a chord progression known as a "fandango," much associated with the music of Spain: Am - G - F - E, in 3/4 time. This quoted passage is also remarkable for the use of hand-crossings (left hand crossing above the right), an uncommon technique for the time it was written, and I based several other sections of my composition on Scarlatti's fandango material as well. If the audio player below doesn't work for you (it apparently does not work in Internet Explorer), click here instead.

Domenico 2° (7:48):3

1. Ralph Kirkpatrick, Domenico Scarlatti, (Princeton University Press, 1983), 143: "385 sonatas [were] indubitably arranged in pairs… not intended to be performed separately… The real meaning of many a Scarlatti sonata becomes much clearer once it is reassociated with its mate.… The relationship between the sonatas of a pair is either one of contrast or of complement. The sonatas that bear a complementary relationship to each other may share a certain overall unity of style or of instrumental character or they may be composed in the same harmonic color. In the contrasting pairs, a slow movement may be followed by a fast; a simple movement, generally slow, may serve as an introduction to a more elaborate; or an elaborate and concentrated movement may be followed by a simpler and lighter movement, for example a Minuet, which serves as a kind of Nachtanz.
2. "Not a single detailed commentary exists in support of any particular pair. Instead we find gestures towards opening thematic connections or an outlining of the sort of broad relationships defined by Kirkpatrick." (p. 368)
3. Sectional repeats are observed in this recording of Domenico 2° (but not in Domenico 1°).


Adam Batstone said...

I am looking forward to the Apres Scarlatti concert next semester. I have been studying two of his sonatas this semester (K.209 & K.213). Its great music that fits extremely well on guitar.

IT really is like a breath of fresh air from the Baroque period. He had a certain "sound" that I think set him apart from his contemporaries. Since he lived in spain for much of his life, you can almost hear the huge influence that Flamenco and spanish folk music had on his compositions.

After listening to literally hundreds of these sonatas played by Scott Ross. (He was the first to ever record them all), One thing that strikes me about Scarlattis compositional style is his ability to say exactly what he wants using the least notes possible. The sonatas are generally short, and what you see is what you get. Its just the music, nothing else. He really did master the A - B contrasting form.

SarahClement said...

I wish I could of heard this as I thoroughly enjoyed the Scarlatti inspired piece that Kristina played in her and Cheramy's concert of new works. I am interested in how you used the Fandago progression as I am fan of flamenco music and would like to learn more about how to work with folk music in a contemporary way. Unfortunately, my understanding of theory is extremely rudimentary and often leaves me unsure of how approach a project like this one.