Stabat Mater - Domenico Scarlatti (1685 - 1757)

Domenico Scarlatti was born in Naples in the same year as Handel and J. S. Bach. As the son of a musical and domineering father (Alessandro Scarlatti), he was destined for a career in music from his birth. In 1701 he was appointed organist and composer of the vice-regal court in Naples and, after a failed attempt to gain employment with the Medici family in Florence the following year, he returned to Naples to write opera. In 1705 his father sent him to Venice (where he befriended Handel), but in 1707 he rejoined his father in Rome, where he remained for 12 years, occupying various positions, including maestro to the dowager Queen of Poland and the Marquis de Fontes, and maestro of the Cappella Giulia, St Peter’s, from 1714.
In 1709 he took part in a 'musical duel' with Handel and was voted the better harpsichord player (although Handel received the prize for the best organist). Although Scarlatti had provided music for both sacred and secular employers, he was unable to free himself from his father until he obtained legal independence in 1717. In 1719 Scarlatti resigned his positions in Rome and spent some years in Palermo before taking up his next post as mestre of the Portuguese court in Lisbon, where his duties included giving keyboard lessons to John V’s daughter, Maria Barbara. When Maria Barbara married the Spanish crown prince in 1729, Scarlatti followed her to Seville and thence to Madrid, where he spent the rest of his life.
Much of Scarlatti’s fame rests on the 555 sonatas for clavichord, composed during his years in Spain and later taken to Italy in by Scarlatti’s colleague, the castrato Farinelli. As well as these masterpieces, Scarlatti also produced a considerable quantity of operas, secular cantatas and church music. The ‘Stabat Mater’ is perhaps Scarlatti’s best-known choral work and was written in 1715 before he left Rome. It is written for 10 voices and continuo and shuns the use of any concertante instrument as well as any double-choir writing, using solo voices emerging from the polyphonic texture to emphasise expressive passages. The austerity and reflective quality of the work stand out against the bel canto mode prevalent at the time and convey the composer’s spiritual intentions to the full.

Barry Creasy


Collegium Musicum of London


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