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Classidelity Hörstoff: The Third Life of Domenico Scarlatti – Discovering a world musician

First, conventional opera composer in Italy, then completely unconventional harpsichord composer in Spain. Now, in his third life, Domenico Scarlatti mutated the figurehead of a multicultural inspired creativity

Actually he wrote so vocal music – like his father, the famous opera composer. What could he otherwise have written in Italy in the early 18th century, at the court of Naples, Florence and Venice, the Vatican in Rome? Oratorios course, church music – and even operas: the usual subjects, historical and mythological themes. About the late Egyptian kings and queens, Ptolemy, Alexander, Berenice. About gods and heroes of ancient mythology, Iphigenia, Tethis, Narcissus. About Shakespearean characters such as Hamlet ( “Ambleto”). The authority changed, but the big success was slow in coming. By mid 30 Domenico Scarlatti therefore took on a job abroad – away from the competition and far away from the father. Also, although in the distant Lisbon waited the duties of Kapellmeister at him –
concerts, operas, church music. But there was still another object: piano lessons for the royal children.

French composer Paul Dukas summed up his impression of Isaac Albéniz as “Don Quixote with the manner of Sancho Panza”. Indeed, almost every photograph of the great Spanish composer and pianist shows a plump, well-dressed man with a smile beaming under his moustache and a cigar in hand. To his friends he was cultured, highly respected, generous with his wallet and a great storyteller. He spoke many languages, was well read and collected books, abanicos (Spanish fans) and paintings. A man with the wit, humility and heft of a Panza, but also the romance, charm, elegance and culture of a Quixote – minus the madness, of course.

Dukas’s description is equally apt for the music of Albéniz. Though usually categorized as being of a salon nature, it is not only charming and pleasant but contains deep emotional expression. Perhaps not the deep expression of Brahms or Dvorak, but certainly far beyond the boundaries of other Spanish salon music of the time. With his endless striving to develop his talent, Albéniz created a new style of Spanish music based on the incorporation of advanced harmony and form. Antonio Ruiz-Pipo, one of Spain’s foremost twentieth century pianists, wrote that “when it’s said that many composers of our century imitate his españolismo, that word is not understood in its true dimension of its definition. If they talk of the Spanish forms and melodies of Albéniz, it is because he invented them and created a Hispanic idea of music such that it persuades them to identify with this country.”

Feature Interview for Classical Guitar Magazine
By Oliver McGhie

‘I’VE QUIT smoking.’ That’s Stephen Marchionda’s news. ‘I was probably smoking the last time you saw me. In fact, was I? No, I wasn’t. I had quit then but I’d started up again because my mother had gotten a serious illness and I spent some stressful time with her in hospital while she recovered. Thank God. But I’ve quit now. It’s been four months and I’m back to being normal again.’ Marchionda digs into a sandwich eyeing his drink carefully, before murmuring something about ‘…especially with that beer…’

This is my second meeting with Stephen. The first time it was in a coffee house near Wigmore Hall, this time in a small pub in Belgravia near to Victoria station down one of those small alleys into cobbled court yard, where it looks like you’ve stepped a hundred years back into Dickensian/Edwardian London.

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From 1738 onward, the Italian Domenico Scarlatti, while living in Spain, composed more than five hundred sonatas for harpsichord that are flavored by Iberian temperament. That these works can also very well be performed on the modern guitar has been shown by the American guitarist and Spanish resident Stephen Marchionda, who has now recorded these works for the first time on a Super Audio CD.

Scarlatti wrote his sonatas mainly as practice pieces for his pupil Queen Maria Barbara. In many of these works he combined his early form of writing with the influences of the flamenco and other Spanish dance forms to shape his very own and personal style. It is thus startling how Scarlatti incorporated folk elements into his sonatas that were written for aristocratic settings – integrating and imitating everyday sound experiences.