Alessandro Scarlatti

Biography of the Italian composer Alessandro Scarlatti by Rosalind Halton

No Italian baroque composer produced more varied or more vividly singable music in his time than Alessandro Scarlatti. A compulsive worker, driven perhaps by the poverty of his childhood in famine-stricken Sicily, he made an early success as an opera composer in Rome, gaining the favour and protection of Queen Cristina of Sweden. With both his sisters giving rise to scandal and gossip, Alessandro and other members of his family left Rome in 1684 for Naples, where he took up the position of maestro di cappella at the vice-regal Court. A year later, in 1685, his most famous son, Domenico, was born. More successful operas followed, but Scarlatti was equally involved in the more intimate genre of the cantata.

By 1700 political instability at the court in Naples led him to look elsewhere, first to Prince Ferdinando de' Medici in 1702. He received a few opera contracts - resulting in the composition of the operas he regarded as his best (Lucio Manlio, and Il Gran Tamerlano). These lost works are the subject of a fascinating correspondence between composer and his patron. But Florence did not offer him long-term work and Rome became his base again, with employment at San Maria Maggiore. In 1706 he was at the peak of his activity in Rome, and was elected to the Arcadian Academy, one of few musicians to be so honoured, along with Corelli and Pasquini. 

Above all, Rome offered Scarlatti the opportunity to develop the cantata and the serenata. Opera was banned altogether by Papal ordinance during much of his time in Rome. But the existence of the Accademia Arcadiana and the regular conversazioni of the Roman artistic patrons, Cardinals Ottoboni and Pamphili, and Prince Ruspoli, regularly brought together poets and musicians, with a sophisticated audience in an environment that encouraged subtlety and experimentation.

Rome in 1707 and 1708 was also the scene for Handel's many triumphs in oratorio and cantata. Nothing is documented on the subject, but maybe it is no coincidence that he left Rome soon after Handel's extended visit. 1707 saw Scarlatti in Venice, with a new opera, and a visit to Urbino followed, where he composed a number of chamber duets on pastoral themes. Towards the end of 1708 he accepted the Austrian Vice-Roy's invitation to return to his position in Naples, taking the place of Francesco Mancini, who had served in Scarlatti's prolonged absence. In 1716 he received the honour of a knighthood from Pope Clement XI.

From works like his Regole per Principianti, a treatise on figured bass, it seems that Scarlatti was active as a teacher; the German composers Quantz and Hasse were among those who sought him out. His last opera, Griselda composed for Rome in 1721, shows great spirit and energy, as does the cantata, Là dove a Mergellina dated 1725, the year of his death. 

Studies of composers usually stress the large-scale works - the operas and oratorios - but with Alessandro Scarlatti it is in the cantatas that we see his most perfectly realised and imaginative music. He excelled in the art of the soliloquy and the duet, in detailed imagery, in dialogue between voice and instruments - all features that find unrivalled outlet in his cantatas. 

Rosalind Halton 2000.
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A Scarlatti: Agitato mio core
Forces: soprano & continuo

Dated on the first page as 'in Albano 1704'. Despite Eurilla's promise of fidelity her erstwhile beloved is nervous (small wonder with her track history) and his heart is all 'a-flutter'. RARA format with a particularly interesting format for the first aria Quietati.

Source: Münster Santini Sammlung Hs 3907(1)

Range: e - a''

Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
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A Scarlatti: Ahi che sará di me? (Floro e Tirsi)
Forces: 2 sopranos & continuo

2nd September, 1707. A substantial work where our two young men work with a text concerning the pains and joys of love containing 4 duets, two arias and a single recitative.

Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à due soprani
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A Scarlatti: Amo, e negar nol posso
Forces: soprano & continuo

Dated on the first page as 'Decembre 1704'. A large work with three recits and arias, two of the arias being particularly exciting and the third a lovely Siciliano. The subject deals with the power of love, once again.

Source: Münster Santini Sammlung Hs 3907(4) There is also a possible attribution to Sarro

Range: d - a''

Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
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A Scarlatti: Andate o miei sospiri
Forces: soprano & continuo

"Go, oh my sighs, to Irene's heart, May it know of my pains by you..." An intensely chromatic work with two versions of the final aria. In most sources dated 10 March, 1712 and was composed in response to a cantata by Francesco Gasparini based on the same text. The second version of the final aria aria here is from a later version with the subtitle: con idea inumana, in regolato cromatico, ma non è per ogni professore – the final aria itself is inscribed with the words: Altr'aria capriccio dell' Autore

Range: d - g'

Editor: Kate Eckersley & James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
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A Scarlatti: Augellin vago e canoro
Forces: soprano, 2 recorders & continuo

Source: Santini Sammlung, Diözesan Library, Münster: Hs. 3975, ff. 35-59v

The image of the caged bird appears frequently in vocal music of the Italian baroque – maybe a poignant image to the many castrati whose voice was itself the cage within which life was lived. In cantatas such as ‘Augellin’, the bird functions as symbol of the lover imprisoned by the pain of love unreturned. 3 arias and two recits.

Editor: Rosalind Halton

Cantata à voce sola di soprano con flauti
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A Scarlatti: Bei Prati, freschi rivi
Forces: soprano & continuo

A beautiful cantata showing Scarlatti in great inventive mode. The theme is of love lost or gone away: death would be preferable, but even after death he is sure still to long for her. He calls Nature to witness his suffering, but only the merest echo comes back as a reply. RARA format, both arias complicated and chromatic and the recitatives full of harmonic twists and turns.

Source: Münster Santini Sammlung HS 3915(3)

Range: c - g'

Editor: James Sanderson

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A Scarlatti: Bella, bella quanto crudel
Forces: mezzo-soprano & continuo

Despite appalling treatment, Irene's lover remains constant and wants more (remind you of anyone?) Complex recits and some exciting chromatic harmonies in the arias. RARA format.

Source: Münster Santini HS 859 (11)

Range: d - e'

Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
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A Scarlatti: Cantata notturna
Forces: mezzo-soprano, violins & continuo

'Filli che fra gl'orrori di notte si tranquilla'

Outpourings of the lover to Filli in the quiet of night. A concise yet heartfelt composition, dated 1706, for low-mezzo soprano and unison violins: an ideal introduction to the art of singing with an obligato part in Scarlatti's style.

Vocal range: d'-f''

Editor: Rosalind Halton

Cantata à voce sola di soprano con violini
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A Scarlatti: Che Sisifo infelice
Forces: soprano & continuo

The subject deals with that old favourite 'lontananza' or separation using the image of Sisyphus pushing rocks uphill to illustrate the hopelessness of the lover's cause. A cantata with much to recommend it, come great recitative and aria writing. RARA format.

Source: Münster Santini Samlung HS 3977

Range: d - f#'

Editor: James Sanderson

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A Scarlatti: Chi sà dove è la speranza
Forces: soprano, flute & continuo

Fillide is totally in love with Olindo and hopes that Cupid will support her love (she's not confident!) while he is away (lontananza). A lovely, simple example of a single line obligato accompaniment to soprano and continuo.

The source is Münster Santini Sammlung Hs 3975, provided by Sascha Mommertz. The cantata is simply inscribed Cantata a voce sola con flauto and there may be some question as to the attribution to A Scarlatti, although Hs 3975 contains a large number of cantatas ascribed to A Scarlatti.

Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di soprano con flauto
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A Scarlatti: Cinta dei più bei fiori
Forces: soprano & continuo

"Surrounded by so many beautiful flowers" and so much beautiful music. This is a substantial pastoral cantata (with an appearance by the faithless Clori) in RARARA format. Sinuous recitative and stunning arias!

Range: e - g'

Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
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A Scarlatti: Clori e Mirtillo
Forces: soprano, alto & continuo Source: Santini HS 3903

A totally charming duo cantata in which Love is neither insulted nor threatened! The lovers, Clori and Mirtillo, are actually happy AND in one another's company. This of course leads to quite a lot of music - two duets and an aria each, all linked with some excellent recitative.

Range (Clori): g - g'
Range (Mirtillo): c - c'

Editor: James Sanderson

Duetto da camera à soprano e contralto
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A Scarlatti: Deh' torna amico sonno (Il Sonno)
Forces: soprano & continuo

Here, dreams are the only escape from the pain of love. 'Oh come, oh merciful sleep...' In torturously complex recitatives and two characterful arias, Scarlatti shows himself once again to the be the master of the genre. From two sources in the Naples Conservatorii - Cantate 23 (7) and 255 (24) and dated September 22nd, 1716, this is a real gem.

Editor: James Sanderson

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A Scarlatti: Del lagrimoso lido (Euridice dall'inferno)
Forces: soprano & continuo

The Orfeo story as told by Euridice, who implores Orfeo to recover her from hell (Aria 1), then addresses the Furies in the dramatic 2nd Aria with contrasting B section. The text of Aria 3 expresses cautious optimism, but the music undermines this with a fragmented coloratura in f# minor. Powerful recitatives and contrasted arias (b minor, F major, f# minor) make this a strong character portrayal. The edition gives Scarlatti's two settings of Aria 1 - the first a chromatic ground bass, the 'other way' a more modern cantabile aria, both capturing the pathos of Euridice.

Range - e'-a''

Form: R-A-R-A-R-A

Editor: Rosalind Halton

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
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A Scarlatti: Del' Tirreno à le sponde
Forces: soprano & continuo

Source: BL Add MS 14211 ff 58r - 64r

This sad, pastoral cantata sees our hero Fileno languishing for lost love (of Clori of course) on the banks of the Tyrrhenian Sea - the scene of many a fevered brow! In double recit-aria format, both arias andante but vastly different. Some excellent changes from secco recit into arioso.

Range: e - g'

Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
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A Scarlatti: Della spietata Irene
Forces: soprano & continuo

Why do these men keep coming back for more? This perfidious Irene can kill with a glance, has Cupid on her side and just doesn't care! One of Scarlatti's more chromatic offerings in RARA format, both arias full of peno.

Range d - f'

Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
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A Scarlatti: Dove fuggi, ò bella Clori?
Forces: soprano, alto, violins & continuo

A virtuoso duet cantata for soprano and alto with strings, a mini-opera with wit, pathos, and brilliance. Lidio is in hot pursuit of Clori - but she scorns love and all his protestations, until in the final duet they join in praise of the joys and pains of love. Published by kind permission of the Diözesan-Bibliothek, Münster.

Range Clori: d'-g''
Range Lidio: b-c''

Editor: Rosalind Halton

Cantata à due, soprano e contralto con violini
£7.95
A Scarlatti: E come, oh Dio
Forces: soprano & continuo

[ca.1697/8]

Remarkable, dramatic recitatives, female narrator, theme of jealousy caused by separation; range: d'- g

Editor: Rosalind Halton

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
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A Scarlatti: E perchè non seguite ò Pastorelle
Forces: soprano, 2 flutes, 2 violins and continuo

A significant work for voice and instruments on a pastoral theme in varied formats of aria, arioso, strophic song etc. The accreditation to Scarlatti is potentially disputed, the source is Münster Santini Sammlung Hs 3975, provided by Sascha Mommertz. The cantata is inscribed: Cantata con violini e flauti Del Sigr Allesso Scarlatti

A pastoral idyll, once again love is thwarted by Clori!

Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di contralto con flauti e violini
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A Scarlatti: Era giunta quell' ora
Forces: soprano & continuo

Dated on the first page as '29 Novembre 1704'. Our protagonist has given in to the power of love and once more Fileno will be in Clori's arms. Her breast has far more allure than anything else! RARA format with two rapid-fire arias including an excellent Minuet.

Source: Münster Santini Sammlung Hs 3907(6)

Range: e - a''

Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
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A Scarlatti: Fileno, quel Fileno
Forces: soprano, violins & continuo

The work consists of the two recitative-two aria structure, with each aria accompanied by unison violins, and in the keys of B minor and G major respectively. The attribution is added in what is apparently the same hand providing the attribution and date to a number of cantata and serenata manuscripts in the Santini Collection, including Filli che fra gl'orrori, dated 1706.

In the beautiful kingdom of love there is hope only when faith reigns in a heart.

Vocal range: e’-g’’

Editor: Rosalind Halton

Cantata à voce sola di soprano con violini
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A Scarlatti: Fille, Fille, dolente Fille
Forces: soprano & continuo

As the title suggests, Fille is sad...but, disturbingly, she likes the treatment she is getting from Tirsi: 'I will enjoy my pains, because I adore the chains...' Disturbing! A wonderful cantata in RARA format, Scarlatti at his most harmonically adventurous.

Source: Naples, Cantate 266

Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
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A Scarlatti: Fille, mia cara Fille
Forces: soprano & continuo

A wonderfully chromatic work from 1704 (November 4th), the chromaticism expressing the tortures of loving such an unfaithful woman as Fille (the usual). Long, complex recitatives and two very contrasting arias.

Range: d - f#'

Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
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A Scarlatti: Filli adorata, e cara
Forces: soprano & continuo

Why do these men suffer so? Despite being separated from his beloved, our protagonist sings of his love for her being the reason for his life. His soul yearns and his death will swiftly follow, should she not return. Yeah, right! RARA format, one aria slow and sinuous, the other fast and virtuosic.

Range c - g'

Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
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A Scarlatti: Filli e Clori, 'Amica, hora che Aprile'
Forces: 2 sopranos, violins & continuo

Sources: edition based on 4 17th-early 18th century manuscripts in the Santini Collection (Münster), the British Library, and the Bodleian Library, Oxford. [the details are in the editorial notes]

Description: Filli persuades the reluctant Clori to abandon city life for the delights of the country, where she is sure to make new conquests in the hunt of love. Both Filli and Clori have 2 arias of 2 strophes each, interspersed with ritornelli. In the magical final duet, the girls agree to prepare their feet for dancing, and their arms for the hunt. Cardinal Ottoboni's documents mention a performance of 'Amica, hora che Aprile' dated 13 July, 1694. The survival of this work in several sources suggests it was a well-known work in its day.

Editor: Rosalind Halton

Cantata à due soprani e violini
£9.95
A Scarlatti: Già sorge l'Alba (Dorisbe cacciatrice)
Forces: soprano & continuo

A large cantata telling the story of the huntress Dorisbe. Her face is compared to the snares of Cupid, her bow to Cupid's darts and the listener is exhorted to hunt animals, not Love. In a complicated RAARARAA format, the last aria gradually becoming arioso then recitative. Some excellent hunting motifs in the music, particularly evoking the sound of the hunting horn.

Sources: Münster Santini Sammlung HS 3977 and HS 864

Range: c - g'

Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
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A Scarlatti: Giù di Vulcan
Forces: alto & continuo

Join the god Vulcan in his depths to discuss the changeable nature of love. RARA format with some wonderfully sinuous writing in recitative and aria.

Source: Münster Santini Sammlung HS 3909

Range: b flat - d'

Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di contralto
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A Scarlatti: Hor che di Febo
Forces: soprano, violins & continuo

One of Scarlatti's masterpieces for soprano with violins. This solo Serenata, introduced by its Corellian Sinfonia, traces the journey of a lover who aims to steal a glimpse of the sleeping beloved. The image of love as a flower pushing through the icy ground, with shivering violin figures, leads to the final sublime aria and unaccompanied farewell of the lover.

Range: d'- a'''

Aria 3, violins marked 'soli' in one source.

Editor: Rosalind Halton

Cantata à voce sola di soprano con violini
£7.95
A Scarlatti: Il ciel seren, le fresche aurette (La Primavera)
Forces: 2 sopranos & continuo

Source: Santini Collection, 3901 Diözesan Bibliothek, Münster

La Primavera depicts a scene in which two girls await the return of their lovers, Tirsi and Fileno. Spring, the melting of ice, and the return of flowers, happiness and love are the subject of the girls’ conversation.

Vocal Ranges
Clori: d’- g’’
Lidia: d’- g’’

Editor: Rosalind Halton

Cantata per Camera a due Soprani Clori e Lidia Compagne
£5.95
A Scarlatti: Il genio di Mitilde
Forces: soprano & continuo

Source: Paris Bibliothèque Nationale, MS D.11840

The capricious Mitilde has more moods than the sea has storms, and Scarlatti depicts her in a fiery cantata with exciting demands for singer, cellist and keyboard player.

Range - e' g''.

2 Recits and arias: 1. Spiritoso, D minor; 2. Alla breve, A major

Editor: Rosalind Halton

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
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A Scarlatti: Imagini d'orrore
Forces: bass, violins & continuo

Cantata for bass and strings, 2 arias and 1 recit

Source: autograph dated 16 July, 1710, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. Fileno is tormented by doubt and constant visions of Clori's unfaithfulness. Aria 1 features a fully integrated texture of voice and 2 violin parts, with Aria 2 a vigorous piece for unison violins. Fine dramatic scoring.

Range: G - e flat'

Editor: Rosalind Halton

Cantata da Camera, Basso con Violini
Out of Stock
£5.95
A Scarlatti: In vano Amor tiranno
Forces: soprano & continuo

The first line says it all: Cupid is trying to destroy another young man's life with his darts and this guy is fighting back! An extensive work in RARARA format, the first two arias slow and sinuous, the last more matter-of-fact and resigned to fate.

Range: d - g'

Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
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A Scarlatti: Io son Neron (Il Nerone)
Forces: soprano & continuo

This cantata was written in 1698 and is from a manuscript with a number of other mythological or historical themes rather than pastoral. The self-styled 'Emperor of the World', Nero, is certainly enjoying his ego! Florid and virtuosic. RARARAR format with a fiery recitative finish.

Source: Münster Santini Sammlung HS 3909

Range: d - b'' flat

Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
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A Scarlatti: La dove a Mergellina
Forces: Soprano & continuo

There at Mergellina where the sea kisses the shore, the lovelorn Elpino went alone one day, addressing the waves: "Love him that loves you..." A stunning example of the genre in a long-awaited edition from Rosalind Halton and a must have for the lovers of cantate de camera. In RARA format and taken from two sources, Naples and London.

Editor: Rosalind Halton

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
£4.95
A Scarlatti: La morte di Mitilde
Forces: soprano & continuo

Mitilde dies and with her dies the flame of Love. A challenging and fascinating example in RARA format, the recitatives travelling through widely disparate tonalities and the contrasting arias, one a stunning Adagio and one a classic cut-common rage against the tyrant, have very clearly defined characters and great musical values.

The source is a manuscript in the Naples collections. Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di soprano
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A Scarlatti: Leandro anima mia (Ero e Leandro)
Forces: alto & continuo

Hero calls for Leander who is attempting to swim the Hellespont to meet her. Upon his death she reacts to his loss and her reaction is interpreted by a narrator character in a final aria. In RARARA format.

Source: Münster Santini Sammlung HS 3909

Range: c - d'

Editor: James Sanderson

Cantata à voce sola di contralto
£4.95
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