1902 Encyclopedia > Alessandro Scarlatti

Alessandro Scarlatti
Italian composer

ALESSANDRO SCARLATTI (1659-1725), composer of sacred and dramatic music, was born at Trapani in Sicily in 1659, and became in early youth a pupil of Carissimi. In 1680 Queen Christina of Sweden appointed him her maestro di cappella, and commissioned him to write his first opera, L'Onesta nell' Amore, for performance at her palace in Borne. In 1693 he produced his first oratorio, I Dolori di Maria sempre Vergine. In the following year he was appointed maestro di cappella to the viceroy of Naples, and from that time forward his works multiplied with astonishing rapidity, his time being spent partly in Naples and partly in Rome, where he entered the service of Cardinal Ottoboni, as private maestro di cappella. His prodigious fertility of invention did not, however, tempt him to write carelessly. On the contrary he did his best to neutralize the evil caused by the founders of the monodic school, whose insane hatred of counterpoint and form reduced their dramatic music to the dreary level of monotonous declamation. He was by far the most learned contrapuntist of his age; and it was to this circumstance that his compositions owed their resistless power. Moreover, his sense of form was as just as his feeling for harmony, and to this he was indebted for the originality of many of his finest conceptions. He has been credited with two very important inventions—accompanied recitative and the da capo. That he really did invent the first there is very little doubt. Instances of the latter have been found of earlier date than most of his works, but he was certainly the first to bring it into general use. He also struck out ideas in his orchestral accompaniments which must have seemed bold indeed to the musicians of the period, using obbligato passages and other combinations previously unknown, and introducing ritovnelli and sinfonie with excellent effect. In 1707 Scarlatti was appointed principal maestro di cappella at Santa Maria Maggiore, and soon afterwards he was invested by the pope with the order of the Golden Spur, with which Gluck and Mozart were afterwards honoured. He resigned his appointment after two years' service, and died at Naples October 24, 1725.

Very few of Scarlatti's works have been published. His compositions include 115 operas (41 only of which are now known to exist, and these only in MS.), 200 masses 9 oratorios, more than 500 cantatas, and innumerable smaller pieces, both sacred and secular. MSS. of three of his operas, Gerone, II Flavio Cuniberto, and La Teodora Augusta, are preserved in the library of Christ Church, Oxford ; and II Prigionicro Fortunate forms part of the " Dragonetti Collection " in the British Museum.

Alessandro Scarlatti was the father of DOMENICO SCARLATTI.

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