Anne Queffélec SCARLATTI Ombre et lumière

‘This son of mine is an eagle whose wings are grown. He must not remain idle in the nest, and I must not hinder his flight.’ I have often dreamt about these words addressed to Ferdinando de’ Medici in Florence by an Alessandro Scarlatti conscious of the exceptional gifts of his sixth child, Domenico, then twenty years old, but who would nonetheless wait until the death of his highly attentive father before flying with his own wings. A bachelor until the age of forty-two, he married a sixteen-year-old girl and, severing all links in both substance and form with his paternal musical heritage, embarked on the composition of what he modestly called ‘exercises for the harpsichord’, which were gradually to grow into the unprecedented corpus of his 555 sonatas. It is with delight that the pianist, tempted by this treasure chest, obeys the words of Domenico himself, who invites his interpreter in a preface to be ‘more human than critical’ and thereby to share in the exhilaration of his creative freedom.
‘If you’re happy to play me on the piano, then you’ve grasped the spirit of my music’, which is human above all . . .
To move from the harpsichord to the piano is already to open the doors to the wide-open spaces of liberty. The radically different timbre invites one to different voyages. The substance changes with the sound. Yet this is no betrayal. Every musical text carries within it endless potentialities still to be discovered. Music is living matter, and how well Domenico Scarlatti knows that! The colour of the piano, which Scarlatti never heard, plays a revelatory role in many sonatas. It allows certain ‘Chopinesque’ melodic wanderings to assume a clearer contour; the vocal character blossoms thanks to the expressive possibilities of the instrument; the lyricism opens out. The wings are grown; the melody is free to sing!
My approach to the eighteen sonatas on this disc, chosen out of passion, is that of a lover, not a specialist. With the composer’s blessing, I have followed my performer’s intuition. Hence, for example, I have taken the liberty of not respecting the recommendation to combine the sonatas as far as possible in ‘pairs’ by key, devising my own dramaturgically contrasting ‘pairs’ (K32 and K517 in D minor, K54 and K149 in A minor). I have also dispensed with certain repeats: I play none in K279 in A major, the bucolic ingenuousness of which suggests to me an Italian version of the French folksong Nous n’irons plus au bois . . . I didn’t want to linger here, fearing it would overemphasise the subtle melancholy of the central section. Wishing to remain on the final interrogation, I did not repeat the second part of the enigmatic K147 in E minor, whose agitation foreshadows the era of Sturm und Drang. Similarly, in the noble unfolding of its sadness, the poignant K109 in A minor seems to me to sustain its gravity with greater force when the second part is not duplicated.
Scarlatti’s liberty is contagious in its dazzling rhythmic and melodic inventiveness, which sizzles, swarms, gambols, then suddenly leaps down from the stage and comes to rest; selfconfidence, imploration, pure desolation, solitude, autumn, winter, the four seasons of Scarlatti are in his sonatas. The man of the three suns, of Naples, Lisbon, and Madrid, is also familiar with the shadows. He goes off at a tangent in the midst of gaiety, exploring harmonic byways that touch the heartstrings. His perpetually renewed ludus musicalis, his decampments take us far away, into the territory of Mozartian ambiguity, limpidity with infinite hinterlands.
In music there are Tenebrae Lessons, ‘Lessons of darkness’. The sonatas of Scarlatti are ‘Lessons of
light’. (Anne Queffélec)

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