It is uncommon to combine a composer of the first half of the eighteenth century and the accordion, but not so illogical: if he had in his time an instrument like the one played by Dellarole, surely the curious and omnivorous Domenico would have used it! And if he lived twenty years later, he would have witnessed the entry into Europe of a šeng in 1777, an Asian instrument that is considered the precursor of the accordion. The šeng was sent to Paris to Henry Bertin, minister of state, from Beijing: the sender was Joseph-Marie Amiot, last Jesuit missionary in China, a profound connoisseur of the mandarin, author of many books on the music of the east. He had sensed the possibility of developing the structural principles of šeng in which sound is produced by the vibration of a free reed.
A myriad of inventors during the first decades of the nineteenth century tried to create new instruments, among them: Cyrill Demian (1772-1847), of Armenian of origin, owner with his sons Carl and Guido of an organ and piano factory in Mariahilfestrasse 43 in Vienna; Demian registered the license for an Accordion (an instrument that produced chords and not single notes) in May 1829. Almost as a domino effect, similar instruments were patented in different countries, with different names (Concertina, Bandoneon…) until 1863, when Paolo Soprani founded in Castelfidardo the first accordion factory; the name Accordion survives in almost all languages, except in Italian; for the Spaniard it is Acordeón, for the Anglo-Saxons Accordion, for the Germans it is Akkordeon and for the French it is Accordéon.
The accordion almost became like a tailor-made suit, tailored on the individual performers. For this CD, the instrument “tailored” for Dellarole is unique: the diapason at 415 Hz corresponds to the most common pitch of the eighteenth century and the tuning resumes a system used at that time for the keyboards: the temperament of father Francesco Antonio Vallotti, organist and theorist contemporary of Scarlatti, admired by Giuseppe Tartini. This instrument – and the listener will immediately notice it – show the sound world of the Scarlattian repertoire at its best, from a tonal, agogical and expressive point of view.
The selection among Scarlatti’s corpus of Sonatas is not simple, six hundred Sonatas in ten volumes (Emilia Fadini edited the last critical edition for Ricordi). The performer focused his attention on the Essercizi, a fundamental document of the history of keyboard music of all time, adding at the end three pieces (K 61/F 9, K 87/F 48 and K 397/F 343), different for their structure and shape.
The most consistent number of Sonatas – twelve – are from the thirty “ESSERCIZI PER GRAVICEMBALO / di / Don Domenico Scarlatti / Cavaliero di S. GIACOMO e Maestro / dè / SERENISSIMI PRENCIPE e PRENCIPESSA delle Asturie &c.”. The printed edition is without place and date indication but settled in the London of 1738-39 by scholars. It is a valuable specimen, of 39.5×31.5 format, an oblong size larger than the usual and uncommon in music publishing. Fonts by Adamo Scola, engraved by Benjamin Fortier, with the antiporta [an illustrated page preceding the frontispiece of a book, edit] of Jacopo Amigoni: an allegorical apotheosis of the dedicatees, with the royal coat of arms. In the lower part of the frontispiece a significant small image, a baroque harpsichord surmounted by the motto Curarum Levamen (music was considered relief from trouble) embellished with a frame of acanthus and myrtle, a typical azulejos decoration. “Essercizi” is the title of the first printed edition published by the author, which will be followed by other publications but not, like this one, supported directly by the composer. Two dedications: one is directed «To the sacred Real Majesty of Giovanni V. The Fair King of Portugal, of Algarve, of Brazil &c. &C. &c.» and is signed by «the humblest servant domenico scarlatti» with the name deliberately in small letters. The musician celebrates that sovereign of «great Soul» who had nominated him in 1738 as Knight of S. Giacomo, and as a grateful gesture he gives him «Compositions born under the highest protection of Your Majesty, in service of the deservedly and fortunate Daughter, the Princess of Asturias and your most worthy Regal Brother the Infant Don Antonio.” The master emphasizes the mastery of his pupil, Princess Maria Barbara, “in sing, playing, and composition.”
The second dedication is for the reader: “Do not expect, either amateur or professor that you are, in these compositions the deep understanding, but rather the clever joke of art, to train you to frankness on the harpsichord. Neither views of interest, nor ambition, but obedience move me to publish them. Perhaps you will be agreeable, and I will lie down to other commands, to please you in easier and more varied style: therefore, show yourself more human than critical: so you will increase your amusements. To indicate the arrangement of the hands, I let you know that the D is for right hand and M for the left hand. Live happily.”
Domenico knows well that the collection published in London will not only help his noble student: the printed copies will cross the borders of Lisbon and will be purchased by amateurs or professional masters, all with the desire to read and study his Sonatas. The few lines dedicated to the reader differ from other similar ones: we think of the preface of François Couperin in the Ordres, or the lapidary Avvertimenti of Frescobaldi. In the brief note of the composer, there are no suggestions for the creation of ornaments or specific points dedicated to the performance practice; he only emphasizes the function: the single Sonatas will be suitable to acquire the “frankness on the harpsichord” or the full understanding of the keyboard. It is no coincidence that the title of the volume is Essercizi [Exercises, edit]. It is an unusual title for that time if we think that the collection of Muzio Clementi, Preludi ed esercizi will be printed in London only in 1790. In the eighteenth century it was preferred to call them “Toccate da studio” [Toccatas for study, edit] as shown in many manuscripts preserved in the library of the Naples Conservatory; the famous collection of Francesco Durante printed in Naples in 1732, bears the title of Sonatas divided into “Studi e divertimenti”.
Domenico Scarlatti elaborates in his Essercizi a personal “audacious” style; They are not the result of academic studies but more of the clever joke of art; Scarlatti’s strength is the inventio [invention, edit], a priori creative act of ludic genius.
Accordion transposition accentuates these components by offering us a revitalized Scarlatti; Dellarole, who has breathed the didactic air of Emilia Fadini, provides the listener a surprisingly rich reinterpretation of effects but also full of verve, demonstrating at the same time an in-depth knowledge of the performance practice: beautiful and tasteful the free ornamentation added, particularly in the refrains. The sound effect of the Vallotti tempered accordion could be that of a profane organ: just listen to the Sonata III “Presto”, alla breve (K 3/F 519) that after the bizarre, fleeting beginning dissolves itself into a series of imitative figures culminating in a long descending chromatic scale; the two hands exchange roles in a sort of dialogue. But those ascending or descending figures – in rhetorical terms, Catabasi, Anabasi, Passi duriusculi – are transformed not in pathetic representations as contemplated in the treatises of rhetoric but in comedy bickering, as if Serpina and Uberto were seen on stage.
In many Scarlatti pages, the obligatory reference is vocal music; let us not forget the two masterpieces – perhaps less well known than the keyboard production – the intermezzo La Dirindina and the Lettera Amorosa [Love Letter, edit], two sides of the poetics of affetti, the comic and the serious. Consequently, a reading aimed at theatricalization is welcome, exploiting the timbres of the instrument such as that of the low register, for example. The use of the accordion has another consequence to the ears of today’s listener: it recalls tendencies and motifs that remind us the folk tradition and the history of the instrument. It is evident in the sonata VI “Allegro” in F major (K 6/F 522) which reveals how careful the composer is to employ the contamination of genres in a very personal way.
The Essercizi are called Sonatas, individually. From a formal point of view, the Sonata is bipartite with refrains; from the basic tonality, the composer leads towards the fifth degree (the first part concludes on the dominant) to return more or less gradually to the opening tone, in which the second part ends. In the case of the Fugue scheme, the bipartition is abandoned in favor of seamless continuity. This is the case of the Sonata XXX (all the Sonatas are numbered progressively with Roman numerals), the last Sonata of the collection, known as “Fuga del gatto” [Cat’s Fugue, edit] for the illustrations that enriched its publication in nineteenth-century or for the curious theme that seems to be randomly constructed, as if a kitten walked on the keyboard. The Fugue end the Essercizi as a summa of composition and performance as was usual for composers-teachers (one above all, Arcangelo Corelli). The Fugue is the demonstration of a composer’s art and proves the performance skills of the performer in a specific type of virtuosity, the polyphonic one. The variations have a similar purpose too. It appears in the first Sonata of the triptych chosen to close the CD, a theme and variations that confirm the inspiration of the Neapolitan composer, especially in the final sections, a triumph of replied notes. The second, without Tempo, is a Sonata pervaded with profound melancholy, extraordinary in its pathetic, almost meditative dimension, also suggested by the tone of B minor, the same as the outstanding Bachian Mass.
A Minuet, Allegro in D major with a joyful character, dissolve the tension, far away from the atmosphere of the court and closer to those folk dances that Domenico Scarlatti use as source of inspiration. Because, wherever you turn in the eighteenth century, the serious, tragic, pathetic, melancholic, terrible character coexist and is overcome through the elegance of lightness.
(Album Notes by Pinuccia Carrer)
Domenico Scarlatti: (b Palermo, 2 May 1660; d Naples, 22 Oct 1725). Composer, generally considered the founder of the Neapolitan school of 18th-century opera.