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Satirino records · Scarlatti - Essercizi per gravicembalo

Essercizi per gravicembalo (London 1738) - 30 Sonatas

Kenneth Weiss, harpsichord

Recorded at
La Casa Uzul, Monserrat, Valencia, Spain 20-23 V 2007
Bruce Kennedy after Ruckers, 1989 Rougemont, CH
Harpsichord preparation & tuning
Karoly Mostis – Werkmeister III
Sound engineer, producer, editing, mastering
Jiri Heger
le monde est petit
© Frank Krahmer / zefa / Corbis, Windmills, Castilla La Mancha, Espagne
Joël Surleau, Boris Kehrmann, José Luis Gil Aristu
Thanks to
Pilar Tomás Gonzalez, Adela Sanchez, Alvaro García, Karoly Mostis, Jiri Heger, Aline Poté & Supercloclo

Coproduction Los SIGLOS de ORO

Logo Caja Bank

Press reviews

See French page

Liner note

Scarlatti published his collection of 30 Essercizi in 1738, shortly after having been knighted by King Joao V. He had spent almost twenty years in the Iberian peninsula by this time, most recently for nine years in Spain, and it is likely that at least some of these works were composed during that period. Certainly they fuse elements of Spanish folk-music, guitar music and dance with more Italianate devices from the classical heritage of keyboard music.

Elements of Spanish folk music are evident in a number of the sonatas of this set and part of a general trend in Western Classical Music for the upper-classes to purloin expressive elements from the musics of underclasses. Rhythmic characteristics of the Jota — a popular Aragonese dance — are evident in the many pieces in 3/8 time: they frequently open with bold octave statements as their opening theme. There are imitations of several types of guitar technique: the strumming across the strings; delicate triplet accompaniments (particularly in No. 21); and figurations from the guitar music of Scarlatti’s predecessors, such as Gaspar Sanz. Harmonic elements of Spanish folk music are also found: prolongations of harmonies on the dominant key, oscillating to the minor chord below and the major above, immediately evoke Spanish music, not least because such devices have become hallmarks of Flamenco guitar playing.

Essercizio 26 is perhaps the most overtly Hispanic piece of the set with both a jota rhythm and guitar-like effects of several sorts. Some writers have found a more melodic type of Hispanic folk-influence in the unusually lyrical melody of No. 9, endorsing its later nickname as ‘Scarlatti’s “Pastorale”’.

On another level the collection is a landmark in several ways. Music historians concerned with the evolution of the Sonata have admired the composer’s binary forms which lay the foundations for the evolution of eighteenth-century sonata-form. Most notably, the beginnings of the second halves of Scarlatti’s pieces often presage elements of the development sections of mature sonata form.

Analysts of harmony—including the celebrated German analyst Heinrich Schenker—have focussed on many forward-looking details in Scarlatti’s way with chordal structures: his daring modulations which sometimes suspend a sense of key for some considerable time; his unexpected juxtapositions of the major and minor modes; and his bitter-sweet use of crushing dissonance, particularly well suited to the sonority of the harpsichord.

Students of the history of music printing consider the London edition of c. 1739 as a landmark in the engraving of music, not least because of its success in vertical alignment and its cramming of complex music involving cross-hands techniques into a restricted space. The layman who first opens the page of this volume, readily available in a facsimile slightly reduced in size, cannot fail to be struck by its graphic beauty. It was not the only edition. A pirate edition by Roseingrave seems to have been around in London at much the same time and there are also French editions, one of which titles one of the sonatas an Allemande.

The term ‘Essercizi’ might best be seen as a forerunner of the ‘Etude’ or ‘Study’ for on one level the term is the precise equivalent of the German term Clavier-Übung, used among others by Bach. It has even been suggested that there is a relationship between the thirty pieces in this collection and the thirty Goldberg variations: a tribute on the part of Bach to this composer who alternated the scholarly with the madcap.

Charles Burney made a most penetrating comment on Scarlatti: admiring in his playing ‘a wonderful hand as well as fecundity of invention’. The remark nicely sums up the nature of the Essercizi: pieces which strive to train players to possess his ‘wonderful hand’ by confronting them with particular technical challenges, while at the same time writing music which is packed with inventive ideas. In essence this dual-purpose agenda was endorsed by Scarlatti’s note to the reader:

Whether you be music-lover or teacher, do not expect in these compositions any profound intention, but rather an ingenious jesting with Art, to set you on the path to mastery of the harpsichord. Neither personal interest nor ambition has caused me to publish them, more is it a case of obedience. Perhaps they will be agreeable to you, and then more willingly will I obey further commands to produce pieces in an easier and more varied style. Thus so your humanity rather than criticism and thus increase your enjoyment.
To indicate the correct disposition of the hands, note that D indicates the right hand and M the left. Have a nice life.

Non aspettarti , o Dilettante o Professor che tu sia, in questi Componimenti il profondo Intendimento, ma bensi lo scherzo ingegnoso dell’Arte, per addrestrarti alla Franchezza sul Gravicembalo. Nè Viste d’Interesse, nè Mire d’Ambizione, ma Ubidienza mossemi a publicarti. Forse ti saranno aggradevoli, e più volentieri allora ubidirò ad altri Comandi di compiacerti in più facile e variato stile: Mostrati dunque più umano, che critico; e sì accrescerai le proprie Dillettazioni. Per accennarti la disposizione delle mani, avvisoti che della D vien indicata la Dritta, e dalla M la Manca: Vivi felice.]

Some of the pieces challenge the player with particularly tricky techniques: three D major sonatas in particular demand a virtuosic crossing of the hands—nos. 21, 24 and 29. No. 6 works rapid scales of triplets; no. 8 expressive dotted-notes; and the final sonata—at some time dubbed the ‘Cat’s Fugue’—demands a Bachian fugal technique. But apart from these more obvious studies based on particular difficulties, many of the others simply train the hand in all manner of figurations ranging from the scalic; through zig-zag semiquavers; to awkwardly leaping figurations which flex and stretch the hand. (No. 25 is such an example).

A particular preoccupation which Scarlatti persisted with in later sonatas was to encourage the player to get the measure of his keyboard, and to be confident in leaping to and from distant bass-notes. This particular challenge is heard from the very first essercizio and occurs in the majority. While other composers were content to work chains of thirds into their training programmes, Scarlatti has a particular love of sixths, either alternated or played together. No. 2 works them in the left hand in descending passages, and no. 7 in leaps: only two examples of many. If there is an underlying credo we may deduce, is it perhaps that the good harpsichordist must be able to do anything he can do with his right hand with his left. No. 29 in particular demands this.

No. 3 is the first to introduce the suspense of ‘vagrant’ harmony, where player and listener are teased in extended modulatory passages veering between major and minor. Another of his hallmarks is his extremely refined use of pedal points. Often a bass note supports a chain of pungent discords which take some time to resolve: no. 4 uses this device both at the beginning and the end, clearly audible to the listener.

Ascending and descending sequences are other devices which Scarlatti makes his own. Examples are numerous. The first essercizio makes considerable use of them as an important motive and structural device while No. 29 has a wonderful rising sequence with acciaciature over thickly voiced repeated chords: in total contrast to the fleet passage-work which surrounds it. There is often a delight in confusing the listener between sequences and material repeated at the same pitch. Often an idea which might be expected to launch into a sequence may repeat for several bars, only to move on to a different idea. But this is part of Scarlatti’s mastery of classical balance: the two halves of his pieces not only inevitably balance each other, but are balanced within themselves. In few other composers is a comparison with Palladian architecture more apt: the palazzo is finely formed on the outside, and within are hung the most inventive and imaginative baroque pictures. Such are the delights of the Essercizi.

Richard Langham Smith

Record  Sr072

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Essercizi per gravicembalo (London 1738) - 30 Sonatas


1 - K. 1 d minor, Allegro
2 - K. 2 G major, Presto
3 - K. 3 a minor, Presto
4 - K. 4 g minor, Allegro
5 - K. 5 d minor, Allegro
6 - K. 6 F major, Allegro
7 - K. 7 a minor, Presto
8 - K. 8 g minor, Allegro
9 - K. 9 d minor, Allegro
10 - K. 10 d minor, Presto
11 - K. 11 c minor
12 - K. 12 g minor, Presto
13 - K. 13 G major, Presto
14 - K. 14 G major, Presto
15 - K. 15 e minor, Allegro

Total CD 50'17


16 - K. 16 B flat major, Presto
17 - K. 17 F major, Presto
18 - K. 18 d minor, Presto
19 - K. 19 f minor, Allegro
20 - K. 20 E major, Presto
21 - K. 21 D major, Allegro
22 - K. 22 c minor, Allegro
23 - K. 23 D major, Allegro
24 - K. 24 A major, Presto
25 - K. 25 F sharp minor, Allegro
26 - K. 26 A major, Presto
27 - K. 27 b minor, Allegro
28 - K. 28 E major, Presto
29 - K. 29 D major, Presto
30 - K. 30 g minor, Fuga - Moderato

Total CD 71'27