Scarlatti, Alessandro

In 1715 Tigrane was produced, and in 1721 Griselda, his last opera, was given. He was the most voluminous composer of cantatas that ever lived. He was the last great writer of chamber-cantatas, and with him died the cantata as a form of chambermusic. Burney, in the Eighteenth Century, examined the manuscripts of thirty-five of these works and afterwards wrote: "I find part of Scarlatti's property among the stolen goods of all the best composers of the first forty or fifty years of the present century." Scarlatti composed in all about one hundred and fifteen operas; two hundred or more masses; numerous oratorios; about four hundred serenatas and cantatas for festivals; numerous chamber- cantatas; toccatas for harpsichord or organ; madrigals for various voices; and much sacred music, including a Stabat Mater for four voices, a Stabat Mater for soprano and alto with orchestra; motets and psalms. Of his operas, only about forty-one are extant. They are now no longer performed, but interest in them will always continue to be keen, because of the part the composer played in the subsequent development of opera, and because of his improvements and innovations. Up to Scarlatti's time the overture of an operatic work consisted of a meager obligate symphony. He reformed this department of opera, making it a species of musical prologue or program of the action. He also completely established the position of the aria, and defined its form, and was the first to make a systematic use of the recitative. Scarlatti also excelled in church compositions, and his church-music is both impressive and highly original. His invention as a composer was so fertile and his application so intense that his copyist could not write out his works as fast as he composed them.

Of Scarlatti's private life little is known, and no idea of his character can be formed, because no record of his life as a man was kept. He was married to Antonia Anzalone, by whom he had three children, one of whom, Domenico, became famous. Scarlatti's importance lies not in his direct influence upon his immediate followers, although that influence was marked, but in his relation to the whole development of classical music. He selected the best of music which had been produced before him, as well as the best ideas of the older composers, to form out of them a musical structure, which was the foundation of all the music of the classical period. He succeeded in making music that enabled the vocalist to reveal the beauty of the voice, and in this way decided the direction in which Italian Opera was to develop.