It is only in the 1600s, with the development of the Italian opera by Claudio Monteverdi and his contemporaries, that we find music opening to the commercial world beyond the confines of the church and gaining the impetus for the development of new forms, new instruments and new concepts of melody and harmony. Alessandro Scarlatti stands at the end of this period. He is, briefly, the summing up of the entire tradition of Italian music to that time. He inherited a music that did not yet know the forms we accept today as "classical"—the symphony, the concerto, etc.— a music that had still not even settled on our modern harmonic and melodic concepts of major and minor, and a music with meager instrumental resources, to say the least. He left as his heritage advances in the modern opera, the beginnings of the symphony and a decidedly modern direction for harmony and melody; also, by including horns and woodwinds in the orchestra, he laid the foundation of the modern symphony orchestra.
He was born
in Palermo, but spent much of his active life as a
composer in Naples and Rome. He was one of the most
prolific composers in history, writing 20 oratorios,
600 chamber cantatas, 200 masses, suites for various
instrumental combinations and 150 operas! His division
of operatic overtures into "movements" was the
forerunner of the modern symphony, and his single
comic opera, The Triumph of Honour, performed
in Naples in 1718, paved the way
for the later comic operas of Pergolesi,
Cimarosa, Paisiello, Rossini and Mozart.
Here is a
excerpt from The Triumph of Honour.
that "architecture is frozen music," certainly applies
to the great German composers of the Baroque. One can
easily see in the mind's eye cathedrals lofting and
arching on high to the music of Bach and Haendel. Yet,
much of Scarlatti's music is just as "cathedralesque,"
if you will. He was, however, an extremely versatile
composer, and therein lies his fascination to the
student of music history, even today. For while the
Baroque side of him spired heavenward right alongside
his German colleagues, the Enlightenment, after all, had
dawned, and its attendant musical expression required
fewer cathedrals and more architecture of human
dimension. Scarlatti's attention to the grace of newer
and less ornamental forms set the stage for classicism,
and his sense of melody, and even his sense of humor,
imbued his art with the kind of musical humanism that
would one day be the hallmark of Romanticism, itself.