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Domenico Scarlatti

Sonata K1, K55, K148, K113

Ludwig van Beethoven

Sonata Op.31 No.2 (Largo - Allegro, Adagio, Allegretto)

Claude Debussy

Images book I: Reflets dans l'eau, Omage a Rameau, Mouvement

Davide Verotta

Ricercando II (Allegro, Adagio - Moderato, Allegro, Moderato)


Domenico Scarlatti, Sonatas (1742-57) . For a long time overshadowed by is contemporary, J S Bach, Scarlatti is today recognized as the founder of modern keyboard execution. Although he wrote for harpsichord, his inventive style which includes exciting experimental effects - hand crossings, octaves, double trills, extended chords and sonorities - exercised a profound influence over later masters such as Mendelssohn and Liszt. Scarlatti started his career as an opera composer, was a renewed harpsichord vituoso (a "duel" with Handel apparently finished with a sort of a draw: with Handel prevailing at the organ and Scarlatti at the harpsichord), and was employed as Maestro da Cappella in different courts and at the Vatican. It is late in life, after his departure from Italy, that Scarlatti commits to posterity his work for keyboard. This body of work remained almost entirely unknown to the world at large, with the exception of a few simple sonate, until it was partly published by Czerny in 1839, followed by the virtually complete publication by Longo in 1909. Scarlatti wrote a very large number of sonate (the first humbly named "essercizi", exercises), apparently all in the last fifteen years of his life, while he enjoyed the patronage of Queen Maria Barbara of Spain. 555 Sonate survive. Of those, four (K1, K55, K148, K113) are presented.

Ludwig van Beethoven, Sonata Op.31 No.2 (1802). The Sonata op. 31 no. 2, the so-called 'Tempest' was composed during Beethoven's mid-period. It is a, as usual, highly innovative work that is clearly conceived as a unit of three highly connected movements. In the first movement an opening theme embraces two diametrically opposed tempos and characters: a hovering, ambiguous arpeggio, marked largo, and a turbulent continuation, marked allegro. From a variant of this passage Beethoven derives much of the development of the sonata, and introduces a mysterious reappearance of the arpeggios return, which leads to a recitative, before the return of to the tense, highly explosive Allegro. The Adagio is considered one of Beethoven's most beautiful slow movements. It includes a number of orchestral allusions, as, for example, the drum roll-like accompanying figure that characterizes the major part of this movement, long notes, long pauses and unusually far-reaching melodic "jumps". It starts with the same arpeggio figuration of the first movement, and contains multiple allusions to the first movement, in particular to its recitative. It is written in a loose form of variations over three distinct musical subjects. Most striking is a variation of the main subject which is enriched by descending broken arpeggios flowing through the original melody. A short, somewhat surprising, coda introduces a wisp of a new idea which materializes in the third movement. This is a "moto-continuo" (continuous-motion), an almost hypnotic arabesque of sixteenth-notes which is organized in an amazingly consistent harmonic structure, and ends, in Ostinato style, with a a pianissimo repetition of the main "moto-continuo" cell. The nickname of the sonata, due to Czerny, is apparently due to a conversation with Beethoven. When asked to explain the "meaning" of the first movement, he replied: read Shakespeare's play 'The tempest'.

Claude Debussy, Images book I (1904). This is the first series of Images, the second appearing in 1906, and the third originally conceived for two pianos but never completed. Debussy was pleased with the series, which is indeed perhaps one of his best collections for piano, achieving an absolute level of mastering beauty and balance. He wrote to his publisher: 'I think I may say without undue pride, that I believe these three pieces will live and will take [their] place in piano literature . . . ' The pieces use a revolutionary, for the time, and extremely nontraditional harmonic vocabulary, which is combined with relatively standard musical forms. They are characterized by an extreme care to detail, reflected in the complex and very specific score, and they exploit the capability of the different registers of the piano in ways that still surprise after a hundred years. The registers are often heard overlapped simultaneously and create a dense fabric of sound. Of the three Images the title of the first image (Reflets dans l'eau) might suggest a programmatic piece, although piece titles in Debussy are often hints rather than attempts to precisely define the piece. The second is an homage to the French Baroque composer and music theorist Jean-Philippe Rameau: a lyrical, perhaps somber, piece, which contains, at least in my opinion, one of the most perfectly crafted endings in piano literature. The third is characteristic of a number of Debussy compositions which address or, better, are inspired by a physical (or natural) gesture: in this case Mouvement (movement).

Davide Verotta, Ricercando II. Ricercando II is part of a set of five pieces which are so named for a couple of reasons. There is a bow to tradition, an homage to the baroque era "Ricercare" (which means "to seek again"; the Ricercari were instrumental pieces which in many different ways tried to solve one of the main problems associated with instrumental, as opposed to vocal, music: the variety, and meaning, provided by the text is no longer present, thus new ways of extension and development of the music were needed). A Ricercare, terminology is lax, was often of imitative texture, they are considered the precursors of the fugue, and was often organized around modified recurrences of the theme of the piece. Similarly, but connection with the original Ricercari in very lax, Ricercando II struggles with "meaning" and is derived from a single theme, which can be heard at the end of the piece. The second, simpler, reason is that in Italian "Ricercando" delivers the idea of searching, exploring, finding ways: both compositionally and expressively.

Any words of comment about the presence of a piece of mine in the company of works from absolute masters of the music literature can easily be interpreted as false modesty. I would therefore only say that my admiration for the masters is the one given by the apprentice, one who recognizes even more their greatness now that he is struggling with the unyielding limitations of his own skill and insight.


Program notes by Davide Verotta



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