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Prefer piano or harpsichord? Listen to Domenico Scarlatti to figure it out.

Prefer piano or harpsichord? Listen to Domenico Scarlatti to figure it out. featured image

Scarlatti’s Sonata book is a staple in most studios of piano students and teachers

1685 was a good vintage for Baroque composers: it marked the birth year for JS Bach, Handel, and Domenico Scarlatti. Scarlatti  was a Baroque composer, but many of his works foreshadowed the Classical era, when he began writing sonatas for harpsichord (that weren’t structured the way we think of sonatas, like Mozart’s, but they definitely explored what the keyboard had to offer, and changed tonalities like a classical sonata). He was a whiz on the keyboard and his zippy-quick passages that he wrote must have served as a vehicle to show off this dexterity.

On any online forum dedicated to classical music, when Baroque era performance practise comes up, the debate regarding Baroque music on period instruments vs. modern day instruments comes up fairly predictably. I’m more of an “anything goes” kind of person, and welcome everything from the “authentic” to the commonly performed practises of today, to the very un-traditional instruments for the classics. I was on one of these forums a few weeks ago and was taken aback how rigid some people were that ALL Baroque keyboard music MUST be performed on harpsichord, and harpsichord ONLY, and that anything else is an affront to the Baroque era and composers. I harrumphed right back that there’s room for everything, and I just happen to prefer the sound of the piano to the harpsichord. Also, the piano can play at different sound levels; the harpsichord cannot be played louder or softer. A lot of back-and-forthing ensued, with my writing, “so you’re telling me Glenn Gould is ‘historically misinformed?’”

Anyway. Give this clip a try. You may find the harpsichord rather harsh and abrasive at first, but after a while, your ears will adjust. Zuzana Rudickova plays Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas on harpsichord.

Domenico Scaraltti was born on October 26, 1685 in Naples, and died July 23, 1757 in Madrid.


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