Alessandro Scarlatti earned an important place in musical history for a variety
of reasons. He is said to have been the first composer to write a string quartet. Moreover,
in developing the "Italian" overture, as distinct from the "French" overture (Ewen). This
paper will be discussing some of Scarlatti's most important works.
One of Scarlatti's most famous operas is Mitridate Eupatore. It was written in
1707, for Teatro San Giovanni Grisostomo in Venice. It is mainly about the revenge of
Prince Eupatore and his sister Laodice on their mother, Queen Stratonica. The Queen
has murdered their father and married her lover Farnace (Palisca). There are a lot of da
capo arias in this opera, one being "Esci ormai". It opens with a sixteen-measure
concerto-like ritornello that sets the mood of fiery resolution. The Queen then proclaims
to her people that she is banishing mother-love from her breast for their sake. The
recitative actually tells us that she is scheming to sacrifice her son for her lover (Palisca).
Here is how "Esci ormai", a da capo aria, is divided in a diagram.
Ritornello16 mm. A
A1Esci ormai che piu non v'hai loco 4 mm. A-E
Materno amore da questo sen!
ARitornello 1 m.
A2Same text 8 mm. E-A
Ritornello 5 mm. A
B1In region petto un piu bel foco 4 mm. f#BAmor v'accese del comun ben.
B2Same text 5 mm. f#-E
ADa capo 34 mm.
Scarlatti evolved this da capo form. It remained for him to fix a logical formal
structure for the aria, and this is what he came up with. This form can be found in a lot of
Scarlatti's earliest works. This formula was approved by composers because it seemed to
settle the formal problems with which they had been struggling. In 1696, Scarlatti
evolved the Italian overture. In the opera Dal male il buono, he finally achieved the
form which he used almost without exception from then on. The form consisted of three
rather short movements built around subject matter which had no vital connection with
the main body of the opera. The first movement was quick and lively, the middle section
was slow, and the overture ended with a rapid movement of dancer character (Finney).
Scarlatti's final opera, La Griselda is a perfect example of his overtures. The libretto was
by Apostolo Zeno, but there is not sufficient material for three acts. The story of "Patient
Grizzel" is in some ways effective for operatic treatment, as it affords welldefined and
strongly coloured characters; but this very reason is also a drawback. Gualliero is so
incredibly tyrannical and Griselda so incredibly patient that we can give up little
sympathy for such obviously stagey figures. Ottone is the meanest villain; Roberto and
Costanza are merely picturesque puppets, and Corrado hardly even that. Scarlatti has
made the most of the characters, such as they are, Griselda and Costanza being the most
successful. The finest example of dramatic expression is Griselda's air in the second act,
"Figlio! Tiranno! Oh Dio!" when Ottone has threatened to kill her child before her eyes
unless she yields to his desires (Dent). Tigrane, written in 1715, is the most famous of all
Scarlatti's operas. It owes much of its reputation to its being his hundred and sixth work
for the stage. It has great advantage of a clear and well-designed plot. Which in addition
to its regular parti buffe has vein of subtle humor running all through. Tomiri makes fun
of her lovers as she plays off one against the other, and her rival Meroe in the disguise of
a gipsy fortune-teller makes fun of everybody. It produces a general impression of
brilliance and magnificence; but examples of really deep feeling or exalted musical
beauty are rare. The characters are striking, the music is striking; variety of expression,