Domenico Scarlatti was born in Naples in 1685. After appointments as organist and composer in Naples and Rome and various foreign travels, in 1720 he settled in Portugal (and later Spain) as music tutor to Princess Maria Barbara. The princess was a gifted harpsichordist, and it was for her that Scarlatti wrote his unparalleled corpus of more than 500 sonatas. The editor of the first major published edition, Czerny, wrote in 1839 that these works were ‘undoubtedly worthy of preservation because of their unique character, ntouched by the passing of time, and because of their calm, natural and invigorating freshness, which is peculiar to an art then at the height of its youthful powers’.
In fact the sonatas had a precarious history: after Scarlatti’s death in 1757, they eventually passed to the celebrated castrato Farinelli, but his collections were broken up when he died. Fortunately, the 15 morocco-bound volumes of the sonatas were purchased in 1835 by the Biblioteca Marciana, Venice. These works are remarkable for their extraordinary inventiveness and technical innovation. Drawing on the musical traditions and, more broadly, the sounds of everyday life in both Italy and Iberia, Scarlatti endowed an instrument once thought to have a limited capacity for expression with the broadest range of tonal and imitative capabilities.