Scarlatti - Sonata in A K322/ L483


Domenico Scarlatti (1685 - 1757) was the son of the musician, Allessandro Scarlatti. He was born in Italy but lived most of his life in Spain, employed as musician to the royal families.

Scarlatti became famous principally for his many keyboard sonatas, which were mostly one movement works in binary form.

The sonatas were written for harpsichord, as heard here, and have a particularly Spanish flavour in their use of ornamentation and sometimes surprising dissonance, reminiscent of the Spanish guitar.

Pupil Match & Suitability

This is a very approachable piece for a student who has not played much Baroque music, since the LH, being in minims throughout, is unusually slow moving compared with the RH.

Also the usual challenges of counterpoint inherent in much Baroque music are largely absent from this piece since the melody is within the RH.

Style & Tempo

Scarlatti's sonatas are varied in character and in pace. This sonata is a lively allegro, but need not be taken at too fast a pace.

A tempo of between minim=100 and minim=120 is suitable and this whole range of tempo is to be found amongst professional recordings.

The pace chosen need to reflect the interpretation in terms of articulation choice and character. One of the more moderate interpretations is by Szokolay.

Phrasing & Articulation

One of the really fascinating things about playing Scarlatti is that we can decide, within the bounds of good style, how to articulate the music.

Using an urtext edition is preferable since we can make our own decisions about how to articulate. However looking at older, edited version can sometimes be helpful since we can view the choices that have been made by others in the past.

The edition here shows similarity with the choices made by Horowitz in this performance. and scroll to number 483.

Note particularly the sections where Horowitz chooses a more legato line towards the end of the first section. This provides welcome contrast. Notice also the way in which the repeated notes are very subtly graded in length rather than all sounding the same.

Tone & Texture

Dynamics were not usually marked into the score in Baroque music, since this would have been decided on by the performer and depended on whether the sonata was played on the clavichord, which could make subtle gradation of tone, or on the harpsichord, which could not.

Some harpsichords could give a degree of either louder or quieter through the introduction of various stops, but it was the later piano that would eventually make true contrast and gradation possible.

Pianists need not be restricted by what the instruments of the day could, or could not, do as long as we play with tasteful levels of dynamics.

Listening to the piece played on the guitar here gives a feel for the natural yet subtle dynamic gradations that give a sense of phrase in all music.


Probably main consideration here is independence of hands, since the LH will be lightly detached rather than completely legato and yet still needs to show a supporting sense of phrase.

Hands need to be sensitively balanced, with neatly controlled evenness of rhythm and carefully graded tone.

Demonstration of good tonal control and technique will help here, as will sitting in balanced equilibrium and the hands should always return to the most natural hand position, which looks exactly like the gently curved shape of the hand when it is simply at rest.

It is difficult to know how we are sitting unless we actually see ourselves so a mirror in the teaching studio is a good idea.


The fingering given in all reputable editions appears to be sensible and reliable. However we need not be bound by editorial decisions in all cases and if a different fingering occasionally suits a particular student's hand better then the alteration should be pencilled into the score.

Be sure to test out the fingering chosen to make sure it works up to speed!


The grace notes in Bar 3 and similar should be treated as appoggiaturas - that is they take on the time value of half the note that they precede. Bar 3 will therefore begin with 4 equal quavers.

The trills at Bar 8 and similar need to begin on the upper note: that is E-D-E-D in Bar 8. The first note of the trill should coincide with the LH note.

The way in which this sort of trill is performed needs to be unfussy and above all to fit neatly into the music. The trills here should not be played as quickly as possible, but rather as slowly as it possible to play them within the time value.


Pedalling Baroque music is somewhat controversial since there are some performers who would think it inappropriate and others who would disagree.

If you listen to this performance by Michelangeli you will notice that he appears to use the una corda pedal, since the tone has variety in timbre as well as dynamics. For the Grade 5 pianist this approach is not recommended.

Subtle use of the sustaining pedal can help to 'smooth' the abruptness of the final note at phrase endings or of the second note in slurred pairs. You will hear Michelangeli use this sort of pedalling - look at the end of the video to see clearly how he is doing this.

It would be certainly be inappropriate to use the sustaining pedal for the purpose of achieving legato since the bass notes need to sound lightly detached and the RH needs articulation detail.

Teaching Strategies

More than one mode of memorisation is essential to give a secure performance under the pressure of an examination or competition, so the teacher should incorporate several learning strategies into their lessons making the student aware of the various possibilities that can aid the learning process.

Finger memory is the least reliable method, as this relies on continuity and, should a mistake be made, fluency could be disastrously affected.

Visual memory, where the score is recalled or the chords and scales are remembered by the visual pattern they make, is a useful back-up to memorisation.

Analysis of the musical structure is probably the most reliable memorisation tool available to the student at this level of playing.

Practice Tips

The LH of this piece may well be relatively easy but needs just as much practice as the RH and the fingering needs to be just as secure and consistent. The LH should be practised as often as the RH before hands together work begins slowly and carefully.

A sectional approach to practice should work well as long as the second section of the piece is not neglected.

Any slightly awkward corners need to be explored early in the learning process. Since the second section is a little more demanding technically, practice could actually begin with this section.

Practice should always be focused on detail at the same time as note learning so articulation needs to be worked on right from the start.

Final Performance

An excellent performance will show a sense of style and will be fluent and accurate with carefully chosen articulation and dynamics that help to show the structure of the music. Hands will be well balanced, ornamentation neat and there will be a real sense of performance.

A good performance will be secure in continuity and there will be some detail in articulation. Dynamics may be fairly uninteresting or perhaps rather overstated. The pace will be appropriate.

A sound performance will have continuity and mostly reliable accuracy, with some emerging sense of phrase. There may be little musical detail however and trills might be omitted. The pace may be cautious or perhaps not yet settled throughout the piece.

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