Scarlatti - Sonata in G minor

Interpreting the Music

Scarlatti's Sonata in G minor is set for the ABRSM Grade 5 Piano examination 2013 - 2014.

Teaching & Learning the Piece

Scarlatti: Sonata in G minor

• G minor
• Slow, reflective
• Many ornaments
• Syncopated rhythms
• Contrapuntal texture needs care and clarity
• Awkward bar with demisemiquavers
• Small hands should manage

This may well be the student’s first encounter with Domenico Scarlatti’s music. It provides a delightful introduction to his quirky style without the technical problems encountered in his faster music. This particular sonata is absent from standard collections and recordings as it was only discovered in the last 30 years and has no K. or L. catalogue number. To get an idea of Scarlatti’s slow harpsichord style, try listening to harpsichord recordings of K.87, K.132, K. 259, K. 213, or K.208, to name but a few. There is incredible variety even in these slower sonatas.

The slow tempo may lead some students who are good sight-readers to play this without properly learning the notes and fingerings. This is unwise, as the texture will expose any mistakes in performance. Secure and well-known fingerings also help with technical mastery of the double thirds and especially the demisemiquavers in bars 11-12.

Fingering choices should not interrupt the flow nor cause discomfort, which could lead to unevenness. Unlike much baroque keyboard music, this is meant to be played legato so there is less scope for lifting the hand to start a new finger pattern. However, phrase endings provide opportunities for repositioning. Be sure to write in all fingerings that differ from the printed ones. At slow speed some students reinvent fingerings freely, which can lead to slips in performance. Bar 12 is the most difficult to finger comfortably and many players will ease the tempo a little in the demisemiquavers so as to keep them accurate. The printed fingering requires a very quick lift or an awkward stretch. An alternative, involving the thumb on F sharp is given at example 4A3/1. Further alternatives, for bars13-14 are at 4A3/2, which can also work for bar 15-16.

Ornaments at this speed need never be hurried. As suggested above the stave, they can be measured into the beat with poise and confidence. The “slide” in bar 2 and many other places, does not involve repeating the low note for the chord but, as in the written-out version, holding it as if tied.

The double thirds must be carefully practised so that they are played absolutely together. Raggedness will spoil an otherwise secure performance. A quaver appoggiatura is a constant feature of the RH line. It must never be accented on the second note – make sure your student can hear and make the difference between a gently-placed second quaver and one which is too loud.
Editorial dynamics give an idea of how a piano can be used to interpret this music without undue reliance on “pianistic” crescendo/diminuendo effects. However, this avoidance of the pianistic should not be taken too far.

The suppleness of the melodic lines suggest that the piano’s shaping qualities should be exploited in the interests of the music. Trying to make the piano into a harpsichord by suppressing its colours would simply leave the music sounding like neither. A better approach would be to think of a string or wind trio playing these notes. This will give insight into the supple phrasing and dynamics that bring it to life. In the Preface to his ground-breaking 1953 edition of Scarlatti’s sonatas, still in print today, Ralph Kirkpatrick invites just such thinking. Teachers and older students can find a great deal to stimulate reflection in this Preface, which asks and answers many questions.

Here is a performance by Yevgeny Sudbin:

Scarlatti Sonata in G minor.pdf

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