Scarlatti - Sonata in D minor Kp. 9
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 piece requires nimble fingers and sensitivity in defining texture, with the ability to achieve neat, unobtrusive ornamentation. The pace is not excessively quick, however.
This is an appealing piece that will be enjoyed by a wide age range of students at Grade 6 level and beyond. Minor keys seem to be more popular with pianists who are at least of teenage years, rather than younger in age.
Style & Tempo
Scarlatti's sonatas are varied in character and this particular one is sometimes called the 'Pastorale' which can give us an idea as to its mood.
Although the performance direction is 'Allegro' or, in some editions, 'Allegretto' the pace should not sound rushed and the character needs to be tranquil.
The interpretation issues in Scarlatti are similar to those of the German Baroque composers in choices of articulation detail and textural interest and in making decisions about ornamentation, but Scarlatti can take a little more 'Spanish' expressiveness.
Some rubato will not sound out of place as long as this is not done in the expansive 'tempo rubato' manner more suited to Romantic music.
Listen to how Pletnev achieves this in at the start of his truly sublime performance.
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.
A carefully chosen mixture of slurring, staccato and legato may be used. Most recent interpretations of this sonata are predominantly smooth and fluid.
The interpretation by Michelangeli shows quite a smooth style of articulation, with slurring of the quavers in Bars 5 - 7 in threes, starting with the upbeat.
Tone & Texture
Dynamics are not marked into the score, 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.
Listen to this sonata played on the clavichord by Timothy Roberts
A useful definition of good technique is that it is based on balanced body equilibrium and economy of movement, avoids unnecessary tension and keeps hands in a natural, healthy position.
Although the LH may need to stretch momentarily in this piece to span an octave, the stretch should then be released, allowing the hand to relax, even if momentarily, before the next stretch.
We can all benefit from watching Martha Argarich's hands, as well as from listening to her playing. Notice how her wrists are supple, not rigid and how her hands stay mainly in a completely natural shape, with the arm following the hand, not restricting it.
Martha Argarich plays Scarlatti's Sonata in D minor Kp 141.
Consistent, carefully chosen fingering can mean the difference between being able to play this piece - and not being able to play it!
Fingering should be chosen bearing in mind not just the note in question but the plan for the next few notes too and the really crucial points are the parallel 3rds scales that lead to the trills, such as at Bars 10 - 12.
Trills like those at Bars 17 and 21 are best with Finger 5 on the top note, since this gives the opportunity for hand rotation to help keep the trill moving evenly.
Ornamentation is integral to the interpretation of this piece.
Whereas at lower grades it is acceptable to omit ornamentation if it disturbs the flow, leaving it out at this level would give a performance that lacked stylistic awareness.
Ornamentation must be unobtrusive, enhancing the music rather than impeding the flow. Pletnev' ornamentation, heard here, epitomises this principle.
As a general rule, trills here are better starting on the upper note, unless the upper note precedes the trill, such as in Bar 12.
It is worth remembering that there are alternative choices for a student who is not confident with ornamentation. Neat, simple trills sound better than complicated, untidy ones.
Although it is advisable for the relatively inexperienced Grade 6 level pianist to use no pedal in this piece, it is certainly not wrong to pedal Scarlatti as long as a sense of style is retained.
If pedalling is sufficiently subtle, the effect can be pleasing without being obvious. Pletnev certainly uses pedal in some of the slurred quavers, for example Bars 5 - 7, and this gives a wonderful contrast with the livelier staccato.
The best starting point for learning this piece is not to sit with the student while they sight read the notes and rhythms, but to make a plan together of how the piece is going to sound in performance.
You can do this by playing small sections of the piece with different articulation and ornamentation choices and varying uses of dynamics as the student listens and gives their opinion.
The chosen tempo is probably something that will evolve with your guidance as the student becomes familiar with the music.
It is not necessary for the teacher to be able to play every piece to performance level, since it is actually more interesting and profitable to listen to different, recorded interpretations.
The student should practise this in small sections by analysing the music first as if they were going to play it from memory - deconstruct, then reconstruct.
Separate hands practice is useful, as is practising scales of relevant keys in thirds, to achieve neatness and evenness.
Stress that there is no virtue whatsoever in playing this piece up to speed if the detail and control are lacking. Always practise with a musical intention. The detail needs to be in place at a slow speed, then all that needs to happen is a gradual increase in pace.
Some passages are challenging, particularly the scales in thirds and the ornamentation. These need slow practice with the student listening carefully and judging the result.
This piece makes the case for practising scales in thirds!
Often a student knows there is something not quite right but continues to practise in the same way hoping that the problem will right itself.
Remind the student that practising a problem section over and over again up to speed will reinforce mistakes, not eradicate them.
The solution is to imagine the sound of the section first. If this cannot be done, then listen to a recording first. Then play the section right, very slowly. Speed it up gradually over time.
An excellent performance will characterise the style of Scarlatti in the use of articulation, ornamentation and phrasing. There will be awareness of texture and the pace will be well judged. There will be a sense of character that reflects the 'pastorale' label sometimes given to this sonata.
A good performance will be fluent with some convincing detail in articulation and a sense of phrase will be demonstrated. Dynamics will be graded to shape the phrasing. The sense of communication and tonal poise may not be as confident as in an excellent performance. Ornamentation will be present, but may not always be assured in even control.
A sound performance will show continuity at a suitable pace and any dynamics will be suitable. A few smudges in accuracy might be made, but these will not disturb the overall sense of continuity and rhythms will always be secure. Ornamentation may be absent or not completely effective.
Who better than Alicia de Larrocha, to demonstrate this lovely sonata!