Over the past years I have composed sixteen dances to Scarlatti Sonatas. All of the dances are distinct. This part of my work can be considered innovative. To my knowledge, the Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti have not been used before in this way. I approached the music differently from other forms of Spanish material as the writing in the Sonatas matched the dance patterns in a manner making authenticity possible.
Over time, I discarded some of the pieces and retained about twelve in my repertoire. The first showing included four of the Sonatas performed in 1970 at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles. A wonderful harpsichordist, Bess Karp, accompanied me in the selected dances. She had been a faculty member at UCLA. A number of years later in 1987, I collaborated in a Faculty concert at California State University at Los Angeles. On this occasion the harpsichordist was Patrick Lindley, a superb keyboardist and composer with whom I have had the pleasure of working with in more recent performances. On that program, I introduced seven dances from the collection of works.
Not until 2001 did I resume performing and was contracted to appear under the auspices of the Southern California Baroque Association for their Harpsichord Center. They have had an Artist’s Series for many years.
I did two concerts with Patrick Lindley again this time and danced eight of the Sonatas. We returned again in 2005 for two more concerts with some newer pieces I added plus two traditional flamenco dances accompanied by guitar. In the interim in 2004, I was also invited to be guest artist in a concert at the Community College in Las Vegas. A former student of mine, Coral Citron, who was based in Vegas had formed her own company titled Fiesta Flamenca. I performed two of my Scarlatti pieces accompanied by Cynthia Harris, a gifted harpsichordist and pianist and the program also included some flamenco material and two selections from the Escuela Bolera. This was a strange return engagement to Las Vegas under totally different circumstances from my early experience back in 1942! Since the last appearances in 2005 I have put the Scarlatti dances aside as they seem an anomaly in today’s world of Flamenco.
As is well known, Domenico Scarlatti, (1685-1757) although Italian by birth, spent the last 25 years of his life in Spain as composer and teacher to the Queen of Spain, Maria Barbara. The court was in residence in Sevilla for a period of four years. Ralph Kirkpatrick, harpsichordist, musicologist, and biographer of Scarlatti writes: “No other composer has felt more keenly the impact of Spanish popular music or has yielded more completely to the demon that inhabits every Spanish dancer’s breast”
The music is abstract, as are the dances I have made. Scarlatti in my view captured the essence of the musical forms of Spain while still retaining his originality and individuality. His marriage to a young Andalusian woman after the death of his first wife was undoubtedly a strong influence. She was from Cadiz, in the south of Spain, the cradle of Flamenco. Without a doubt, Scarlatti was deeply influenced by the music and song he was exposed to in this environment. Flamenco chords and rhythms creep into his sonatas giving a distinctive quality to his writing. He fell under the spell of the flamenco guitar.
Domenico Scarlatti was often regarded as a brilliant and freakish composer, and is generally not taken as seriously as deserved. By the medium of dance, I have attempted to show the scope of his music and depth of feeling, which is evident in the enormous variety of his style. It reveals a complete musical personality in the entire range of the Spanish idiom. He captured its “brittle tensions.”
In my opinion, and that of musicians, this project could serve to educate and enlighten dancers and keyboardists about interpretation and style, and show other facets of the Spanish dance. I have explored these works on the piano and harpsichord and I believe Scarlatti is Spain’s great composer. The music of the flamenco guitar and song became part of the fabric of his compositions. It is a valuable educational experience in the arts and a study in aesthetics.
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