Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Missa of Madrid, Stabat Mater and Missa “La Stella”
Although Domenico Scarlatti’s success in the 18th century and continued fame after his death are due exclusively to his sonatas for harpsichord, he left a significant corpus of sacred music, which with the exception of the Madrid Mass (1754) and Salve Regina (1756), were composed when he was serving in the important ecclesiastical institutions Santa Maria Maggiore (1707-08) and the Cappella Giulia (1714-19) in Rome and the Capella Patriarchal in Lisbon (1719-29). Most of these works for choir and organ continuo are written in the stylus antiquus, that is in the imitative counterpoint that in the 18th century was still modelled on 16th century polyphony by Palestrina. The Missa Breve “La Stella” for choir and basso continuo was composed in Rome when Domenico assisted his father in Santa Maria Maggiore. It is an early work which imitates his father’s style, but that already shows considerable artistry in the composition of sacred music. Even if there are no instruments or solo arias, a moderately polyphonic style mainly prevails; there are “expressive” chordal and isorhythmic sections (the first Kyrie), rigorous polyphonic sections (such as in the Christe and the second Kyrie) and more modern sections in which there is a dialogue between the soloists and the choir. The splendid Stabat Mater in C min. for ten voices, was probably written for the Cappella Giulia and, as shown by the manuscript copies, and was one his most frequently performed sacred works. The ten voices, accompanied by a simple continuo, create an impressive contrapuntal effect which, like in the chiaroscuro of a baroque painting, alternates shadowy, melancholic passages with sudden luminous opalescence: the lunar rarefaction and dramatic thickening of sound often becomes an exclamation of pain, evocative of the archaic atmosphere of passion-plays.