Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Scarlatti's Fun-House Sonata; K.119

Step right up! L-a-d-i-e-s and G-e-n-t-l-e-m-e-n: we give you the fun-house sonata:

The unexpected can be delightful. Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), master of invention, had a particular knack for the unexpected.

In the famous keyboard sonata K. 119 in D major the unexpected takes the form of strangely encased passages in the minor mode. Music in minor haunts this sonata like a ride through the fun-house. No one would suspect a haunting based on the celebratory opening gestures, played here by Irena Koblar in a live performance:

We begin with confident music built on logical contrasts; widely spaced intervals against stationary chords on each downbeat. The chords disappear just as rising scalar figures are introduced [0:06]. The phrase seeks a cadence but requires a series of musical updrafts before it can settle.

A closing gesture [0:14] with repeated notes attracts our attention. It becomes narrative music; an amusement park barker calling though a megaphone. The section dissolves into a cadenza [0:23] that quickly modulates.

A-minor hits like Sleepy Hollow [0:31]. Syncopated melodic writing and the surprising twists of harmonic minor poke through as the ostinato rhythm moves us on rails through the fun house.

Gradually the texture takes on characteristics of the narrative music until we recognize our barker [0:58] and realize that we are safely back in major, celebrated with delightful hand-crossings that reference the very first measures of the piece, now in the dominant.

Koblar repeats the entire first half of the sonata [1:14-2:25]. The ghosts at [2:26] seem real. It is distilled, melancholy music that begins to obsess on trills like an incantation.

Gradual refocusing happens as ghosts fade and the sound takes on recognizable shapes related to the cadenza. The music stops on the dominant [3:00]. The final segment of the fun-house works as a mirror deflecting the earlier ride onto a different track that allows us to arrive back home.

Koblar repeats the entire second half of the sonata [3:47-5:08]. Like any good fun-house attraction the second time through we can figure out all the humbugs!

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