Chronological Order for the Keyboard Sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)

Author: Flannery, Matthew
This work proposes a solution to what is often considered the central problem facing Scarlatti scholarship, determining the chronological order of his keyboard sonatas. In the data-poor arena of Scarlatti research, this work, avoiding a primarily musicological or organological approach, analyzes large-scale patterns of musical characteristics over all (or parts) of a sonata sequence founded primarily on the Parma manuscript. As a result of an extensive application of this analytic approach to the sequence, this work notes that many sequence patterns seem to be chronologically structured, that none seem anti-chronological, and that a few mirror historical changes in the music of Scarlatti=s time. These phenomena and other observations delimit something like a general history of Scarlatti=s musical development enriched further by a variety of localized events. Among some 26 patterns observed in the sequence are a systematic rise in Scarlatti=s use of the major mode, stepped increases in sonata compass that seem to accord with the sequential availability of larger keyboards, and both an increase in the rate at which the sonatas were combined into sets of two or three works and the use by Scarlatti of progressively complex techniques for doing so. This work also sketches a methodological background for the chronological proposal, including a discussion of why chronological order seems a superior interpretation of the sequence compared to the thought that it may have been reorganized, whether at random or by specific criteria. This study also discusses such subjects as the probable location of the 30 essercizi within the sonata sequence, the likely mis-location of several other sonatas, implications of chronological order from organology, a broadly dated window for the latter part of the sequence, the relationship between conservative and radical elements in Scarlatti=s compositions, a late-sequence change in his approach to writing slow sonatas, and the interplay of structural integration and musical diversity in the later sonatas. It presents a new catalog of the sonatas that, while substantially congruent with Kirkpatrick=s, proposes modifications to his ordering of the first hundred sonatas as well to a few other but smaller regions of the sequence.


“….scholars' neglect of Scarlatti has nothing to do with merits of the music per se, much of which is extraordinarily rich in color, technical novelty, rhythmic intrigue, and melodic invention. Rather, one suspects, historical researchers, theorists, and commentators have been deterred by the scarcity of letters, diaries, manuscript catalogues, or other documents on which scholars like to practice their research skills, not to mention the sheer, almost unmanageable size of the repertory to be examined, explained, and interpreted C a daunting task in any event, made especially challenging by the absence of any firm basis on which to undertake a systematic, detailed, or illuminating study. Given this circumstance, Matthew Flannery's study, which tackles head-on some of the most difficult questions surrounding this great body of works, is most welcome. The author's central topic is chronology, i.e., the order in which the sonatas were written, as a prerequisite for any attempt to evaluate the sonatas or weigh and interpret their historical significance….. Whether pitched purely to specialists, or modified to appeal to a wider audience of scholars, students, performers, record collectors, or general music enthusiasts, Flannery has come up with an excellent piece of research that is bound to have significant impact upon publication.” - Floyd Grave, Rutgers University

“Matthew Flannery brings to the repertory of Domenico Scarlatti=s keyboard music a fresh perspective based on statistical methods none before him has essayed. The more than 500 individual movements in this body of work display even more than the usual number of problems, or difficulty of deducing a solution, because of an unusually meager source disposition; we possess not one page definitively offering Scarlatti=s musical handwriting at any stage of a piece=s development. No sketches, working copies, fair copies, proofs, or corrected drafts have ever surfaced for any of his vocal or instrumental music. The several scribal copies of the keyboard sonatas all appear late in his career, with no indication of how close the time of composition might be to the date of transmission.

In seeking out patterns of this transmission, Flannery hopes to detect answers to these questions. In my humble opinion, he has shown novel insights into theses sonatas that deserve to be studied and evaluated slowly and carefully by the community of musical scholars dedicated to explicating the music of Scarlatti, as well as lovers of his music among the educated public. This seems to me the most important contribution to this complex of problems since analytic catalog of Alain de Chambure that appeared in 1988.” - Joel Sheveloff, Boston University

Table of Contents

1. Background to the Analysis of Chronological Order
2. Phase I Sonata Groups (1-4)
3. Phase II Sonata Groups (5-8)
4. Phase III Sonata Groups (9-17)
5. Phase IV Sonata Groups (18-26)
6. Contingent Broad-Scale Occurrence Patterns (1-14)
7. Independent Broad-Scale Occurrence Patterns(15-26)
8. Two Additional Occurrence Patterns:Combinations and their Deconfigurations (27,28)
9. Some Chronological Implications of the Totality of Patterns
10. Order and Disorder
11. Conclusion