Music Alessandro Scarlatti
Dinko Fabris
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 October 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0266


Alessandro Scarlatti (b. 1660–d. 1725) was one of the most celebrated composers of his time, probably the most important opera composer in Europe around 1700. He was called “the Orpheus of our times,” and musicians such as Handel, Hasse, and Quantz traveled especially to meet him. Yet, in the early 21st century, Scarlatti is one of the lesser-performed Baroque composers, and a considerable part of his immense production is still not well known. The renown of the “Palermitano,” as he was always called after his place of birth, started before he was twenty, in Rome with his first operas, thanks to the favor of Queen Christina of Sweden. Later he was to establish relationships with important patrons—such as Ferdinando de’Medici, James III Stuart (the “Old Pretender”), and Queen Casimira of Poland; cardinals such as Pietro Ottoboni; and the Spanish viceroys of Naples—who were all in turn responsible for stages in his international career. The sign of Scarlatti’s reputation among upper society was his acceptance into the Academy of the Arcadia. He was one of only three musicians of his time admitted to this Academy, along with Corelli and Bernardo Pasquini. Whilst his operas were produced in many important theaters in Italy and abroad, he was nevertheless continuously under pressure for money, as he had a large family. He had ten children, five of whom were born in Naples, including his celebrated son Domenico. He wrote no fewer than 60 dramatic works and more than 600 chamber cantatas. The favor granted to the cantatas—a genre much in fashion and in which he was considered the most prolific of Baroque composers—depended again on his need for financial support, assured to him by a large number of music lovers. The rest of his musical compositions, even if fewer in quantity, are not less important, including oratorios, liturgical music, and a few instrumental pieces. Scarlatti could also be credited with the beginnings of the international circulation of a repertoire from Naples. For that reason, local historiography from the end of 19th century claimed Scarlatti to be the creator of the “Neapolitan School,” a concept later contested by musicologists. Although he spent most of his life in Naples, his personality can be never recognized as “pure Neapolitan”; nonetheless, he greatly influenced the generations of Neapolitan composers that followed, including Durante, Leo, Vinci, Jommelli, and others.

Reference Works

Among the pivotal works published in Dent 1905 and Pagano 2006 (expanded in 2015), the information available on the “Palermitano” has increased enormously, including both biographical documents and his lists of works. While the only detailed catalogue of works is still the one published in Rostirolla 1972, Grove Music Online gives the most direct access to updated lists of his compositions and information about his life. Still useful for a bibliography raisonnée before 1990 is Vidali 1993. Further contributions are provided also by several essays published in the proceedings of at least three international conferences: Osthoff and Ruile-Dronke 1979, Maccavino 2013, and Della Libera and Maione 2014.

  • Della Libera, Luca, and Paologiovanni Maione, eds. Devozione e passione: Alessandro Scarlatti nella Napoli e Roma barocca. Naples, Italy: Turchini, 2014.

    Proceedings of the 2010 conference held in Rome and Naples, with articles by Bossa, Ciolfi, Cotticelli, De Frutos, Della Libera, Domínguez, Dubowy, Fiore and Maione, Gialdroni, Griffin, Iacono, Monferrini, Sullo, Tozzi, Agostino Ziino, and Maria Adele Ziino.

  • Dent, Edward J. “Catalogue of the Extant Works of Alessandro Scarlatti, with the Libraries Where the Mss. Are to Be Found.” In Alessandro Scarlatti: His Life and Works. By Edward J. Dent, 206–232. London: Arnold, 1905.

    The list of works, already organized by genres and very accurate for the time, was the main source used for almost a century by all Scarlatti’s scholars. It is useful for identifying scores that seemed to have been lost during the two world wars and have subsequently resurfaced.

  • Domínguez, José María. “Scarlatti, Alessandro.” In Dizionario biografico degli Italiani. 337–345. Rome: Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana, 2018.

    Fully informative article summarizing the most recent findings on Scarlatti, in particular on his biography, including a discussion of places and patrons. Very useful also for its updated bibliography. Available online.

  • Maccavino, Niccolò, ed. Devozione e passione: Alessandro Scarlatti nel 350. anniversario della nascita. Reggio Calabria, Italy: Rubettino, 2013.

    Proceedings of the 2010 conference held in Reggio Calabria, with articles by Cartosio, De Simone, Gilyte and Montesano, Griffin, Halton, Maccavino, Magaudda, Menchelli-Buttini, Pagano, Pitarresi, Ruffatti, and Vettori.

  • Osthoff, Wolfgang, and Jutta Ruile-Dronke, eds. Colloquium Alessandro Scarlatti Würzburg 1975. Würzburger Musikhistorische Beiträge 7. Tutzing, Germany: Schneider, 1979.

    Proceedings of the 1975 conference held in Würzburg, with articles by Bianconi, Doderer, Hucke, Ruile-Dronke, Strohm, Witzenmann, and Wolff.

  • Pagano, Roberto. Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti: Two Lives in One. Translated from Italian by Frederick Hammond. Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon, 2006.

    The best biography, originally published in Italian in 1985. A new Italian edition (published just after the death of the author; Lucca, Italy: LIM, 2015) also provides a second volume of indexes, including sources and updated bibliography. Pagano interpreted the relationship between father and son in the context of patriarchal Sicilian culture.

  • Pagano, Roberto, Malcolm Boyd, and Edwin Hanley. “Scarlatti, Alessandro.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press.

    Up-to-date biography, with overview of the music and full works list (by Malcolm Boyd), including extended bibliography. Available online by subscription.

  • Rostirolla, Giancarlo. “Catalogo generale delle opere di Alessandro Scarlatti.” In Alessandro Scarlatti. Edited by Roberto Pagano, Lino Bianchi, and Giancarlo Rostirolla, 317–595. Turin, Italy: ERI, 1972.

    Even if the list reflects knowledge about Scarlatti’s sources from the early 1970s, and despite its omissions and misattributions (to be checked against the more recent bibliographies), this admirable catalogue still remains the most accurate in details and constitutes a reference list required before commencing any form of research.

  • Vidali, Carole F. Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti: A Guide to Research. Composer Resource Manuals 34. New York: Garland, 1993.

    The first part of Vidali’s book, dedicated to Alessandro Scarlatti (pp. 3–253), contains an almost complete bibliography of modern studies on his life and works before 1992, a list of works published in modern edition or facsimile, and a first attempt at a discography, with an update on sources not cited in previous catalogues (pp. 159–161).

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