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Alessandro Scarlatti

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Born in Sicily, either at Trapani or at Palermo, in 1659; died at Naples 24 Oct., 1725; buried there in the musicians' chapel of the Church of Montesanto. On his tombstone he is called musices instaurator maximus, which title he deserves in that he originated the classical style of the eighteenth century, and gave a high development to concerted instrumental music. the scenes of his activity were alternately Rome and Naples. His first opera (1679), "Gli Equivoci nel Sembiante" was performed at the palace of Queen Christina of Sweden, who lived in Rome after her abdication and conversion to the Catholic Church. Five years later we find him in Naples, where he obtained the position of Maestro di capella to the Viceroy. He remained there for about eighteen years.

After a short stay at Florence, he returned to Rome (1702), where he was made assistant maestro and afterwards maestro at S. Maria Maggiore. In 1708 or 1709 he returned to Naples and lived there for ten years. He lived in Rome from 1718 until 1721, thence proceeding to Naples, where he died in 1725. His fertility of production is astonishing. He wrote more than a hundred operas (of which less than half are extant). It is said that he composed two hundred Masses, which is questionable, as but few survived him; he left several Oratorios, the best of which are "Agar ed Ismaele", "La Vergine addolorata", and "S. Filippo Neri"; many motets and innumerable chamber-cantatas and serenatas. Moreover he shows great capacity in his compositions for the organ, the cembalo, and other instruments. Not all his religious music is for liturgical use; but many of his compositions, although in his days the Palestrinian-style was fast declining, are written in severe and noble polyphony. We may quote here his mass for Cardinal Ottoboni (edited by Proske), his "Missa ad usum Cappellae Pontificiae" (recently found by Giulio Bas in the library of the Academy of S. Cecilia at Rome, and published by L. Schwann at Dusseldorf), his famous "Tu es Petrus" performed in Paris by the Roman singers at the coronation of Napoleon I (printed by Ricordi of Milan).

His great distinction in the musical world was to have laid the foundation for the new style, afterwards brought to perfection by the most famous composers, not only of the Neapolitan school, which was in great part formed by his influence (Leo, Durante, Pergolesi), but also of Germany (Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven). Domenico Alessandro's eldest son was born at Naples 26 Oct., 1685 (in the baptismal register he is called Giuseppe Domenico), and died in 1757. The esteem in which Alessandro was held, may be seen from the fact that Domenico's godfather was the Duke of Addaloni, and his godmother the Princess of Colobrano. Domenico made himself famous by his great skill on the harpsichord. Ricordi of Milan has published his works for the clavicembalo, in six volumes, under the supervision of Alessasdro Longo (1906). The manuscripts of these are chiefly in the library of S. Marco at Venice. The compositions are not of equal merit. His genius often seems to forecast the style of the next century. For a few years (1715-1719) he was choirmaster in S. Peter's Rome; during four years (1721-1725), he was engaged at the Court of Lisbon; for twenty-five years he was at Madrid (1729-1754), but spent the last years of his life again in Naples, where he died. Of Francesco, brother of Alessandro, we know that in 1684 he became violinist in the royal chapel at Naples, that fifteen years later his oratorio, "Agnus occisus ab origine mundi", was sung in Rome, and that in 1720 he gave a concert in London, where Domenico was staying at the same time. Giuseppe Scarlatti was either grandson or nephew of Alessandro (nipote can have the two meanings). Born at Naples 1712, he died in Vienna, 1777 where he was considered a distinguished composer. He left several operas.


DENT, A. Scarlatti: His Life and Works (London, 1905); GROVE, Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London, 1880); THIBAUT, Die Reinheit der Tonkunst, 123.

About this page

APA citation. Walter, A. (1912). Alessandro Scarlatti. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Walter, Aloysius. "Alessandro Scarlatti." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to the memory of Alessandro Scarlatti.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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