Scarlatti vs. Handel

Sonata in D, K96 Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)

Handel (1685-1759) in his 20’s traveled to Italy to further his musical education. When he arrived in Rome, Cardinal Ottoboni arranged a keyboard competition between Handel and Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757). Scarlatti recognized his rival’s superior ability on the organ, while listeners were divided on the outcome of the harpsichord competition. The two musicians were on excellent terms and long continued to demonstrate mutual esteem. (Interestingly, Bach, Handel and Scarlatti were all born in the same year.)

In his second-to-last year Scarlatti received a visit from Dr L’Augier, a friendly Viennese doctor who travelled to hear the ‘national melody in all parts of the world with philosophical ears’. Scarlatti gave a warm welcome to his guest. The ‘sweetest temper’ and ‘genteelest behaviour’ which Handel attributed to his colleague characterize the recorded conversations, even when the arguments grew heated. Scarlatti was outspoken in his criticism of the keyboard music by certain contemporary composers as not uniquely appropriate to the harpsichord. Scarlatti’s own music was criticized in learned circles — Scarlatti frequently told M. L’Augier that he was aware he had broken the rules of composition; but asked if his deviations from these rules offended the ear. When Dr. L’Augier said ‘no’, Scarlatti said that he thought there was scarce any other rule than to please the ear.