This piece was composed around 1755 and is one of approximately 555 “sonatas” written by the Italian baroque period composer and harpsichordist Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757). I write the word “sonata” in quotation marks here because these works are not exactly what we would think of today as sonata form. Instead, many of Scarlatti’s “sonatas” can be described as being in what we think of today as binary form (two main sections, either or both of which are repeated) and typically feature the presentation and elaboration of a specific musical idea. For instance, K. 208 utilizes the anticipatory beat, often by means of suspensions or embellishing tones placed on the last eighth note of a measure, which are then (usually) resolved on the downbeat of the next measure.

As suggested by the tempo indication (Adagio e Cantabile), the melody is highly expressive and lyrical, primarily based on triads, scalar passages and embellishing tones. It is also in binary form, and both sections are repeated, typically with additional ornamentation on the repeat of each section. The first section starts in the tonic key of A major before going to the dominant key (E), briefly straying to E minor, and returning to the dominant, ending the section conclusively with an embellished perfect authentic cadence. The second section begins in the key of the supertonic (B minor), cycles through D minor and E major by means of secondary dominant and secondary leading tone harmonies, before returning to the home key of A major. The second section ends similarly to the first section, with an embellished perfect authentic cadence, this time in the tonic key.

Although K. 208 was originally written for harpsichord, its thin musical texture and relatively compact pitch range lend itself nicely to guitar. Also, although Scarlatti was born in Italy, he spent much of his career in Spain, which perhaps influenced the “guitaristic” sound of his works for harpsichord. As a result, many of Scarlatti’s sonatas have become an important part of the classical guitar repertory, and have been performed by luminaries such as Andrés Segovia, John Williams and David Russell, as well as more contemporary artists including Manuel Barrueco, Ana Vidovic, Scott Tennant, Simon Powis, Drew Henderson and SoloDuo.

Resources:

AllMusic. 2020. “Domenico Scarlatti: Keyboard Sonata in A Major, K. 208 (L. 238). https://www.allmusic.com/composition/keyboard-sonata-in-a-major-k-208-l-238-mc0002365123.

Brown, Jeffrey Arlo. 2020. “Every Scarlatti Sonata, Ranked.” VAN Magazine, June 25, 2020. https://van-us.atavist.com/scarlatti-ranked.

IMSLP. 2019. “Keyboard Sonata in A Major, K. 208.” Last Modified January 20, 2019. https://imslp.org/wiki/Keyboard_Sonata_in_A_major%2C_K.208_(Scarlatti%2C_Domenico).

Powis, Simon. 2019. “Graded Repertoire for Classical Guitar.” New York, NY: CGC Publishing. https://cgcpublishing.com/collections/print-books/products/graded-repertoire-for-classical-guitar-spiral-bound-print-edition.

Werner, Bradford. n.d. “Domenico Scarlatti.” This Is Classical Guitar. https://www.thisisclassicalguitar.com/tag/domenico-scarlatti/.

Zbikowski, Lawrence M. 2010. “Music, Emotion, Analysis.” Music Analysis 29, no. 1–3 (March–October): 37–60. http://zbikowski.uchicago.edu/pdfs/Zbikowski_Music_Emotion_Analysis_2011.pdf.

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