From 1752 to 1757 thirteen volumes of Scarlatti sonatas were copied out for the use of Queen Maria Barbara. They were carefully written in a rather large format like that of the Essercizi,widely spaced and decorated with colored inks. To this series were added two preliminary volumes that had been copied out in 1742 and in 1749, likewise decorated with colored inks. The volume of 1749 is even further illuminated with gold for the titles, tempo marks, and hand indications. All fifteen volumes were bound in red morocco with the combined arms of Spain and Portugal tooled in gold on the cover. I n 1835 the Queen’s set of Scarlatti sonatas was acquired by the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice. The fifteen manuscript volumes (the ‘Venice manuscripts’) contain 496 sonatas. (The volumes that have since been numbered XIV and XV are actually the earliest, from 1742 and 1749 respectively, that preceded the thirteen volumes of the series proper.)
An additional fifteen volumes, largely duplicating the Queen’s series, were copied out from 1752 to 1757, in part at least by the same copyist. They lack the colored decorations of the Queen’s set, and are bound up in plain leather. Now they are the property of the Sezione Musicale of the Biblioteca Palatina, housed in the Conservatorio Arrigo Boïto at Parma, (hence called ‘Parma manuscripts’). This set of manuscripts contains 463 sonatas. In a few cases their dates are earlier than those of the parallel Venice manuscripts. Among them are a few not contained in the Venice manuscripts, most notably the twelve sonatas that are apparently Scarlatti’s last. Together with the Essercizi,these two sets of manuscripts by the Queen’s copyists form the principal sources for all but a few of the 555 Scarlatti sonatas. Except for a few earlier pieces, the first thirteen volumes of the ‘Venice manuscripts’ appear to have been collected in approximately chronological order, and there is every indication that most of them were composed at this time.
In these two collections Scarlatti first shows the full range of his genius and at last demonstrates his full maturity. He was 67 years old. Yet a gradual change is still perceptible, a still further process of maturing that continues through the very last sonatas. The ‘ingenious jesting with art’ and the ‘happy freaks’ of the Esserciziand the sonatas of the intervening period have given way to a style of writing that renders the harpsichord sonata a full vehicle for the entire expression of Scarlatti’s personality and for the distillation of his entire life’s experience and fund of sentiment.
This music ranges from the courtly to the savage, from a wellnigh saccharine urbanity to an acrid violence. Its gaiety is all the more intense for an undertone of tragedy. Its moments of meditative melancholy are at times overwhelmed by a surge of extrovert operatic passion. Most particularly he has expressed that part of his life which was lived in Spain. There is hardly an aspect of Spanish life, of Spanish popular music and dance, that has not found itself a place in the microcosm that Scarlatti created with his sonatas. No Spanish composer, not even Manuel de Falla, has expressed the essence of his native land as completely as did the foreigner Scarlatti. He has captured the click of castanets, the strumming of guitars the thud of muffled drums, the harsh bitter wail of gypsy lament, the overwhelming gaiety of the village band, and above all the wiry tension of the Spanish dance.