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The Other Scarlatti

A look at Alessandro Scarlatti and three of his oratorios with performances by Il Seminario Musicale, the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, and Europa Galante.

painting of cain and abel

Photo: Anonymous

A detail from the "Ghent Altarpiece" and the pivotal moment between Cain and Abel (Jan van Eyck, 1432). Alessandro Scarlatti set the story of Cain in his oratorio "Il primo omicidio."

Alessandro Scarlatti is the father of Domenico, the more famous Scarlatti known today for his many harpsichord sonatas. In their day, the tables were turned and it was Alessandro who was THE Scarlatti, a prolific composer of vocal music ranging from the intimate chamber cantata to the large-scale oratorio requiring many singers and instrumentalists. Alessandro’s vocal writing isn’t just good; it’s very good and can hold its own against any of the so-called baroque greats.

The 2001 Virgin Veritas release by Il Seminario Musicale of the oratorio Il Sedecia is an excellent example of a fine work given a terrific performance with the ensemble’s director, Gerard Lesne, in the title role. It also features a young French countertenor by the name of Philippe Jaroussky before he became an international sensation.

Another story set by Alessandro Scarlatti was that of Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve. Entitled Il primo omicidio, or “The First Homicide,” Scarlatti’s oratorio is a depiction of Cain and his committing of the first murder in Biblical history. The performance by the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin on the Harmonia Mundi label is stunning for its powerful singing and energetic orchestral accompaniment. Director Rene Jacobs even makes a singing appearance as the voice of God.

One of Scarlatti’s last oratorios, La Santissima Trinità, is a departure from the many traditional Biblical themes he normally set. The storyline is unusual in that its focus is a theological discussion with arguments posed the characters Faith, Divine Love, Theology, Faithlessness, and Time. Europa Galante’s 2004 EMI release is a terrific recording with an all-star line-up of soloists. In particular, the appearance by French soprano Veronique Gens with a non-French ensemble is a lovely surprise.

Here are two videos featuring some of the music heard in the podcast. The first is of a live performance of Il Sedecia by Il Seminario Musicale. It is followed by Europa Galante’s recording session of the final quintet from La Santissima Trinità.

Il Sedecia:

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w82ev3Qj6gY

La Santissima Trinità:

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_7eBdHYsjs

Music Heard On This Episode

Alessandro Scarlatti: Sinfonia
Seminario Musicale/Gerard Lesne — Sedecia (Virgin Veritas , 2001)
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Alessandro Scarlatti: Sinfonia
Seminario Musicale/Gerard Lesne — Sedecia (Virgin Veritas , 2001)
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Alessandro Scarlatti: Aria "Si, Che Il Barbaro Tiranno"
Seminario Musicale/Gerard Lesne — Sedecia (Virgin Veritas , 2001)
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Alessandro Scarlatti: Duet "Caro Figlio"
Seminario Musicale/Gerard Lesne — Sedecia (Virgin Veritas , 2001)
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Alessandro Scarlatti: Aria "Nel Poter Il Nume Imita"
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/Rene Jacobs — Il Primo Omicidio overo Cain (HMC, 1998)
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Alessandro Scarlatti: Duet "Aderite"
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/Rene Jacobs — Il Primo Omicidio overo Cain (HMC, 1998)
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Alessandro Scarlatti: Quintetto Finale "Chi'io Ti Ceda?"
Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi — Oratorio per La Santissima Trinità (EMI, 2004)
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Alessandro Scarlatti: Aria "Quell'Amore Ch'eterno Si Scorge"
Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi — Oratorio per La Santissima Trinità (EMI, 2004)
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Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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