MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             




AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
The Complete Keyboard Sonatas (Kk Nos 1-555)

Scott Ross (harpsichord)
Recorded at various locations in France, 1984-1985 DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 62092-2 [34 CDs - approx. 34 hours, 36 minutes]


Error processing SSI file

Discs 1-11

CD1 [63:49]: Harpsichord Sonatas Nos. Kk: 1 in D minor [2:47]; 2 in G [2:27]; 3 in A minor [2:41]; 4 in G minor [3:19]; 5 in D minor [3:03]; 6 in F [3:10]; 7 in A minor 4:30; 8 in G minor [2:44]; 9 in D minor [3:09]; 10 in D minor [2:36]; 11 in C minor [2:27]; 12 in G minor [3:37]; 13 in G [4:48]; 14 in G [3:25]; 15 in E minor [3:18]; 16 in B flat [4:40]; 17 in F [3:08]; 18 in D minor [3:49]; 19 in F minor [4:14].

CD2 [49:34]: Harpsichord Sonatas Nos. Kk: 20 in E [3:22]; No 21 in D [5:20]; No 22 in C minor [3:13]; 23 in G minor [5:27]; 24 in D [5:19]; 25 in F# minor [3:43]; 26 in A [4:27]; 27 in B minor [4:22]; 28 in E [3:48]; 29 in D [6:14]; 30 in G minor [4:15].

The first 30 sonatas occupy the first two discs of the set and are known as the Essercizi (Exercises). They represent an anthology of unpaired works all of which are in the usual form apart from the last – Kk30 (known as the Cat Fugue). All are marked Allegro or Presto. These are not really "early" works - Scarlatti’s mastery of the form and many of his hallmarks are already evident. It is clear from Ross’s notes that he thought highly of them. Scarlatti wrote rather immodestly but accurately in his introduction "do not expect any profound learning but rather an ingenious jesting with art...". The opener, Kk1 is a relatively well-known work, rather joyous in feeling despite the minor key. For me, relatively unknown highlights of the Essercizi are Kk 7 and 20. Ross takes his time in the Cat Fugue and imparts considerable grandeur to it.

CD3 [61:56]: Harpsichord Sonatas Nos. Kk: 31 in G minor [4:27]; 32 in D minor [1:32]; 33 in D [3:56]; 34 in D minor [1:36]; 35 in G minor [3:07]; 36 in A minor [2:55]; 37 in C minor [4:02]; 38 in F [2:32]; 39 in A [3:28]; 40 in C minor [1:19]; 41 in D minor [4:54]; 42 in B flat [1:22]; 43 in G minor [3:05]; 44 in F [5:22]; 45 in D [3:36]; 46 in E [5:15]; 47 in B flat [5:13]; 48 in C minor [4:09].

After the rigours of the Essercizi, moods are more varied in the next eighteen sonatas and there are some slower tempi. Ross changes harpsichord and in Kk32 starts to use an Italian harpsichord made by Val which is less brightly-toned than French-style instrument made by Martin which he used for the Essercizi. Ross played this instrument, with occasional exceptions, for the next sixty or so sonatas. Kk 32 is marked Aria and sings for just 24 bars, Kk34 is a Larghetto. In between comes the remarkable Kk33 which has changes of time-signature from 3/8 to common time. Kk39 is a well-known and riotous work which Ross takes Presto rather than the marked Allegro and rightly so! Then come two minuets (Kk40 and 42) with a second fugue sandwiched in between. As in the previous fugue, Ross takes a long view to good effect. After that this disc is all downhill, finishing with three sonatas marked Presto.

CD4 [64:44]: Harpsichord Sonatas Nos. Kk: 49 in C [5:23]; 50 in F minor [5:10]; 51 in E flat [3:45]; 52 in D minor [5:32]; 53 in D [3:28]; 54 in A [4:18]; 55 in G [3:44]; 56 in C minor [4:44]; 57 in B flat [5:33]; 58 in C minor [3:17]; 59 in F [2:02]; 60 in G minor [1:53]; 61 in A minor [3:19]; 62 in A [3:08]; 63 in G [2:10]; 64 in D minor [1:48]; 65 in A [2:15]; 66 in B flat [3:10].

This disc opens with two unknown and unusual but particularly worthwhile sonatas. Kk49 is initially Scarlatti at his most charming but trademark harmonic complexities are eventually weaved in. There are several pauses - rare events in works which often leave the listener feeling breathless. Kk50 has an unrepeated ten bar introduction preceding what would otherwise be a conventional binary structure. Kk52 is very unusually marked Andante Moderato. The following sonata, Kk53, opens rather trivially but there is more development than usual in the second half. Kk54 is particularly melodically attractive and Kk55 is in 3/8 time which is a frequent occurrence in these works. Both were among those recorded by Horowitz. Kk56 is one of the rarer "open" sonatas for which the initial second half material is completely new. There soon follows a third Fugue (Kk58) for which Ross again adopts quite a slow tempo. Kk60 and 61 lack any tempo markings (though Allegro would probably have been appropriate for both) and the latter is the most unusually structured - there are five double bars. It is actually a set of variations, the only one in Kirkpatrick's catalogue. This seems to have been rarely recorded and deserves to be better known. Kk62 opens brightly in A major for 8 bars before spending most of its time in minor keys. At the end of each half is a fearsome bar of hemidemisemiquavers. The next two sonatas are marked Capriccio and Gavota, and the former seems appropriate enough. Ross plays the latter in a sturdy fashion.

CD5 [64:33]: Harpsichord Sonatas Nos. Kk: 67 in F# minor [1:52]; 68 in E flat [3:57]; 69 in F minor [3:18]; 70 in B flat [2:32]; 71 in G [2:14]; 72 in C [2:51]; 73 in C minor [4:40]; 74 in A [1:30]; 75 in G [2:09]; 76 in G minor [2:20]; 77 in D minor [3:58]; 78 in F [2:08]; 79 in G [2:47]; 80 in G [1:27]; 82 in F [2:39]; 83 in A [4:20]; 84 in C minor [3:17]; 85 in F [1:46]; 86 in C [4:19]; 87 in B minor [4:16]; 92 in D minor [2:59]; 93 in G minor [2:06].

First, I should note that sonatas with Kk Nos. 81 and 88-91 are missing from the above list because they are among those which are not for solo harpsichord. These have been collected together on disc 34. The opening two sonatas here are amongst Scarlatti's wildest creations in terms of harmony and rhythm respectively. There are no tempo markings for Kk Nos. 68-70 but number 69 is sedate and doleful sounding in Ross's hands. Kk Nos. 71 and 72 contain relatively few surprises but are cheerful enough in G and C respectively. The latter reaches the end of bar 6 before it deviates by a single note from the tonic triad. Apparently it has been suggested by Pestelli that this was the very first of all the sonatas. Scarlatti has some surprises in store for Kk73 - first this is more overtly contrapuntal than usual and secondly there are two minuets tacked on the end of the normal binary structure, the second notably more complex than the first. Kk76 ends each half with a long and very fast run as in Kk62. Ross's notes indicate that these are the only two such examples in the whole set. Kk Nos. 77 and 78 are further works with minuets tacked on the end (should these be regarded as multi-movement works?) whilst Kk80 is simply a minuet in its own right. Some of these works may have also been intended for performance by groups of players. Kk82 and Kk85 are unusual in lacking a central double bar. In the former, Scarlatti uses the extended length of the single section to firmly root the home key of F and then modulate even further than usual away from it. It is possible that these two works were intended to be part of a suite. In between, Kk 83 is another with a minuet tacked on the end and Kk84 is a gem in C minor with a large leap downwards at the end of each half. Kk86 is marked Andante moderato whilst Kk87 and 93 are Fugues. The former is in two sections - there seems to no such thing as a standard design in this part of Kirkpatrick's catalogue.

CD6 [73:46]: Harpsichord Sonatas Nos. Kk: 94 in F [1:27]; 95 in C [1:18]; 96 in D [5:12]; 97 in G minor [4:30]; 98 in E minor [3:03]; 99 in C minor [4:59]; 100 in C [3:03]; 101 in A [4:25]; 102 in G minor [3:06]; 103 in G [3:35]; 104 in G [6:43]; 105 in G [5:22]; 106 in F [2:37] 107 in F 4:53]; 108 in G minor [3;33]; 109 in A minor [4:42]; 110 in A minor [4:07]; 111 in G minor [2:34]; 112 in B flat [4:30].

For this disc, Ross changes to another harpsichord, a French-style double manual instrument made by Anthony Sidey which has a rather brighter sound and is very attractive. He uses this instrument for the sonatas with Kk Nos. 94-188 and then reverts to it for the later sonatas (from Kk356 onwards). Kk94 is a short minuet; Kk95 has a very short first half and is otherwise notable for the need for hand-crossing. Kk96 is one of the best known of all and Ross gives it his all in a superb rendition. In his notes, he is uncomplimentary about Kk 97 (but he still plays it with aplomb) and suggests that may not be by Scarlatti. Kk Nos. 99 and 100 are the first definite pair in Kirkpatrick’s catalogue, despite the former being in C minor and the latter in C major. Kk Nos. 103/104/105 share the key of G major but Ross thinks that they are all unpaired. Kk 104 is notable, an extended and wonderful work which could not be by anyone else. Kk Nos. 106/107, and 109/110 are also paired, Kk 109 contains the only Adagio marking in the whole set. Kk111 is a weird sounding creation with unusual repeated off-beat chords.

CD7 [59:36]: Harpsichord Sonatas Nos. Kk: 113 in A [4:15]; 114 in A [5:26]; 115 in C minor [4:49]; 116 in C minor [4:09]; 117 in C [4:53]; 118 in D [4:49]; 119 in D [5:50]; 120 in D minor [3:19]; 121 in G Minor [5:06]; 122 in D [5:02]; 123 in B flat [4:28]; 124 in G [4:12]; 125 in G [3:14].

The sonatas on this disc are all quite meaty and in the standard binary form. The first four are two pairs, others are Kk Nos. 118/119, and 124/125. The opener is quite well known and melodically appealing. Its partner is almost unknown but a striking example of the Spanish flavour in many of these sonatas. Kk Nos. 115 and 116 are weighty in feeling, particularly the former. The relationship of this sonata to its peers seems analogous to Mozart’s piano sonata K457 (which is in the same key) – i.e. on another level in terms of depth of dramatic expression. Kk117 is an example of a sonata with much effective repetition. Ross avoids overdoing it and does not repeat the second half. He does this occasionally elsewhere (also in Kk Nos. 120 and 124 on this disc), particularly if the second half is more substantial than the first. Kk118 is unusually marked Non presto and its partner Kk119 is notable for a single bar of hemidemisemiquavers in common time when the time signature is otherwise 3/8. Scarlatti uses a similar device and more liberally in Kk121. Before that Kk120 has much need for hand crossing and some notable trills deep in the bass. The final pair are contrasted with Kk124 sounding ferociously difficult whilst its partner uses much simpler material initially but interest is added through use of an “open” structure.

CD8 [61:18]: Harpsichord Sonatas Nos. Kk: 126 in C minor [5:07]; 127 in A flat [5:58]; 128 in B flat minor [4:17]; 129 in C minor [3:54]; 130 in A flat [2:47]; 131 in B flat minor [4:00]; 132 in C [6:12] 133 in C [3:42]; 134 in E [3:33]; 135 in E [4:53]; 136 in E [4:31]; 137 in D [4:03]; 138 in D minor [3:48]; 139 in C minor [4:28].

Progressing through Scarlatti’s sonatas, I am becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the home keys and time signatures of the works. It has been suggested that Beethoven wrote some of his finest music in C minor and perhaps the same may be true of Scarlatti. There were 23 sonatas in this key and three of them appear on this disc. Kk126 is a magnificent creation – a work of real substance lasting five minutes which otherwise has been rarely recorded. Kk129 is almost in the same league and bears a time signature – 6/8 – which has been used only twice so far and not since the Essercizi (in Kk. Nos 9 and 30). By contrast, a pound for each time Scarlatti wrote 3/8 would probably cover the cost of this set! The final work in C minor on this disc, Kk139 is quite a romp at Presto with some remarkable passages in the second half where every note in the right hand has a mordant for bars on end. Two keys are used on this disc – each of them twice – for their only appearances in Scarlatti’s oeuvre. In neither case are the works paired. Kk Nos. 127 and 130 are in A flat whilst Kk Nos. 128 are 131 are in B flat minor. Unfortunately the slip case and booklet are wrong in suggesting that these latter works are in B flat major – the first documentary errors I have noted. Kk Nos. 132 and 133 represent the only pair on this disc, the former being marked Andante and latter Allegro. Ross maximises the tempo contrast between these works in gloriously forthright performances. Immediately afterwards comes the catalogue’s first triptych in the “bright” key of E major (Kk Nos. 134-6). Contrast is provided through time signatures and 6/8 recurs in the central sonata. It is then used again in Kk137, an attractive work in Scarlatti’s favourite D major.

CD9 [55:25]: Harpsichord Sonatas Nos Kk: 140 in D [3:50]; 141 in D minor [4:45]; 142 in F# minor [3:51]; 143 in C [3:59]; 144 in G [3:26]; 145 in D [3:49]; 146 in G [3:10]; 147 in E minor [4:51]; 148 in A minor [3:38]; 149 in A minor [2:03]; 150 in F [3:14]; 151 in F [3:51]; 152 in G [2:40]; 153 in G [1:59]; 154 in B flat [2:38]; 155 in B flat [3:37].

Sonata No. Kk141 has whole bars of repeated notes in the right hand and is one of the most well known of all. The authenticity of Kk Nos. 142 to 147 has been doubted by some authorities. Ross thought that Kk Nos. 144 and 146 are paired even though they didn’t get consecutive Kirkpatrick numbers. Kk144 is marked Cantabile and sounds most attractive here. From Kk148 onwards the sonatas become less complicated, possibly a deliberate attempt by Scarlatti to make them more playable. They are no less enjoyable to listen though, for example the little-known Kk150 is particularly likeable and still contains some characteristic long leaps. The last four sonatas on this disc are two pairs. After this point pairing becomes the norm for quite a long way ahead.

CD10 [63:51]: Harpsichord Sonatas Nos Kk: 156 in C [2:44]; 157 in C [3:43]; 158 in C minor [3:50]; 159 in C [2:28]; 160 in D [5:24]; 161 in D [3:43]; 162 in E [4:05]; 163 in E [2:16]; 164 in D [3:17]; 165 in C [3:12]; 166 in C [3:31]; 167 in F [4:09]; 168 in F [3:36]; 169 in G [5:08]; 170 in C [4:52]; 171 in G [2:39]; 172 in B flat [5:10].

This disc contains some sonatas with fewer technical difficulties than usual (particularly after Kk164) but there is still much of interest. Kk157 has repeated simultaneous leaps for both hands in opposite directions. Kk158 is heavily decorated, in C minor and marked Andante. It is paired with Kk159 which is short, martial sounding and very attractive in C major. Kk Nos. 160 and 161 are paired, both with open structures and containing pauses. The next pair is in E major, Kk162 has a very unusual structure although it is still in binary form. The first half starts Andante then is followed by an Allegro, Ross repeats the whole; in the second half there are three sections with a central Andante based on the opening material, this is not repeated here. Kk164 is unpaired and has unremarkable material but Ross uses the lute stop to add interest. In Kk169 technical difficulties are resumed with double mordants in second half – this is a very attractive sonata which reminds one of the underlying Spanish influence in the music. Kk170 is very unusual in having different tempi for two halves – Andante followed by Allegro. Kk172 is a delightful sonata with a relentless tarantella rhythm.

CD11 [62:45]: Harpsichord Sonatas Nos Kk: 173 in B minor [3:56]; 174 in C minor [4:24]; 175 in A minor [4:06]; 176 in D minor [4:50]; 177 in D [3:29]; 178 in D [2:00]; 179 in G minor [2:55]; 180 in G [3:11]; 181 in A [4:25]; 182 in A [3:38]; 183 in F minor [4:31]; 184 in F minor [4:42]; 185 in F minor [3:17]; 186 in F minor [2:46]; 187 in F minor [4:25]; 188 in A minor [6:03].

Kk Nos. 173 to 176 represents a remarkable series of unpaired sonatas all in minor keys which tend to gravitate to major keys. Kk175 is perhaps the best known. The structure of Kk176 is very unusual – it has a slow-fast-slow structure in the first half but only slow-fast in the second half. After Kk176 John Sankey’s free downloads of the sheet music run out. I managed to find 545 of the sonatas on a single CD (with Haydn’s as well!) from CD Sheet Music costing about £16. This can easily be printed out as required but the disadvantage is that it is based on Longo’s edition. Not only is the ordering completely different but Longo contains markings he added such as phrasing and dynamics that are irrelevant here. Nevertheless seeing the notes on the page is very useful and a proper printed edition would have cost hundreds of pounds. A little later on five consecutive sonatas in Kirkpatrick’s catalogue (Kk Nos. 183 to 187) are all in F minor. The first four of these are two pairs with Kk185 in a slow tempo. Perhaps the most remarkable is Kk187 which is notable for almost continuous ornamentation.

Patrick C Waller

Internal Links

Introduction Discs 12-22 Discs 23-34 Conclusions

External links

Sale of complete set:

AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Sale of single disc sampler:

AmazonUK £8.99

Sale of Kirkpatrick’s book:

AmazonUK AmazonUSA

John Sankey’s MIDI files:

Sonatas listed by Kk, L and P numbers:

Richard Lester's complete set:




Error processing SSI file

Return to Index

Error processing SSI file