Italian composer; born in 1660 in Sicily; died in 1725 in Naples.

Alessandro Scarlatti is best known as one of the leading composers of the Neopolitan school of opera. As a leader of the Neapolitan school, he helped establish the conventions of the opera seria, perfecting the aria da capo and the three-part overture. Scarlatti wrote more than 100 operas. He was the the father of Domenico Scarlatti.

A. Scarlatti was raised in Rome and is thought to have studied there under Giacomo Carissimi. His first opera to find success was produced in Rome in 1679, Gli equivoci nel sembiante. This opera attracted the attention of the self-exiled Queen Christina of Sweden, who appointed him to her court as musical director. Then, in about 1684, the Spanish viceroy at Naples appointed Scarlatti to a court position, maestro di cappella. (This appointment occurred at the same time as his brother Francesco was made first violinist our the viceroy's court. It was alleged that they owed their appointments to the intrigues--or horizontal positions--of one of their sisters, with two court officials, who were dismissed. Nevertheless, the brothers kept their positions in the viceroy's court.) Scarlatti was to spend the next twenty years in Naples, and produced many successful operas during this time. He also wrote chamber music for his aristocratic benefactors, including madrigals and serenades.

By 1700 the War of the Spanish Succession was beginning to undermine the privileged status of the Neapolitan nobility, making Scarlatti's position insecure. Thus in 1702 he left with his family for Florence, where he hoped to find employment for himself and his son Domenico with Prince Ferdinando de' Medici. However, Scarlatti did not find employment in Florence, and he instead accepted the inferior position in Rome of assistant music director at San Maria Maggiore. Unfortunately for Scarlatti, during this time the pope had placed a ban on the public performance of opera in Rome. And, while Scarlatti appears not to have had much enthusiasm for church music, he found an outlet for his operatic style by composing many oratorios and cantatas. In fact, Scarlatti wrote over 600 cantatas during his lifetime.

In 1706, Scarlatti was elected to the Arcadian Academy, along with Pasquini and Corelli. The following year he attempted to conquer Venice, the citadel of Italian opera, with his operas Mitridate Eupatore and Il trionfo della libertà, but they both failed (this is according to source (1); other sources have Mitridate Eupatore as one of Scarlatti's finest achievements) and Scarlatti returned to Rome. There, he was promoted to the senior post at San Maria Maggiore.

Scarlatti's dissatisfaction with sacred music, combined with the offer of a new appointment in the Austrian viceroy's court in Naples, prompted him to return to Naples in 1708. He was to remain there until his death in 1725. However, Scarlatti maintained close ties with some of his Roman patrons and he frequently alternated between Rome and Naples.

While Scarlatti's influence as a "leader" of early 18th century Neapolitan opera is debated, there is no question that he helped to refine and perfect the various major features of the form (that is, the particular uses of the aria and the overture to advance the story line). In addition, some of Scarlatti's chamber cantatas are very fine works. In opera, and in the more "operatic" of the sacred choral forms, Scarlatti's body of work is said to be a precursor to the great masterworks of Haydn and Mozart.

(2) Scarlatti, Alessandro on (
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