Roberto Pagano: Alessandro e Domenico Scarlatti – Due vite in una

Vol. I xxx+532pp, Vol. II (Abbreviations and Indices) vii+119pp.
LIM, 2015. ISBN: 9788870968101. €50

What follows is a preliminary response rather than a thorough review, let alone a comparative one of the new publication respect to the previous one. The earlier editions of Roberto Pagano’s greatest work, the culmination of 40 years of research, are already known to interested Italian and English readers. Sadly, Pagano passed away last July 13, only a few weeks before LIM issued his re-revised dual biography of Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti. Reviews, some polemical, of the 1985 and 2006 editions, can be found online, which induces me, instead of covering any of the same ground, to describe the new format and to translate some of Pagano’s prefatory remarks.

The Bibliography and the Index, both formatted in detailed tables, now occupy a separate, smaller volume, ideal for carrying to a library, or for browsing topics, works, names, events, and subjects discussed in the text or footnotes (which are on the appropriate pages of the text). Under the author’s name 17 of his publications on the Scarlattis between 1969 and 2015 are cited. Under ‘A. Scarlatti’ and ‘D. Scarlatti’ one finds five and seven pages respectively of references to works, events, historical hypotheses, motives, opinions, and important discussions in the book.

The original dual biography, Scarlatti: Alessandro e Domenico. Due vite in una  was published 1985. Twenty years later the first revision was made for the English translation by Frederick Hammond: Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti – Two Lives in One  (Pendragon Press, 2006). Thanks to Hammond, a Scarlatti scholar in his own right, English readers have access to a version updated only ten years ago. To readers of either previous edition Pagano now explicitly points out new findings or new deductions that affect his original conclusions. He also answers his critics again. New readers may be somewhat distracted by these work-in-progress ‘flashbacks’, but they are valuable, if only because so much general Scarlatti research, still in print and circulating, has turned out to be incorrect.

In 2006 Pagano still surmised, as Kirkpatrick had done, that Antonio Soler (1729-1783), who had been apprenticed with Domenico, was possibly the main scribe of the large Venice and Parma codices of Domenico’s sonatas. This hypothesis has now been modified, reluctantly, by the research (2012) of Águeda Pedrero Encabo (in favour of the copyist Joseph [José] Alaguero), though the new discussion includes convincing evidence for Soler’s involvement in supervising the copying of the two collections, and also in making copies of other sonatas, possibly realized from various types of shorthand, such as keyboard tablature or continuo notation, or indeed by dictation, while hearing them improvised or played by Domenico. This information comes from Soler’s testimony to that effect in his Llave del la Modulación, along with his reason for not writing double sharps (e.g. writing G instead of #[#]F), which he said Scarlatti did not use.

Pagano wrote the entries on both Scarlattis in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians  of 2001. After the second version of his book he wrote an article for Early Music  xxxvi/3 (2008), ‘The Two Scarlatti’, which began:

First of all I am surprised to find unnoticed an important element of my biographical hypothesis, openly announced in the title of my book: the complementarity of the human and artistic lives of the two Scarlattis. It is impossible to re-examine in detail here their parallel biographical trajectory, but the most recent discoveries make even clearer Domenico’s metamorphosis after the death of his father; the year of black-out and sickness following Alessandro’s death is highly significant and his subsequent development arose from impulses that combined emulation with a desire for identification…

Other important contributions between the middle and final versions of the biography are found in the Rivista Italiana di Musicologia, XLI, 2006/2, in Domenico Scarlatti: Musica e Stori a (Turchini Edizioni, 2010), in Studi musicali  XXXVIII/I 2009, and in Devozione e Passione: Alessandro Scarlatti nella Napoli e Roma Barocca  (Turchini Edizioni, 2014).

All the above and more is in the present posthumous edition. The twists and turns of Pagano’s Italian are extremely challenging, even to Italian readers, and a distinct pleasure at the same time. A quote from his preface (p. xiv) will give not only a taste of his style and standpoint, but of the task of a biographer as he saw it:

Forty years ago, while writing Alessandro Scarlatti’s biography, I happened to bring to light certain aspects of his personality that tarnish his halo as the saint at the head of the controversial Neapolitan School, a gallery of myths. It is always risky to swim against the current in the streams of tradition: the few remarks made about my efforts by generous and illustrious reviewers mainly concerned my suggested resizing of the image of a boss whom evidently all would have liked to continue to see as a long-bearded God-father, eternally intent at radiating benevolent influence on relatives and disciples.

When… Malcolm Boyd declared… that my judgment on the disparity between [A. Scarlatti’s] artistic merit and human weaknesses… was in contradiction with everything I had narrated about the musician, I, in turn, was thunderstruck, because I continue to believe – and this book ought to finally make it clear – that all the elements of that biography contribute to reveal the fragility of the man: a fragility rooted in that very Sicily that I am certain to know better than others, as Boyd himself was loyally to admit [in 1986] when he saw in my new book a happy combination of “scientific accuracy” and “profound knowledge of Sicilian history and culture”, judging me absolutely “without rivals” in my knowledge of the Sicilian “psyche”.

(My translation)

It goes without saying that the new edition ought to be translated into English, an enterprise which would take quite a while to realize. For now I’d recommend a compromise for English readers: have both the 2006 Frederick Hammond version and the 2015 final version, and use the fabulous new index to update the information in the former as needed. Enjoy what you can of Pagano’s interpretive dialogue with his readers, whom he invites to engage with his methods, both rigorous and imaginative.

Barbara Sachs