Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Another Scarlatti Sonata: K. 206

In my last post on Scarlatti, on K. 213, I said that "In other pieces we find different harmonic schemes and different thematic material handled differently." I would like to put that to the test by seeing how a different sonata is put together for comparison. One sonata that really sticks in the mind is K. 206, Andante, in E major. Here is a performance on harpsichord:

But the first time I heard it was on a remarkable recording by Leo Brouwer on  guitar, with some very nice ornamental ideas:

This sonata has some of Scarlatti's most fantastic harmonic ideas, but before we get to those, let's look at the melodic material. Remember in K. 213 I suggested he was having fun with us at the beginning by teasing us with material that might be a fugue subject? He does it again here, but this time carries it a bit further:
What is so delightfully Scarlattian about this seven-measure opening phrase (yes, his phrase lengths are very often quite irregular--I didn't mention it with K. 213, but that sonata starts with two phrases of five measures each) is that it tries to sound like imitative counterpoint. Well, sure, it is imitative counterpoint. Just a bit too imitative. The subject is answered by, uh, the subject again, an octave lower. It is supposed to be answered on the dominant. Then it comes again, but missing that first measure. It all sounds perfectly normal, but rather bare. Then in measure five we get some different material: an ascending chromatic scale. Neither of these two elements will play a part in what follows though. The real thematic material comes next, an eighth note figure that owes a bit to the chromatic scale and a bit to the triplet, but is actually new:
This figure is altered in various ways, sometimes it is descending, sometimes becomes a kind of turn-figure and sometimes turns into quarter notes, but it provides the basic material for the whole sonata.

So, except for those A#s that tonicize the dominant, we stick to E major for the whole first section, to measure 17. Then, with no warning, the key shifts to E flat! And the pivot note? Oh yes there is indeed a pivot note, can't have a drastic modulation without a pivot note. C flat. Yes, that's right. There is a big cadence on the dominant, B major, that ends with two measures of B major over a couple of octaves just so you have it in your ear. Then the note that begins the next section in E flat --indicated with a key signature change from four sharps to three flats-- the next section begins with a C flat. Which, of course, sounds exactly like that B you have had pounded at you for two measures. Talk about a wild modulation! Because Scarlatti goes from the tonic major to the key of the leading tone via the flat submediant of the new key! The key signature may say E flat, but by flatting the C and the G when it appears, Scarlatti really has us in the key of E flat minor. This only lasts for eight measures, then the E major signature returns. But with E#s tonicizing F#, the dominant of B and with consistent A#s, we are really in B major territory and this phrase ends with a half cadence on F# coming from its Neapolitan, 
G. The progression goes G major, E minor, F#. This repeats a couple of times. Then at measure 40 begins a lovely lyrical section with falling thirds cadencing in B minor. There is a new section with rising quarter notes that finally takes us to the final cadence in B major. End of the first half.

The second half begins in C# minor with the inversion of that eighth note melodic figure and by way of simply repeating a step higher manages to get us to a small cadence in D# major--the enharmonic equivalent of E flat major, of course. Then, without much warning we shift to E minor for some very Spanishy sounding progressions that wander into A minor, but in first inversion so when we cadence in B, it has a Phrygian flavor. Then the original eighth note thematic material returns, but this time in E major (remember that before, those A#s were sending us to B major). We have a couple of cadences on E, but using F major as a kind of substitute for the dominant for the Phrygian feel again. Then those lyrical falling thirds return, but this time in A major, then C major but cadencing on E. We are getting near the end but first there is a big emphasis on A minor with the E turned into its dominant 7th. The second half ends with the rising quarter note passage from the first half but that this time takes us to A minor, then E minor, then B major, then E. We don't know whether we are in E major or minor as the last complete tonic chord we hear is minor! The final measure just has octave Es.

Apart from the two repeating halves and the fact that the first half ends on the dominant and the second on the tonic, I think you would agree that this sonata is put together utterly differently from K. 213?

Well, that just leaves five hundred and fifty-three sonatas to look at! (Yes, I'm kidding.)

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