The 20 Best Scarlatti Sonatas

The Musical Intention

In this blog the intention has been to identify twenty of the best of D. Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas for performance on the piano.

Historical Context

  • Domenico Scarlatti (1685 – 1757) was an Italian composer who worked mainly for the Royal Courts of both Spain and Portugal.
  • His musical importance arises because he composed 555+ keyboard sonatas for the harpsichord although they are often played on the piano and other instruments including guitar, organ, and accordion.
  • As a baroque composer his music links closely to the subsequent classical era in music history.
  • Little of his music was published in his own lifetime.
  • His sonatas are mostly composed in binary form (AB) whilst some are in early sonata form.
  • Many of his sonatas are coloured with Spanish and Portugese folk music and make use of a range of scales namely ionian(major) aeolian (minor)  and phyrgian mode (the Spanish mode).
  • In Scarlatti’s music it is possible to hear musical images of the sounds of the street, the countryside and the guitar.
  • The musicologist and harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick produced an edition of Scarlatti’s music in 1953 and reference to K. numbers refers to the chronological list that he created. Prior to this Alessandro Longo an Italian composer and musicologist catalogue his Scarlatti’s music applying L. numbers and these are often also associated with published copies of his music.  

PlentyMusic Scores

On the PlentyMusic website four types of musical score associated with Domenico Scarlatti’s music  are to be found :

  • The plain score is the music in outline with ornament symbols indicated. This score version has minimal score detail and is characteristic of music printed and published from the baroque era.
  • Edited music scores have some score detail to assist players in their performance and practice. This includes dynamics, phrase marks, slurs, some fingering and tempo markings.
  • Performance scores have score detail including dynamics, articulation markings and suggested right and left hand fingering. By intention they are very detailed.

Tip: Performance scores are on the busy side – in fact they can have much too much information – that distracts from the music – however they are a necessary and useful evil – discard them as soon as you are able and use a plain score.

  • The realisation score has the score detail included with the ornaments written out as they are sounded in the realisation. It’s intention is to assist performers with their understanding of the interpretation of the music particularly in respect to the playing of ornaments. Frequently these scores are in a reduced format. In realisations repeats are not always played. These scores are often used for video scores although the score detail has to be hidden simply because graphics behave very inconsistently in mp4 format.  

Why Play Scarlatti Keyboard Sonatas

  • Excellent for developing a range of keyboard touches and techniques (legato, staccato, staccatissimo, changing finger on a note, fingers close to the keys, left hand over right hand technique and vice versa)
  • They are many that are excellent pieces for developing fast playing
  • They are composed in a variety of tempi, keys and have varied musical content and intention
  • They are beautiful and consistently crafted works
  • They are excellent and appealing performance pieces
  • They transpose well from the harpsichord to other instruments including the piano, guitar, accordion and organ
  • They can be explored by players of different levels of technical and musical ability
  • There are plenty to choose from – in that he composed over 550
  • The sonatas are very enjoyable movements to revisit

Remember that the sonatas were originally played on the harpsichord an instrument which requires a light touch

Performance Notes – Ornamentation

  • There is great symmetry in the Scarlatti keyboard sonatas and formally they are very balanced works. Ornamentation should in the editor’s view reflect these characteristics. If your fingers don’t have time to play the ornaments when learning the piece leave them out and add them at a later stage.
  • Ornaments need to have a clear rhythmic shape with the main ornament being the 4 note trill beginning on the upper note. There is no consistency amongst performers and music editions in terms of when and how ornaments are played. The interpretations evident in the scores on this website reflect the best of modern practice. In fast tempo works, the ornamentation is generally much more straight forward to understand and interpret. As the music is usually performed with repeats there is scope for performers to also vary the interpretation of the ornament in the repeat.
  • Ornaments at cadences such as trills do tend to be more elaborate and extended particularly if this is often combined with a slowing down (ritardando/rit.) in the music.
  • A slow tempo sonata requires a different concentration in terms of the playing of the ornaments but also allows much more freedom in terms of the number of notes that can be played. In a slow movement it is often easier to play more notes in a trill to keep a balanced rhythmical shape.

In slow movements there are usually many interpretations as to how the ornaments are played and the editor suggests that it would be worthwhile to spend some time listening to different recordings of a sonata.  Above all a consistent approach to the is required and when in doubt the advice is to choose the simplest option. Observe that in the prepared scores only the first two notes of four note ornaments have the fingering notated. Remember that the trill and the mordent sign mean essentially the same – if the ornament is cadential then it is likely and possible to have more notes with the trill sign is used. There is also scope for the confident player to add aditional ornaments particularly in the playing of the repeats. There are other solutions to playing the ornaments but the ones suggested keep very much to contemporary performance practice. Appoggiaturas (leaning notes) and  acciaccaturas (crushed notes) in slow tempo works do presents a challenge as far as the interpretation and function. Music editors do tend to show evidence of an  “over” understanding the interpretation of the ornaments.

Best advice the playing of an ornament ultimately comes down to personal preference based on knowledge and familiarity  of the musical style  and works of the composer. An most important aspect is to accept the fact that you your opinion may well change!

Always be open to a second opinion on how an ornament is played based on a “gathering information” approach. Performance practice adds a complication in that changing times quite often results in different approaches and interpretations. The best advice is to keep it simple, familiar and current  – interpret the best of modern performance practice.

Listening Recent

There are many excellent recent recordings that are available by: Claire Huangci, Murray Perahia, Ivo Pogorelich, Andras Schiff, Yevgeny Sudbin, Alexandre Tharaud, Joyce Yang, Lucas Debargue, Christian Blackshaw  amongst others

Listening Archive

There are also many historical recordings worthy of a listen including those by Emil Gilels, Anne Queffélec, Vladimir Horowitz, Dinu Lipatti, Peter Katin, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and  Maria Tipo.

There is even a Jacques Loussier Trio interpretation of the Sonata in B minor K.87 and the Cuban classical guitarist, composer and conductor Leo Brouwer recorded what is an excellent album of sonatas transposed for the guitar.

The PlentyMusic Scarlatti Challenge

Listen to other keyboard sonatas by the composer and nominate up to five sonatas to be added and possibly five sonatas to be removed from the current prepared list. The music editor would also be very interested to receive requests for arrangements and transpositions of these some of these keyboard sonatas for instruments other than the piano/keyboard. Your suggestions and comments can be added either at the end of this blog or by email to the PlentyMusic office.

Your participation

PlentyMusic would also appreciate receiving observations and constructive comments about this Area of Study to assist in future planning.

The 2021 PlentyMusic Choice of the 20 Best Keyboard Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti

These are listed below in chronological order

Each has a video sheet music score and a link to a free score currently available from the PlentyMusic website. Remember that if you intend  to download sheet music and other resources from the PlentyMusic  website you will need to create an account and you can do this by using the Quick SignUp on the home page. The Free Scores will be available for a 30 day period after this blog post has been published. There are actually 21 sonatas in this list. I wonder which one you would leave out?

Stephen Royle February 2021


Keyboard Sonata in D minor K.1

Free sheet music score  link:

Keyboard Sonata in C minor K.8

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in D minor K.9

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in C minor K.11

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in B minor K.27

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in D minor K.32

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in B minor K.87

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in A minor K.141

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in C K.159

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in E K.162

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in D K.178

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in A K.208 

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in A K.322

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in E K.380

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in D K.417

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in G K.427

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in D K.443

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in F minor K.481

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in D K.491

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in F minor K.519 

Free sheet music score link:

Keyboard Sonata in Bb K.545

Free sheet music link:

Music for Piano Four Hands | Piano Duets

Some History of Music for Piano 4 Hands

The piano duet (music for 4 hands) became popular in the second half of the 18th century. The piano, at this time, was a focus for entertainment and a great amount of music was both composed and arranged in this format. 

Why play piano duets 

If you are a keyboard or piano player a repertoire that is deserving of attention and worth exploring is that composed for music for 4 hands. Apart from developing ensemble playing skills it is an excellent medium for developing awareness and understanding of compositional process.

What music is in the repertoire for piano duet aka music for piano 4 hands 

J. C. F Bach (1732 – 1795) the third youngest of J.S. Bach’s four composing sons composed two sonatas for piano (4 hands).

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart  (1756 – 1791) composed much music for piano 4 hands which he often performed with his elder sister known as Nannerl. There are sonatas, variations and arrangements of music composed for solo piano. These works are excellent for developing an understanding of how Mozart composed his music and are great ensemble pieces with a similar content to the music found in his piano concerti. Mozart’s music is always of a very high and consistent quality. His music was generally composed perfectly formed as such in his head and then subsequently transcribed to manuscript. 

First Movement K.19d | Free sheet music and accompaniments link:​

Minuet and Trio K.19d | Free sheet music and accompaniments link:

Rondo K.19d | Free sheet music and accompaniments link:​

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827) made an important contribution to the repertoire for music for piano 4 hands and there are the three Opus 45 Marches and a number of sets of variations together with arrangements of dances and a two movement Sonata in D Opus 6. For those who enjoy a particular challenge there is an arrangement by the composer of the Grosse Fugue in Bb for piano 4 hands, a copy of which in the composer’s hand was only re-discovered in relatively recent times.

March No.1 in C | Free sheet music and accompaniments link:​

Variations on “Ich denke dein” | Free sheet music and accompaniments link:

Franz Schubert’s (1797 – 1828) contribution to the repertoire is unusual in that some of his major and greatest works are for this medium. The haunting and dramatic Fantasy in F minor D. 940 is an often performed, well recorded work that is in this category. There is also a substantial 4 movement Sonata for Piano Duet in C major D.812 known as the “Grand Duo.” The Rondo in A Major D.951 or “Grand Rondeau” is another appealing piece in the key of A that strikes the same mood as many other of the composer’s works in the same key such as the Piano Sonata in A D.664. Whilst Schubert excelled at composing all types of music his chamber music is particularly significant because many works were composed for a circle of musical friends many of whom supported him at challenging and difficult times in his life. In addition to the substantial works there are many sets of variations, marches and arrangements of dances popular from the composer’s time.

Military March No.1 Opus 51 Free sheet music and accompaniments link:

Children’s March in G | Free sheet music and accompaniments link:

Gaetano Donizetti (1797 – 1848) Whilst known for his operas this prolific Italian composer contributed some excellent piano duets to the repertoire which are recent discovery for this blogger. 

Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856) was intent upon becoming a concert pianists but an injury to a finger led hm to focus on composing. The Studies in Canon Opus 56 for pedal piano were later arranged by Georges Bizet for piano duet and the six movements are excellent pieces to both play and enjoy. They were composed when Schumann was intent upon revisiting the principles of contrapuntal discipline in his writing.

Study in Canon No.2 arr. Bizet | Free sheet music and accompaniments link:

Study in Canon No.3 arr. Bizet | Free sheet music and accompaniments link:

Study in Canon No.4 arr.Bizet Free sheet music and accompaniments link: ​

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) contribution to the piano duet repertoire include the 21 Hungarian Dances (1 – 10 date from 1858-68 and 11-21 from 1880), the Waltzes Opus 39 (1865) and the Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann Opus 23. The Hungarian Dances, based on actual Hungarian themes, were very popular and subsequently the composer (and others) made arrangements for various instrument groupings.  

Georges Bizet (1838 – 1875)  composed his Jeux d’enfants (Children’s Games) Opus 22 in 1871. It a suite of 12 miniatures for piano 4 hands which were then subsequently orchestrated (although not all by the composer). Commentators have suggested that Jeux d’enfants enabled Bizet to discover his true compositional strengths and spirit as a composer – namely writing short melodic pieces that had a chromatic context Bizet’s  Jeux d’enfants well maybe of been the inspiration for Fauré, Debussy and Ravel to compose similar childhood  inspired music.

Edvard Grieg (1843 – 1907) played piano duets with his mother and not surprising made a contribution to the repertoire including the characterful Norwegian Dances Opus 35 (1880) which were later orchestrated by Hans Sitt. Much of the composer’s orchestral music has also been arranged as music for piano duet. 

Norwegian Dance No.2 Free sheet music and accompaniments link:

Antonín Dvorák (1841 – 1904) is another late romantic composer associated with the movement known as Nationalism who composed his Slavonic Dances Opus 46 (1878) and Opus 72 (1886) for piano duet. As they quickly became popular Dvorák soon orchestrated them at the request of his publisher. On the whole, they are Bohemian in context and whilst Dvorak does not quote folk melodies he does make use of traditional rhythmic patterns and folk music structures. Amongst the more familiar dances that feature are the furiant, the dumka , the polka, the mazurka and the polonaise. The works were inspired by Brahm’s Hungarian Dances and were important in establishing Dvorák as a major composer. 

Gabriel Fauré’s  (1845 – 1924) composed the piano duet collection familiarly known as the “Dolly Suite.” Often the inspiration for composing a piano duet collection was a connection to a child and this was the case with this collection of six pieces largely composed between 1893 and 1896. 

Mi-a-ou | Free sheet music and accompaniments link:

Le garden de Dolly | Free sheet music and accompaniments link:

Kitty-Valse | Free sheet music and accompaniments link:

Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918) is another French composer who contributed to the piano duet repertoire composing  a four movement Petite Suite for piano duet in 1888/89 which was subsequently orchestrated by Henri Busser. There are also some other piano duets by the composer including the 6 Épigraphes antiques which date from 1914 although the music initially originated in another format.

Moritz Moszkowski (1854 – 1925) was a German composer of Polish – Jewish descent who was an exceptional pianist and well known at the end of the 19th century as a concert pianist, conductor, composer and teacher. He composed many small-scale piano works of which his 5 Spanish Dances Opus 12 set are probably the best known existing in several formats  including piano duet. The Spanish sound is referenced by use of the phrygian mode which has the semi-tones between the first and second and the fifth and sixth degree of the scale  – D Eb F G A Bb C D. The rhythmic shapes are from patterns associated with the Bolero which originated in Spain during the C18th as a form of ballroom dance and became a template and form used by many composers of art music. Music associated with particular countries and regions of Europe particular on its fringes was very popular towards the end of the 19th century identified with a movement that was known as nationalism. 

Spanish Dance No.2 Free sheet music and accompaniments link:

Anton Arensky (1861 – 1906) was a Russian composer and music professor who taught Rimsky Korsakov, Scriabin and Rachmaninov amongst others. Influenced by Tchaikovsky he composed some charming chamber music including the Opus 34 and and Opus 66 piano duets. He tended to imitate the musical style of others rather than pursue and and establish his own distintive musical style and as a consequence he suffered criticism from his contemporaries. It probably explains the reason why his music is not more widely performed and known.

Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937) composed his five movement Ma mère l’Oye (Mother Goose Suite) for piano duet in 1910. The work was subsequently orchestrated and expanded by the composer. Four of the movements have a literary inspirations and they were composed and dedicated to children of the composer’s friends.

More recent composers who have contributed to the piano duet repertoire whose, music is in copyright, are Francis Poulenc (1899 – 1963)  and Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1972).  Poulenc has composed a Sonata for Piano 4 hands and amongst Stravinsky’s piano duets are the 5 Easy Pieces and 3 Easy Pieces. In addition,  there are 4 hands arrangements of the composers ballets Petrushka  and Rite of Spring both by the composer. György Ligeti (1923 – 2006) was a Hungarian-Austrian modern classical composer identified with the “avant-garde.”Amongst his piano music is a Sonatina for piano 4 hands . György Kurtág (b1926) is a Hungarian classical composer and pianist who has composed many piano duets which he often performed with his (late) wife Márta. He is particularly interested in creating miniatures or what have been described as musical fragments. His nine volume collection Játékok includes much  4 hand music.

Who plays piano duets?

There are many fine performers of piano duets and often they are husband and wife teams, siblings or musicians that are together at a festival. John Ogdon played  and recorded with his wife Brenda Lucas whilst Aloys and Alfons Kontarsky were two brothers from German pianists who played both piano duets and music for two pianos frequently premiering contemporary works.

Benjamin Britten and Sviatoslav Richter famously played piano duets at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1960’s and these performances which included the Mozart Duet Sonata in C K.521 which are still available in the recording catalogue. Martha Argerich is another pianist who often shares a duet or duo rôle at a music festival and again recordings are available often of the live concerts.

Murray Perahia and Radu Lupu played as a piano duet and piano duo in the late 1980’s and recorded the Schubert Fantasy in F minor D.940 in what was a landmark recording along with works for piano duo.

Piano Duets and PlentyMusic 

To encourage pianists and keyboard players to participate in an ensemble music activity PlentyMusic has a number of piano duets available in its catalogue with “accompaniments” to download enabling the player to take on the rôle of either the Primo or Secondo player in an ensemble music activity. Download formats are pdf for sheet music and mp3 for sound files. The sheet music and accompaniments music can be found on the PlentyMusic website in the Area of Study: Piano Duets (Music for Piano Four Hands). There is more music available than that referenced above and music is continuously been added to the website.

Please advise the PlentyMusic Office either through LiveChat or by email if you would like to see some additional scores and accompaniments in place for this repertoire.

Stephen Royle

February 2020


Beethoven 250 A PlentyMusic View

Beethoven 250 A PlentyMusic View

2020 marks 250 years since Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn on December 17th 1770. He died in Vienna, where he spent most of his working life, on March 26th 1827. His musical talent was evident at a young age, although he was brought up by a father who was more often drunk than sober. Beethoven’s mother died when he was 17 and four of his six siblings died in infancy.

Beethoven’s initial reputation was gained as a virtuoso pianist and subsequently through his work as a composer.  Sadly, he never enjoyed good health and by the age of 41 was totally deaf, resulting in him having to give up public performances. His career is usually divided into three periods, with the first finishing in 1802, the “middle” ending in 1812 and the “late” ending with his death.

Beethoven contributed a great amount of music to the repertoire and for music students and musicologists it was his interest in developing and expanding musical form that is identified as his main contribution to the development of western music. For any pianist the 32 Piano Sonatas remain core repertoire and during my preparation of this month’s choir notes I have been listening to the recent recording of all 32 sonatas by Igor Levitt. His Beethoven playing puts him very much at the top table especially, for his generation. Beethoven, when played at its best, communicates intensity and unity. It requires musicians to have excellent technical ability and concentration and above all a clear purpose and direction in their playing.

Beethoven, along with F. J. Haydn and W. A Mozart, are identified as being part of the first Viennese school. F. J. Haydn (1732 – 1809) lived, relatively speaking, a little before Beethoven and spent most of his career working for the Esterházy family on a remote estate in present day Hungary. Here he worked in comparative isolation, producing music for a household which could provide enough musicians for an orchestral concert or even an opera. Haydn worked under the system of patronage and was essentially a paid servant, which even required him to wear livery. The music he composed (until he negotiated a new contract in 1779) was also owned by his employees, the Esterházy family.

Beethoven however, belonged to a new age and was essentially a self-employed musician and composer earning income from publications of his music and performances. He also received monies from patrons for whom he would give private performances and fulfil commissions of new works. His most important patron was Archduke Rudolf (youngest son of the King of Hungary and Bohemia) and 14 of the composer’s works were dedicated to him. Beethoven’s annual income as such was never secure and with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars some sponsors and patrons literally fell by the wayside. Beethoven is identified with the movement known as the Enlightenment, in which reason and the evidence of the senses dominated thinking. Questioning and the application of scientific method became prerogatives. The ideals of the Enlightenment focused very much on liberty, progress, toleration, fraternity, constitutional government and the separation of church and state and were to dominate thinking in Europe during the 17th and through to the 19th century, thus preparing the way for the political turmoil which started with the French revolution of 1789.

Most commentaries suggest that Beethoven had a challenging personality and politically he was quite radical. Whilst he was born a commoner, his talent and music allowed him access across the class divisions but he remained disrespectful of authority and did not accept the rules of social etiquette when in the company of the aristocracy.

Much of Beethoven’s composing would be done in his head, quite often when he walked around the hills and woods of Vienna. He would often sketch down his ideas in notebooks, which he would then write up when he returned home. His sketch books are very revealing because they tell us that he would frequently change and develop his ideas before they were performed and published. Beethoven’s routine was to take a long walk after lunch, usually on his own and commentators have identified these as important times of reflection and evaluation. Understandably, as a result of these walks, there is a strong connection  between nature and  the composer’s music,  with the Symphony No. 6 Opus 68 (Pastoral) being an example with its musical description of a storm.

Beethoven was born into the Catholic faith, although he couldn’t be described as a devout man. He would turn to religion when it might be helpful to him, such as pursuing a religious patron or dedicatee for his music and perhaps when he was in poor health. It is evident that in his composing career Beethoven did have a desire to make a contribution to the church music repertoire. There is an oratorio and a Mass in C Opus 86 but it is his Missa Solemnis (Solemn Mass) of 1825, Opus 123, which marks one of his greatest achievements as a composer. This is a work more suited to a concert hall work performance rather than church and was dedicated to his friend Archduke Rudolf of Austria on his installation as Archbishop of Olomouc. It is work representative of Beethoven’s final mature period and is one of the western world’s great religious musical works. It is gigantic in proportions of the length, complexity and the resources it requires for a performance. Beethoven researched Latin texts, church modes and took 4 years to compose the work between 1819 – 1823. It is similar to his Symphony No. 9 in D minor Opus 125 (Choral) in that its musical language communicates at both the personal and universal levels. Both are extraordinary works in their vision and the way they touch humanity at many different levels.

Stephen Royle          May 2020


PlentyMusic at is a music resources website aimed at all instrument players but particularly students and teachers in schools, academies and colleges. PlentyMusic provides a range of high quality music scores with supporting mp3 sound files allowing individuals to audition and listen to music examples before downloading and printing pdf sheet music files.

Usernames and passwords to gain access to the site can be obtained from the website.

On the website it is possible to browse and listen to sound files before subscribing and printing sheet music. Individuals can browse and search by Areas of StudyComposerInstrument, and Difficulty Level.

The resources are designed to be used in several contexts – educational, performing and teaching. Difficulty levels for pieces are given as a guide and relate to the playing standard of a whole movement and in ensemble pieces understand that players may well be playing at different levels.

The playing levels are described as beginner, improver, intermediate and advanced. Beginner level music is for those in their first year of playing and Improver level for those in their second year of playing.Intermediate level resources are in the Grade 4 – 5 range and Advanced Grade 6 and upwards.

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Sheet music files, in A4 format, have been prepared using Sibelius software and have then been exported into pdf format for downloading. The mp3 sound files have been produced from exporting Sibelius files into audio. Sibelius Sounds and Garritan samples have been used.

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