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:

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