Harpsichordist's gems to come to life Sunday

St. John's educator will perform pieces by Domenico Scarlatti

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January 31, 2002|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It may seem as though the cause of great music hit the daily double back in 1685.

Johann Sebastian Bach, the groundbreaking genius who would honor the world with the B-minor Mass, the Brandenburg Concertos, and the most profound lessons in harmony it would ever receive, was born in Eisenach, Germany. Several dozen miles to the east, George Frederick Handel, whose operas and oratorios would one day have the likes of Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven genuflecting with reverence, also was brought into the world that year.

But even music-trivia buffs sometimes forget that it was a trifecta that they won 317 years ago. For in 1685, Domenico Scarlatti also was born.

"Scarlatti was an extraordinary composer whose works for the keyboard are like no others ever written," says harpsichordist and St. John's College tutor emeritus Douglas Allanbrook, who will perform 14 of Scarlatti's 550 keyboard sonatas Sunday afternoon in the Great Hall on the St. John's campus. Allanbrook also will play his own work, Black and White.

Domenico Scarlatti was born into one of Italy's foremost musical families. His father, Alessandro (1660-1725), was one of Europe's most renowned composers of opera and, for a time, Domenico contributed his efforts to that same medium.

But at age 34, the younger Scarlatti moved to Lisbon, where he taught harpsichord to Portugal's Princess Maria Barbara.

When she married Prince Fernando, who would become king of Spain, Scarlatti followed his patron across the Iberian peninsula to Spain, where he would remain for the rest of his life.

It is for that royal couple, both of them musicians, that he composed the colorful, highly virtuosic sonatas that continue to fascinate us today.

"It's amazing how much he caught of the popular Spanish music of his time in these pieces," says Allanbrook, who has been sharing his musical erudition with students and the Annapolis community since his arrival on the St. John's faculty in 1952. "You can hear Spanish rhythms and the sounds of village bands in there, as well as chords and rhythms inspired by the guitar. It's uncanny how much he was able to express."

Allanbrook has deep personal connections to this remarkable music. His friend, the late Ralph Kirkpatrick, dean of American harpsichordists for a generation, organized and numbered the vast catalog of Scarlatti sonatas.

Richard Rephann, a former Allanbrook student at St. John's who now oversees Yale University's instrument collection, built the harpsichord the artist will use in Sunday's recital.

"It is time to consider how Domenico Scarlatti condensed so much music into so few bars with never a crabbed turn, or congested cadence, never a boast or a see-here," author Basil Bunting once wrote.

With Allanbrook, a true Annapolis institution at the keyboard, Sunday afternoon will be an excellent time to celebrate the prescience of Bunting's remarks.

The recital, which begins at 3 p.m., is free and open to the public. No tickets or reservations are required. For more information, call 410-626-2539, or click on "Upcoming Events" at www.sjca.edu.

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