Scarlatti’s complaint

April 28, 2008


I was puzzled to see the name “Scarlatti” on my calendar this morning for an eleven o’clock. My assistant, who can be a bear when it comes to scaring away people that I don’t need to see, said it was impossible to deny this man. She said he was a man with a strong Italian accent and finally agreed for a half hour appointment.

I began to think whether I’ve had students whose last names were the same as composers. I couldn’t think of any. Beethoven, Mozart, Berlioz, Stravinsky, Puccini, Verdi, Stockhousen, Berio, Josquin, and so on. Although I hear there are a pair of Bartok twins who are famous in porn, and of course Wagner is rather common. Poor John Adams’ google rankings have probably plummeted since the John Adam mini-series aired this season. But Scarlatti was in the first category. Could this be a great-great grandson of THE Domenico Scarlatti? Pshaw, of course not.

Promptly at 11 am, the door burst open and an elderly gentleman, or wait, he has a powdered wig and as he raced towards me with his hand extended, a waft of stench came over me that made me involuntarily wince, and then went into auto-correct mode and smiled and shook his sweaty hand. It was Domenico Scarlatti.

He began speaking in Italian at a fast clip until I grabbed him and told him that I don’t speak Italian. He smiles, and raised both arms in the air as to embrace me, and then spouted out what was probably five single spaced pages of text, seemingly without a breath. I blinked. My memory is not good enough to remember his exact words, but the gist of it was the following.

“I have become the Salieri of the Baroque. It was JS Bach who was the pinnacle of that era in the opinion of the present day, and this is unfair. We teach our students Bach this and Bach that as if no one else mattered. Listen to this.”

He sat down and dashed off one his little binary firey sonatas with great passion and power.

“Now tell me THAT is not worth studying!”

My mouth was still open, and I realized that I was staring at him. I snapped out of it.

“Mr Salieri, er, Scarlatti, I agree whole-heartedly that you SHOULD be taught and valued more. Why, I could imagine an entire class to playing, arranging and studying your work.”

He looked at me, and his face became a huge smile. Once again he raised his arms as though gesturing towards the heavens, and he disappeared.

The door opened and my assistant came in and said, “Your 11 o’clock is here shall I send him in?”

And in came my student for his weekly composition lesson.

“Should I come back?” he said.

“No, no, I was just daydreaming…”

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Ursula Greville | Historical Sketches in Esoteric Britain
July 31, 2015 at 1:12 am

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Brad Wood April 29, 2008 at 2:27 pm

I was eating with my late sax teacher years ago in a crowded hole-in-the-wall favorite NoHo Thai restuarant years ago. Frank was also a bit hard-of-hearing, so conversation was a challenge.

I had been gassing about out friend Domenico, and probably in particular about his creative flowering rather late in life. I may have said something about Longo versus Kirkpatrick catalogs, Valenti’s questionable practices—I don’t recall now. After a moment or two of this, one of the adjacent couple seated a bit after us was provoked to complain: “EXCUSE me! I feel as if I were listening to a lecture on Scarlatti! Could you keep your voice down!?”

Of the many possible rejoinders I don’t recall what served, but we reached an uneasy truce, with Frank wanting to know what in hell was going on.

Of course for the rest of the meal I couldn’t help overhearing about every word of the conversation the interrogator was having with his date, who was commiserating about problems she had been having working out issues with her father, in her sessions with her therapist.

It was all I could do to restrain myself, particularly when they finished their meal and were leaving, which then afforded the perfect opportunity to wish her the best in psychological catharsis, and thank them for providing such sustained food for thought.

Roger Bourland April 30, 2008 at 5:11 am

Good story! Not unlike the Larry david post from last week…

Roger Bourland April 30, 2008 at 8:24 pm

Actually, he has very pretty fingers. Very delicate looking. No hard labor for this dude.

Brad Wood May 2, 2008 at 5:06 pm

When another person that was prominent in my life circa 1978, the late alternative-med doctor and ex-soprano Ursula Greville*, was first getting to know me, she viewed my not terribly delicate or aristocratic hands with some concern, as I was later to learn.

She watched closely as I repaired a faucet in her kitchen, and then seemed relieved that at least I was sufficiently dextrous, and agreed to take me on as a “patient”.

I’m reminded of Igor Kipnis here. He had always tended to overweight, but for a while had so much extra tonnage that his fingers became too fat to play harpsichord.

*Now difficult to learn much about, but having some net presence due to a really crude limerick penned by Peter Warlock, who was steamed when she displaced him as the editor of Peter Curwin’s small-circulation but influential British music journal, The Sackbut.

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