The Keyboard Technique of Domenico Scarlatti

It is important to know that, in the original manuscripts of the Scarlatti sonatas, notes are divided between the two staves at middle C, not to indicate whether the right or left hand should be used.

[a fragment of the manuscript]

Although a few reverse-hand indications are noted by ms. (left hand) and md. (right hand), note stem directions were mostly chosen for maximum readability of the score. The apportionment between hands in the Longo edition was done by Longo, writing as a piano player long after Scarlatti's style had fallen into disuse, and usually shows only one of the many hand-over-hand variations possible in a piece. From my study of the music, I believe that you should be able to play most Scarlatti phrases with either hand interchangeably, and make them sound exactly the same either way, if you are to understand his keyboard technique.

The following notes are a bit repetitive, but are so to demonstrate this unappreciated point - how commonly Scarlatti must have used alternating-hands techniques all his life. (I note only the most illustrative cases - you will discover many more that lie under the hands well once you start looking for them.)

Throughout, bar numbers are those of Longo (Kalmus), since it is the most reasonably priced edition available, however sonata numbers are those of Kirkpatrick. Left hand low right hand high is abbreviated LR, the reverse RL. With RL, the left hand can of course go over or under the right in many cases for increased variety. I note only the first occurence of each theme in a sonata that can be (not "must be") varied, so assume ... following each clause.

  • K2: alternate hands on paired passages e.g LR bars 5-8 RL 9-12
  • K3: play scale segments hand over hand e.g. L for 1st 5 notes, R for next 5, L for 3rd 5;also R arpeggio 16-19, L 18-23, R 22-27, switch to RL 2nd beat 25
  • K4: RL beat 3 bar 4, LR beat 2 bar 5, RL beat 3 bar 6; RL beat 5/16 bar 13, LR beat 13/16
  • K5: RL bar 7, LR bar 9; bar 31 play descending 3rds L synchopated C's R; for a real show alternate R&L on C's
  • K7: alternate LR RL bars 9-10, 11-12; bar 40 use 5 4 for the low F G, knuckle of thumb for upper F and end for G for legato; bar 55 use 5 1-5 1 fingering of the bass octaves for legato
  • K8: organ technique - use a lot of finger transfers on notes to ensure legato
  • K9: bar 8-11 thirds can be played lower L upper R, one-handed with 1+5 2+4 fingering (thumb on naturals of course), or thirds1,3,5 L 2,4,6 R; for runs like bar 24, noted to be played as fast as possible, practise the absolute economy and smoothness of motion on scales - watch every joint individually for both
  • K9-10: the first obviously-paired sonatas (same key, compatible themes)
  • K11: bar 5 vary 3rds and G as K9; RL 11 beat 3, LR 12 beat 2
  • K13: RL 5 beat 3/8 LR 8 beat 2/16; bar 8-9 as Longo or with 9 beat 2/4 to 10 beat 2/16 inverted from Longo; RL 20 beat 5/16, LR 22 beat 4/8; 23-27 LR 4 notes RL 4 notes, or switch every 8 notes
  • K14: 1 arpeggio 3 notes R 3 L 3 R; RL 2 beat 7/8, LR 3 beat 1/8; 15 RL 17 LR
  • K15: 1-2 as Longo or R upper note of 3rds L lower; 10 RL 11 LR
  • K17: 1-3 as Longo or hand-over-hand octaves; 12 A+C 3rd L; all repeats RL e.g. 24-27; 45 triplets hand-over-hand
  • K18: best sounding overlap of 2nds is very dependent on instrument, a variety of sounds is possible; 7 beat 1 RL beat 3 LR
  • K19: 20 continue last 3 16ths with R then RL, 24 beat 2/16 LR
  • K20: 1 double-3rd trill; 3 if you can't reach double-6th trills 1+5 2+4, then use L for the A trill; 37-40 alternate RL LR for each bar or only for 3rds; 41-46 play 3rds with 2-hands, 1L 1R 1 L, 4 R 4 L 4 R, or throughout with one hand
  • K21: 3-4 LR 5-6 RL; 7-8 beat 3 RL; 19 LR 20 RL 21 LR; 35-37 RL, LR, L with 37 A G# R, or R with 37 A G# L; 43-52 all 8th notes with one hand, 16ths with other
  • K22: as Longo or hands inverted bar 2; 14-16 one beat RL next LR; 22-24 switch L&R beat 3/8, or play 26-29 RL
  • K23: initial 3rds as 15; 6-7 high A trills L; 12-13 1 beat LR next RL; 17 on reverse R&L beat 2/16 6/16 10/16 or 2/16 10/16; 31-32 6/8 R 7/8 L 8/8 R
  • K24: 4-5 scales hand over hand
  • K25: 8 beat 2/8 RL, 10 beat 2/8 LR; 14-15 reversed from Longo, or reverse 12-15 bar by bar
  • K26: 29-35 RL as Longo, LR, or middle 3rds divided between L&R, or one for each theme repeat; 110-116 hand over hand
  • K27: 4-6 make long leaps as legato as possible; 11-16 do leaps with one hand then other, interlace by switching from R to L the 4th 16th note of each 4-note arpeggio section
  • K29: use most of the above variants, all through. Here is the way I plan to publish the Sonatas, interlaced on a single staff with a different note symbol for each hand:
[score image]

John Sankey,
Harpsichordist to the Internet