Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757) wrote a lot of Sonatas. Fair enough: what else was there to do all day before Twitter was invented? Listening to all these pieces in 2020 proved another challenge. I’ll make no claim to have heard each work in monkish concentration, and I make no guarantees for the correctness of my observations. But, at least partially thanks to the social wasteland caused by the coronavirus, I really did hear the entirety of every single one. Now you don’t have to.

For my sanity, I’ve ranked the works by category, instead of giving each Sonata a unique number. For your sanity, I haven’t described every piece—instead, I’ve only included my notes which either added to the description from the category or which I otherwise found interesting or funny. I’ve also included some miscellaneous pieces on this list, bringing the total from the standard 555 to 559. I mostly listened to the Scott Ross harpsichord recordings, though sometimes I also heard them on piano. (Sue me.)

While some writers point to the “total originality” and “spectacular innovations” in the sonatas, the reality is that many of them are boring, generic, or just plain bad. A fact that completist musicians should remember when recording these pieces: someone has to listen to them. But there is also incredible music here. The best works often restored my faith not just in Scarlatti but in humanity. Drop me your favorite Scarlatti sonatas. I’ll compare them with mine in a few days, once I’ve left the anechoic chamber.

"A fact that completist musicians should remember when recording these pieces: someone has to listen to them." Every Scarlatti sonata (all 559 of them), ranked. via @vanmusicmag Click To Tweet

559–538: The 22 Worst Sonatas

  • K512
  • K547: Disjointed.
  • K478: Indistinct.
  • K514: Blocky and inorganic.
  • K374: Legitimately boring by minute two out of four.
  • K437: An extraordinarily long four minutes.
  • K440: [In a pleading tone] Why do the late Sonatas seem to be getting worse?
  • K391: Too long at three minutes 18 seconds.
  • K492: No “there” there.
  • K268: Choppy. Never gets going.
  • K11: Pedantically insistent.
  • K68: Nothing at all going on. Long and monotonous.
  • K110: Extremely formulaic.
  • K122: Just plain dull.
  • K143: Annoying.
  • K206: Bored by minute one out of nearly six.
  • K210: Dumb.
  • K229: A chore to listen to.
  • K245: SO MANY ARPEGGIOS.
  • K267: This sucks.
  • K310: Nothing to listen to.
  • K398: Stupid octaves.

537–470: The Rest of the Worst

  • K193: Forgettable.
  • K266: Forgettable.
  • K322: Basically all sequences.
  • K66
  • K83
  • K263: One genuinely deceptive deceptive cadence. That’s it.
  • K415: The whole piece sounds like one big cadence.
  • K430: Just no.
  • K500
  • K279
  • K285: The main motive isn’t good and it stays the same throughout.
  • K2
  • K6: Repetitive with octaves that suck.
  • K24
  • K125
  • K427
  • K537
  • K396: Felt like an eternity.
  • K49: Gratingly earnest.
  • K73: The only good parts of this piece come from Scott Ross’s playing.
  • K102: Incoherent.
  • K114
  • K116
  • K117
  • K123: Dull.
  • K136
  • K137
  • K138: Everything good is in the left hand.
  • K167
  • K168
  • K205
  • K211: Disjunct.
  • K223: Too baroque.
  • K230: Exhausting.
  • K231
  • K237: How can I get this trill to leave me alone?
  • K248: Headache inducing.
  • K250
  • K264: Tedious.
  • K269
  • K294
  • K297
  • K298: Does not rock.
  • K301
  • K307
  • K342: Forgettable and interminable.
  • K343: Forgettable, not as interminable.
  • K348
  • K350
  • K357: Like a mashup of a bunch of different pieces.
  • K359: Lame. Briefly becomes the Moonlight Sonata.
  • K385: Fast music; time passes slow.
  • K389
  • K407: Off-putting.
  • K410: This sucks.
  • K411: This also sucks.
  • K452
  • K472: Banal, tiring.
  • K482: Too many unfunny trills.
  • K484: Rhythmically square.
  • K486
  • K493: The dotted rhythm is all I can enjoy.
  • K504: Annoying.
  • K509: Aggravating.
  • K510
  • K530: Trips over itself.
  • K538
  • K542: Useless.

469–434: Nothing to Say Here

  • K528
  • K299
  • K289
  • K435
  • K533
  • K51
  • K47
  • K200
  • K259
  • K393
  • K400
  • K57
  • K511
  • K7
  • K42
  • K288
  • K232
  • K241
  • K25
  • K77
  • K103
  • K128
  • K154
  • K236
  • K251
  • K276
  • K311
  • K327: Like I never heard it.
  • K331
  • K362
  • K372
  • K405: Quite good but I don’t know why.
  • K473
  • K494
  • K539
  • K550

433–423: The Interchangeable

  • K491: Generic, where have I heard this before?
  • K107: Indistinguishable from a bunch of other Sonatas, and long to boot.
  • K157: Like K 140 but worse.
  • K305: Predictable. Could be mistaken for 10 other Sonatas.
  • K321
  • K324: Better than K 321.
  • K383
  • K442
  • K459: Utterly unoriginal.
  • K535: Reminds me of a Sonata that reminded me of something else I couldn’t place.

422–416: When Arpeggios Attack

  • K104
  • K161: Too much filler.
  • K326
  • K399
  • K433: The filler ruins a pretty motive.
  • K469: Just figuration.
  • K551: Endless figuration.

415–396: The Disappointing

  • K146
  • K175: Crunchy, but becomes formulaic.
  • K214
  • K377
  • K382: Only the end is good.
  • K423
  • K254
  • K420
  • K429: 20 pretty seconds near the end.
  • K282
  • K74
  • K207: Started off well. Then just dumb scales and sequences.
  • K244
  • K258
  • K302
  • K338: A pretty twirling motive, never developed.
  • K346
  • K390
  • K465
  • K516

395–389: The Disturbingly Happy

  • K506
  • K353
  • K336
  • K166
  • K351
  • K354

388–361: The Too Long

  • K36
  • K88
  • K546
  • K474: Gorgeous, warm core idea, but meandering.
  • K296
  • K402: Forgettable and endless.
  • K158
  • K170
  • K176: Pretty, but three minutes would have been enough.
  • K194: Nice lamenting bass. Three minutes would have been enough.
  • K316
  • K417
  • K502
  • K532: Has a certain pleading elegance that overstays its welcome.
  • K87
  • K112: The naively-sweet act gets old quick.
  • K139
  • K160
  • K188: Good, but not six minutes good.
  • K220: A blast. Slightly too long.
  • K228
  • K243: Has a thrilling, Renaissance-like drone.
  • K313
  • K360
  • K363: Should have ended 40 seconds earlier.
  • K422
  • K507: An unworthy fugal subject.
  • K524

361–322: The Uneven

  • K10
  • K521
  • K109
  • K94: About 50 seconds of crazy dissonance. That’s the only highlight.
  • K461
  • K33
  • K292
  • K303: Ecstatic B much better than A.
  • K98
  • K300
  • K471
  • K184: One amazing bit sounds like proto-Debussy. The rest is generic.
  • K12
  • K14: Tedious with some funny glissandi.
  • K16
  • K425: A single very surprising moment.
  • K518
  • K93
  • K19: At times manically repetitive, at other times standard-issue Scarlatti.
  • K53
  • K71
  • K72
  • K78: A bad melody and a good bass line, followed by a better lilting section.
  • K105
  • K119: An intermittently exciting march.
  • K130
  • K147
  • K195: Exciting trills at the beginning and ending, dragged down by figuration.
  • K202: Really picks up in the middle.
  • K204A
  • K225
  • K235: An almost medieval middle section.
  • K261
  • K337
  • K368
  • K458
  • K468: Beautiful gentle music. Bad fast music.
  • K489
  • K548
  • K554: A flash of jazz. And the rest is lame.

321–308: The Merely Competent

  • K82
  • K549
  • K198
  • K201
  • K79: Happy and banal but still pretty good.
  • K274
  • K26
  • K315
  • K86: Kind of sweet and innocent. Also kind of boring.
  • K129
  • K221
  • K308
  • K314
  • K480

307–278: The Excruciatingly Decent

  • K54
  • K113: Hm, decent.
  • K169: Pastoral and mildly pleasant.
  • K280: A tad manic.
  • K290
  • K196: Painless.
  • K63
  • K446
  • K13
  • K515
  • K81: The first movement is pretty and fragile, the second long-winded.
  • K67
  • K140
  • K150
  • K180
  • K181
  • K182
  • K242: Decent syncopations and little else.
  • K271
  • K272
  • K306: Fine, I guess.
  • K323
  • K332
  • K334
  • K358
  • K401
  • K408
  • K483
  • K508: Gets close to, but never reaches, an intense momentum.
  • K553

277–256: Block That Adjective!

  • K96: Bubbly.
  • K8: Growly.
  • K91: Flaccid.
  • K106: Tinkly.
  • K108: Romping stomping.
  • K163: Pale.
  • K164: Christmasy.
  • K199: Impassioned, insistent.
  • K218: Buoyant.
  • K226: Nasal.
  • K256: Smug.
  • K309: Decently average.
  • K341: Tempestuous.
  • K379: Phoned-in.
  • K380: Jaunty.
  • K395: Ragged.
  • K406: Moderately rousing.
  • K434: Serpentine.
  • K453: Strumm-y.
  • K522: Lackluster.
  • K543: Tinny.
  • K552: Hilly.

255–253: The Too Short

  • K27: Beautiful agony. Wanted to enjoy it longer.
  • K89
  • K431: Barely happened.

252–205: The Average

  • K40
  • K59
  • K60
  • K149
  • K215
  • K419
  • K421
  • K463
  • K498
  • K464
  • K488
  • K503
  • K536
  • K84
  • K371: Average bubbly Scarlatti.
  • K373: Average bubbly Scarlatti, but in minor.
  • K449
  • K278: Slight, but adorable.
  • K284: Folksy, but uninteresting.
  • K519
  • K540
  • K30
  • K15
  • K318
  • K373
  • K61
  • K120
  • K28
  • K131
  • K155: Some pretty winding octave lines.
  • K156: Totally average.
  • K189
  • K190
  • K222
  • K224
  • K227: A little tiring.
  • K240
  • K249
  • K262: Boring but not offensively so.
  • K270: Half-hearted.
  • K304
  • K328: On organ. It’s nice to hear a different instrument.
  • K329
  • K330
  • K397
  • K412: Elegant.
  • K485
  • K555: Standard minor galloping.

204–167: The Slightly Above Average

  • K21
  • K23
  • K388
  • K438
  • K403
  • K475: A few interesting rhythms.
  • K48
  • K50
  • K386: Enjoyably hectic throughout.
  • K44
  • K135
  • K445
  • K455
  • K466
  • K65
  • K90
  • K134
  • K153: Straddles the line between cute and annoying. Very slightly more the former.
  • K171
  • K204B
  • K216: Dumb but fun.
  • K217
  • K252
  • K275
  • K352
  • K355: Cheery, but with refinement.
  • K369
  • K370
  • K384: Very naive.
  • K392
  • K418
  • K428
  • K432
  • K443: Enough contrast to transcend individually unspectacular sections.
  • K444
  • K477
  • K523
  • K541: Some fun video game scales.

167–99: The Legitimately Enjoyable

  • K121
  • K462
  • K525: I like the slamming low chords and jarring key changes.
  • K17
  • K118
  • K132
  • K319: Some fun runs and suspensions.
  • K404: Lively, with hints of intriguing chromaticism and exhilarating bass lines.
  • K544
  • K212
  • K247: The character of a solemn Prelude.
  • K295
  • K38
  • K85
  • K100: I have low expectations for C Major, but this is catchy.
  • K234
  • K281
  • K513
  • K277
  • K3: Endearing and weird.
  • K4
  • K31: Some exciting flourishes.
  • K209
  • K287: Pretty and unobtrusive.
  • K448
  • K42
  • K45: Pleasingly pastoral.
  • K69: A good, thick texture. [Nice.]
  • K76
  • K101
  • K126
  • K142: An elegant dance with intriguing longer phrases balanced out by shorter blocks.
  • K151
  • K152: This would be bad if it was longer. As is, it’s nice.
  • K165
  • K173
  • K174: Simple but engrossing.
  • K178
  • K179
  • K183
  • K186: Very danceable.
  • K192
  • K219
  • K255
  • K273: Like a lullaby.
  • K312: Well-balanced.
  • K317
  • K320: A hint of birdsong. Rhythmically vital.
  • K325: Tolling bass fifths.
  • K333
  • K339
  • K344
  • K345: Good, but hammers you over the head with the main motive.
  • K349
  • K361
  • K366
  • K367: One exciting, overextended rising passage.
  • K381
  • K413
  • K424: Coherent.
  • K439
  • K447
  • K451: Busy.
  • K467
  • K479
  • K495: Is this only good because it’s in a warm E Major?
  • K505
  • K529
  • K534: Stylish but lacks harmonic invention.

98–82: The Hey, That Sounds Like

  • K37: Schubert, but harmonically static and too long to support its material.
  • K496: “Phrygian Gates” by John Adams, minus the Phrygian.
  • K127: Mozart.
  • K197: The J.S. Bach Flute Sonata in B Minor.
  • K481: The Mozart C Minor Fantasy for piano.
  • K454: A melody by Mozart.
  • K20: Conlon Nancarrow’s “Studies for Player Piano.”
  • K426: A baroque Moonlight Sonata.
  • K56: A polka.
  • K148: John Dowland.
  • K172: An early Schubert dance.
  • K265: Mozart‘s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K 550.
  • K283: Beethoven’s “Grenadiermarsch” in F for Mechanical Clock.
  • K293: A theory class demonstration of the circle of fifths.
  • K335: The Beethoven Sonata for Mandolin and Piano. But better.
  • K441: Anything by John Philip Sousa.
  • K527: Mario for Nintendo64.

81–22: The Best of the Rest

  • K9: Elegant runs and parallel thirds, and nice cadences into nothing.
  • K34
  • K35
  • K490: Dotted rhythms in the left hand and unusually wide chords give this a good intensity.
  • K55: Retains an atmosphere of lightness and joy even through its minor excursion.
  • K145
  • K246
  • K39: Tactile contrapuntal texture. Propulsive.
  • K52
  • K115: An elegant minor section and a major section that is almost as good. Weird trills from nowhere.
  • K499: A wedding march with the timbres of horns and bells. Surprisingly emotional.
  • K526
  • K29
  • K387: Good and goofy.
  • K1: Better than you’d think for a K 1.
  • K80: Slinky.
  • K92
  • K238
  • K365: Sneaky.
  • K545
  • K203
  • K470
  • K5
  • K41: Rich and expressive.
  • K450
  • K487
  • K58
  • K70
  • K159
  • K75
  • K99
  • K124: Very frothy.
  • K133: Silly in a good way.
  • K177: An outstanding entry in the march genre.
  • K187: Hyperactive and highly entertaining.
  • K191
  • K233
  • K239: One of the few Sonatas where the two sections are equally matched.
  • K253
  • K257: Seriously exciting and punchy.
  • K260
  • K286: Cool chord progression, bro.
  • K340
  • K356: Delicate. The rare six-minute Sonata that isn’t too long.
  • K364
  • Newly found manuscript in G Minor
  • K375
  • K376
  • K378
  • K394: Dramatically swooping arpeggios.
  • K409
  • K414
  • K416
  • K456
  • K457
  • K460: Motivically sophisticated.
  • K476: Breathless. Reminds me of a car chase.
  • K501
  • K520: Cool endless spinning thirds.
  • K531

21–1: The 20 Best Sonatas

  • K62: Big contrasts in the first 30 seconds, crunchy dissonances, weird pedal points, dramatic runs at the end.
  • K94: A soft dance with surprising chromaticism.
  • K46: Weird modulations and an awesome pedal point moment make this excellent.
  • K162: Tender with varied and interesting dissonances.
  • K22: Good momentum. Brief and to the point.
  • K291: Tender, poetic. Reminds me of Schubert’s “Der Leiermann.”
  • K32: A jewel.
  • K18: Immediately apparent charisma that doesn’t let up.
  • K64: Badass big block chords. Heavy metal.
  • K95: Delightfully bonkers.
  • K111: Wonderful off-kilter rhythm and intersecting suspensions. Sticks to its material and doesn’t overplay its hand. A gem.
  • K144: Gorgeous, with beautiful deceptive cadences.
  • K185: Simple, beautiful, and elegant.
  • K208: Very pretty.
  • K213: Wonderfully mysterious chromatic lines and diminished harmonies.
  • K347: Hyper dramatic.
  • K436: Transcends other happy Sonatas in its emotional extremity.
  • K497: Pulls you along in its wake.
  • K517: Intense pleasure.
  • K141: A classic. ¶

Jeffrey Arlo Brown

... has been an editor at VAN since 2015. His work has also appeared in Slate, The Baffler, The Outline, The Calvert Journal, and Electric Lit. He lives in Berlin.