Alessandro Scarlatti’s “Il Primo Omicidio” in Vienna


In the works of Alessandro Scarlatti, Italian music of the 17th and early 18th centuries reached one of its zeniths. Scarlatti, a native of Palermo, was maestro di cappella to Queen Christina of Sweden in Rome from 1680 to 1684, before taking on the same position – after an intermezzo in Naples – at the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in 1703. However, since the papal decree of 1698 all opera and theatre performances were banned. This meant that musico-dramatic compositions could only be written disguised as oratorios. With Il primo omicidio Scarlatti created a remarkable musical interpretation of the Old Testament tale of Cain and Abel, using the individual instruments in an extremely original way. Unlike many oratorio texts, the libretto is not in Latin, but in the language of opera, Italian. The work portrays the first murder in the history of humanity: Adam and Eve bemoan their Fall which has caused their expulsion from Paradise. Abel, wishing to comfort his parents, promises to sacrifice a lamb to God. But Cain, as the first-born, claims it is his right to perform the sacrifice. First aggressive and murderous thoughts descend on him. In the end, Cain hears the voice of Lucifer encouraging him. Out in the field, he slays Abel. God condemns Cain; the first murderer is filled with remorse. In the end, Abel’s voice is heard describing celestial bliss and the voice of God promises salvation.


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