Pulcinella: Piano Playing Puss

Cat of the Month ~ May 2012

Pulcinella was the name of the cat owned by Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti, the Italian composer who spent much of his life in the service of the Spanish and Portuguese Royal Families, although today he is known mainly for his 500 (and then some) keyboard sonatas.

Scarlatti and his cat

Scarlatti with his beloved Pulcinella
Photograph: Artists Impression by Ed

Scarlatti’s famous Fugue in G minor, is a one-movement harpsichord sonata popularly known as the Cat fugue or Cat’s fugue.

The nickname, ‘The Cat Fugue’, which was never used by the composer himself but was introduced early in the 19th century, originates from a story about how Scarlatti came up with the strikingly unusual motif on which the fugue is built.

Legend has it that Scarlatti’s pet cat was called Pulcinella. The composer himself described how his cat would enjoy walking across the harpsichord keyboard, being always curious about the sounds it made under his paws. Usually, this walking would produce a random series of discordant notes but …

On this auspicious occasion, according to the story, Scarlatti heard and then wrote down an amazing phrase produced by the cats paw presses on the keyboard. The paper he used is still in existence:

Reproduction of the extract of the Cat Fugue” jotted down by Scarlatti
Image: by Scarlatti :-):

This particular ‘improvisation session’ had proven to be very fruitful, as he used the notes as a lead motif in his new fugue. Truly inspired, he went on to write the whole Fugue around these notes. The piece proved to be an overnight sensation and remains popular to this day.

So from this legend the nickname ‘Cat’s Fugue’ was used in concert programmes in the 19th Century and was also used by later publishers of Scarlatti’s music.

To hear Pulcinella’s very own inspired motif (The Cat Fugue) here is a rendition of the piece played by Veronika Kuzmina Raibaut on Piano.

“Cat Fugue” by Pulcinella/Scarlatti on Piano

Personally Norman, Oscar and I myself prefer the harpsichord version here….what say you?

“Cat Fugue” by Pulcinella/Scarlatti on Harsichord

We know, do we not? that ALL cats are inspirational, everyday, but a special well done to Pulcinella (R.I.P) for getting your name out there!

[sources: Book – “100 Cats Who Changed Civilization” by Sam Stall, and Wikipedia.org]

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