Muzio Clementi

(Music rather than linguistics.)

Caught in the middle of the night on WQXR (classical music radio in NYC), a vaguely familiar piece of piano music, followed by the comment that it was by Muzio Clementi, with the observation that if it sounded like Mozart or Haydn, that was because Clementi was a contemporary of theirs. Well, more than that, and a favorite of mine.

The first page of Clementi’s Sonata in F# minor Op. 26 No. 2, in the edition I began studying in January 1957 (in a previous life):

There isn’t a lot of music in F# minor, though the people at WHRB (student radio at Harvard) once managed to corral enough of it to fill a six-hour finals-week “orgy”.

A modest amount of YouTube piano stuff by Clement, among them:

Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli playing Clementi’s Sonata in B flat Op. 12 No. 1

Salvatore Nicolosi playing 6 Clementi Sonatinas Op. 36

The Sonatina in C Op. 36 No. 1 (especially the first movement) is a standard “easy piece” for beginning piano students; more on this below.

The Clementi sonatas I studied struck me as muscular, dense, and quite challenging technically (well past Haydn and Mozart) — sort of what you’d get if Robert Schumann had written piano music in 1780. Well, you’d get … Beethoven. And there lies a story.

Wikipedia on Clementi, who had a very full and fascinating life:

Muzio Clementi (24 January 1752 – 10 March 1832) was an Italian-born English composer, pianist, pedagogue, conductor, music publisher, editor, and piano manufacturer. Born in Rome, he spent most of his life in England.

Encouraged to study music by his father, he was sponsored as a young composer by Sir Peter Beckford who took him to England to advance his studies. Later, he toured Europe numerous times from his long-time base in London. It was on one of these occasions in 1781 that he engaged in a piano competition with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Influenced by Domenico Scarlatti’s harpsichord school and Haydn’s classical school and by the stile galante of Johann Christian Bach and Ignazio Cirri, Clementi developed a fluent and technical legato style, which he passed on to a generation of pianists, including John Field, Johann Baptist Cramer, Ignaz Moscheles, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Friedrich Kalkbrenner, Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Carl Czerny. He was a notable influence on Ludwig van Beethoven.

Clementi also produced and promoted his own brand of pianos and was a notable music publisher. Because of this activity, many compositions by Clementi’s contemporaries and earlier artists have stayed in the repertoire. Though the European reputation of Muzio Clementi was second only to Joseph Haydn in his day, his reputation languished for much of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Music: As a composer of Classical piano sonatas, Clementi was among the first to create keyboard works expressly for the capabilities of the pianoforte. He has been called “Father of the Pianoforte”.

Of Clementi’s playing in his youth, Moscheles wrote that it was “marked by a most beautiful legato, a supple touch in lively passages, and a most unfailing technique.” Domenico Scarlatti may be said to have closed the old and Clementi to have founded the newer school of technique on the piano.

Debussy’s piece “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” (the first movement of his suite Children’s Corner) makes playful allusion to Clementi’s collection of Etudes Gradus ad Parnassum.

Clementi composed almost 110 piano sonatas. Some of the earlier and easier ones were later classified as sonatinas after the success of his Sonatinas Op. 36. Erik Satie, a contemporary of Debussy, would later parody these sonatinas (specifically the Sonatina Op. 36, No. 1) in his Sonatine bureaucratique. However, most of Clementi’s sonatas are more difficult to play than those of Mozart, who wrote in a letter to his sister that he would prefer her not to play Clementi’s sonatas due to their jumped runs, and wide stretches and chords, which he thought might ruin the natural lightness of her hand.

… Clementi’s influence extended well into the 19th century, with composers using his sonatas as models for their keyboard compositions. Ludwig van Beethoven, in particular, had the highest regard for Clementi. Beethoven often played Clementi sonatas and often a volume of them was on his music stand.

5 Responses to “Muzio Clementi”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    Harvard ’59 here. Used to help out with the “chaos orgies” during final exams – sometimes announced with my Winthrop House room-mate Rudd Canaday ’59 who was qualified to operate the station – one of the developers of UNIX at Bell Labs somewhat later – gay and out – Rudd and I are still working in our mid 70s –

  2. mikepope Says:

    Do you have any insight into what they mean by “Domenico Scarlatti may be said to have closed the old [school of technique]”? I ask because Scarlatti, while not well known in his own day, was recognized as innovative by later generations–Schumann wrote “… the true pianist, if he wants to be an artist, should become acquainted with the leaders of all the different schools, and particularly with Scarlatti, who obviously raised the art of piano playing to a higher level.” Unless the idea is that Scarlatti never composed for the piano, only for harpsichord–?

  3. Jim Unger Says:

    If you like Clementi’s sonatas, check out Dussek.

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