If you are now or have ever been a piano student, or attended a student recital, you know Muzio Clementi.1 His Op. 36 piano sonatinas are no strangers to the fingers of piano students all over the world.
The sad thing is, that’s all most people know about him.
That, and that he had a keyboard duel with Mozart that ended in a diplomatic draw (read more about the Clementi-Mozart match here).2
Clementi was born in Rome in 1752, and his family encouraged his musical studies. He was already a composer and parish organist at age 14 when he came to the attention of a visiting Sir Peter Beckford. Beckford made an agreement with Clementi’s father, according to which Muzio would live on Beckford’s estate and receive music lessons to age 21, in exchange for musical entertainment. This agreement lasted until 1774.
It was during Clementi’s subsequent three-year European tour that the famous musical duel with Mozart occurred (on 24 December 1781). At the time, he was promoting Broadwood pianos—making him one of the first Broadwood artists, just as we have Steinway artists today.
Later in life, Clementi was the spokesman for his own piano line. Here is a picture of a Clementi piano.3 Those interested in piano restoration will enjoy this account of the restoration of a Clementi piano.4
He also had his own publishing firm, and acquired directly from Beethoven the right to publish his music in England.5
Beethoven was a great admirer of Clementi. In fact before they met formally, Clementi wrote to a business partner that he saw Beethoven grinning at him when he saw Clementi in public.6 Grinning. Hard to imagine, given the stern image we traditionally have of Beethoven.
Clementi is well known to piano students for his piano sonatas and sonatinas, but also for his Gradus Ad Parnassum, a set of instructional pieces, which may be the basis for Debussy’s Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum (although some say it is Czerny’s set by the same name that Debussy is referring to in his somewhat satirical piece).7 Here is a list of Clementi’s compositions.
Speaking of Carl Czerny, he was one of Clementi’s students, as were Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Ignaz Moscheles, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Ludwig Berger (teacher to Felix Mendelssohn) and John Field (who influenced Chopin).
For all things Clementi, visit the website of the Muzio Clementi Society.
And now, a little Clementi–not Op. 36. Here is the finale from his Piano Sonata in F-sharp minor, Op. 26 No. 2, performed by Roberto Giordano.
- Morse, Frances Clary, Furniture of the Olden Time. Macmillan, 1917, p 290. https://archive.org/details/furnitureofolden00morsrich
- Albrecht, Theodore, ed., Letters to Beethoven and Other Correspondence: 1824-1828, ed. University of Nebraska Press, 1996, p 185. (https://books.google.com/books?id=MHf-MHqVSKoC&pg=PA185&lpg=PA185#v=onepage&q&f=false)
- Albrecht, Theodore, ed., Letters to Beethoven and Other Correspondence: 1824-1828, ed. University of Nebraska Press, 1996, p 186. (https://books.google.com/books?id=MHf-MHqVSKoC&pg=PA186&lpg=PA186#v=onepage&q&f=false).
Muzio Clementi by Thomas Hardy (1757-1804) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMuzio_Clementi.jpeg
Clementi piano in Furniture of the Olden Time by Frances Clary Morse. Macmillan, 1917, p 290. https://archive.org/details/furnitureofolden00morsrich