Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

A Salute to Muzio Clementi

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Portrait of Muzio Clementi by Thomas Hardy

Muzio Clementi

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.

A Clementi piano, 1805Later 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.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muzio_Clementi
  2. http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/mozart-and-clementi-pianistic-duel-parts-1-2/
  3. Morse, Frances Clary, Furniture of the Olden Time. Macmillan, 1917, p 290. https://archive.org/details/furnitureofolden00morsrich
  4. http://www.clementisociety.com/ClementiPianos.html 
  5. 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)
  6. 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).
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gradus_ad_Parnassum

_____

Image attributions

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

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4 thoughts on “A Salute to Muzio Clementi

  1. Well done. An unjustly forgotten, or at least undervalued, composer. Mostly we know him for that unkind remark of Mozart’s (who had little good to say of anyone except Bach, Handel and Haydn)- and his reported ability to play thirds very fast. But his sonatas (and even the charming sonatinas) are well crafted, and you can see why Beethoven liked his music, and even perhaps learned from it. _Gradus ad Parnassum_ (the steps up to the top of Mount Parnassus, home of both Dionysus and Apollo) is a very old reference, applied first to studies in Latin/Greek grammer, and the like, as I recall; the best known musical application of the terms of course comes from J. J. Fux’s treatise of that name, a very important instruction book in counterpoint (1725, I think), from which many composers learned their craft (including Beethoven, whose studies in counterpoint with Haydn were important for him, but far from pleasant). The reference in Debussy is probably to Fux, I would think, rather than to Clementi’s or Czerny’s borrowing of the title- but I don’t know that for sure.

    Tom

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  2. Then again, the Rondo to his Sonatina in G, Op. 36 No. 5, was the inspiration for “A Groovy Kind of Love,” written by Carol Bayer Sager and popularized by Phil Collins. Depending on taste, this could be good or bad.

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  3. I can’t comment on good or bad, all I know is I remember the version by The Mindbenders, way before Phil Collins sang it, and now I feel really old. 🙂 https://youtu.be/o09nZwrejZ8

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