Muzio Clementi (1752-1832)
Piano Sonatas, Op. 40 Nos. 1-3
Muzio Clementi was born in Rome in 1752, the son of asilversmith. By the age of thirteen he had become proficient enough as a musiciaoto be employed as an organist at the Church of S. Lorenzo in Damaso and to attractthe attention of an English visitor, Peter Beckford, cousin of WilliamBeckford, author of Vathek aod builder of the remarkable Gothic folly of Fonthill.
Peter Beckford, as he himself claimed, bought Clementi from his father for aperiod of seven years, during which the boy lived at Beckford's estate in Dorset,perfecting his ability as a keyboard player and, presumably, his general education.
In 1774 Clementi moved to London, where he began to take part in professionalconcert life as a composer and performer, playing his own sonatas, some ofwhich were published at this time, and directing performances at the Italianopera.
Clementi's success as a performer persuaded him to travel.
In 1780 he played for Queen Marie Antoinette in France and early in 1782 heperformed for her brother, the Emperor Joseph II, in Vienna. Mozart metClementi in January, when they were both summoned to play for the Emperor.
Clementi improvised and then played a sonata, according to his later account,the Sonata in B flat major, Op. 24 No.2, and the Toccata, Op. 11.
Mozart then played and both of them shared the performance of sonatas by Paisielloand improvised on a theme from one of the sonatas on two pianos. Mozart had apoor opinion of Clementi's musical taste and feeling, but grudgingly admittedhis technical ability in right-hand playing of passages in thirds. in other respectshe was a mere mechanicus. A year later he wrote again about his rival,describing him as ciarlatano, a charlatan, like all Italians, writingthe direction Presto on his music but playing merely Allegro, andadding that his sonatas were worthless: the passages in sixths and octaves heconsidered striking, but dangerous for his sister to practise and potentially damagingto her lightness of touch,
Mozart's opinion of Clementi has proved damaging to thelatter's reputation but it is possible that Mozart and Vienna suggested newstyles of playing to Clementi, who returned to England in 1785, winning a distinguishedplace for himself through the brilliance of his playing and for his pianoteaching, He wrote symphonies and concertos, but found his position threatenedduring Haydn's two visits to London in the 1790s. In the same decade heinvolved himself in piano manufacture and music publishing with Longman and Broderipand from 1798, after the firm's bankruptcy, in partnership with Longman, Hyde,Banger and Collard. He travelled abroad extensively in the earlier years of thenineteenth century in the interests of the company. John Field, his pupil, wasemployed to demonstrate the new keyboard instruments and accompanied him to Russia,while in Vienna he secured the English publication rights for compositions byBeethoven, who held him in esteem as a composer and performer.
From 1810 Clementi was again in England, where he wasmuch respected and won particular success for his teaching compositions, an Introductionto the Art of Playing the Piano Forte of 1801, revised in 1826, and thefamous Gradus ad Parnassum, completed and published in the same year. Heretired from business in 1830, settling first in Lichfield and then in Evesham,where he died in 1832, to be buried in Westminster Abbey. His legacy topianists was a significant one, both through his compositions and through his teaching,an introduction to a new virtuosity and exploration of the possibilities of anewly developed instrument.
Clementi's three sonatas that make up Opus 40 werepublished in 1802 in Vienna, Paris and London, in the first two cities by Molloand Pleyel respectively and in the last by his own company. The set of sonataswas dedicated to Miss Fanny Blake. The Sonata in G major is headed by anexplanation of directions for the use of the pedal and opens with forthrightchords, answered by syncopation The first theme is linked by modulation to thesecond and a closing section, before the repetition of the exposition. There isan imaginatively worked out development and hints of the return of the firstsubject, before it actually re-appears in full recapitulation, with thesecondary theme again preceded by a trill. The E major slow movement offersdramatic contrast to the singing principal theme in an excursion into therelative minor key, after which the main theme is heard again, now furtherornamented. There is a central version of the material in E minor, before thefinal return of the principal theme, now very considerably decorated. In thissonata of four movements, the third offers a perpetual canon at the octave inits first section, with the G minor trio section presenting a canon in whichthe lower part moves in contrary motion to the upper. The rapid Finale is arondo of much variety, with an extended episode in G minor and some changes inthe form that the principal theme takes. It provides a brilliant conclusion toa work that marks the height of Clementi's development as a composer.
The Sonata in B minor, the second of the set,starts with a slow introduction leading to a sonata-allegro movement. Thecentral development finds room for unexpected shifts of key and chromaticwriting, before the return of the thematic material in recapitulation. The secondmovement moves from a sombre and strongly felt Largo to the rapidcompound rhythm of an Allegro, its course briefly interrupted by thereturn of the Largo. The sonata ends in an even quicker version ofthe Allegro material, although one is bound to recall Mozart's remarks onClementi's performance.
The last sonata of the group, the Sonata in D minor/Dmajor, starts with a solemn D minor introduction, moving into D major withthe Allegro that soon follows. The movement falls into the customary threeparts, with a central development of some originality in its shifts of key,ending in a continued trill, before the return of the principal theme in final recapitulation.
The D minor slow movement, in 6/8, ends on the dominant chord, leading,therefore, without a break to the closing D major Allegro. Once again Clementifinds occasion to explore the minor key, now in a canon, before the return ofthe major key.
The use of counterpoint and the imaginative digressionsand developments in sonatas such as these go some way towards an understandingof Beethoven's esteem for Clementi's sonatas and the clear influence they hadon his own writing for the keyboard. His place in the development of the pianosonata cannot be overestimated.