CLEMENTI: Piano Sonatas Op. 50 No. 1, Op. 41 and Op. 34 No. (Tanya Bannister) (Naxos: 8.557453)
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Muzio Clementi (1752-1832)
Sonata in G minor, Op. 34, No. 2 Sonata in A major, Op. 50, No. 1
Sonata in E flat major, Op. 41
Muzio Clementi was born in Rome in 1752, the son of asilversmith. By the age of thirteen he had becomeproficient enough as a musician to be employed as anorganist at the Church of S. Lorenzo in Damaso and toattract the attention of an English visitor, PeterBeckford, cousin of William Beckford, author of theGothic novel Vathek and builder of the remarkable folly,Fonthill Abbey. Peter Beckford, as he himself claimed,bought Clementi from his father for a period of sevenyears, during which the boy lived at Beckford's estate inDorset, perfecting his ability as a keyboard player, and,presumably, his general education. In 1774 Clementimoved to London, where he began to take part inprofessional concert life as a composer and performer,playing his own sonatas, some of which were publishedat this time, and directing performances from thekeyboard at the Italian opera.
Clementi's success as a performer persuaded him totravel. In 1780 he played for Queen Marie Antoinette inFrance and early in 1782 performed for her brother, theEmperor Joseph II, in Vienna. Mozart met Clementi inJanuary, when they were both summoned to play for theEmperor. Mozart had a poor opinion of Clementi'smusical taste and feeling, but grudgingly admitted histechnical ability in right-hand playing of passages inthirds, otherwise dismissing him as a mere mechanicus.
It should be added that Mozart was often disparagingabout the abilities of his contemporaries, as he was ofClementi on a later occasion.
In 1785 Clementi returned to England, winning areputation for himself there as a performer and teacher,although as a composer he was eclipsed in the 1790s bythe presence in London of Haydn. It was in these yearsthat he involved himself in piano manufacture and musicpublishing in London, first with Longman and Broderipand from 1798, after the firm's bankruptcy, withLongman, and others. In the earlier years of the nineteenthcentury he travelled abroad in the interests of the business,accompanied at first by his pupil John Field, who servedas a demonstrator of Clementi's wares and later left asomewhat prejudiced account of his experiences after heparted company with Clementi in Russia.
From 1810 Clementi was again in England, wherehe was much respected, not least for his teachingcompositions, his Introduction to the Art of Playing thePiano Forte of 1801, revised in 1826, and the famousGradus ad Parnassum, completed and published in thelatter year. He retired from business in 1830, settlingfirst in Lichfield and then in Evesham, where he died in1832, to be buried in Westminster Abbey. His legacy topianists was a significant one, both through hiscompositions and his teaching, an introduction to a newvirtuosity and exploration of the possibilities of a newlydeveloped instrument in a society that had changedgreatly since his own childhood in Italy.
The Sonata in G minor, Op. 34, No. 2, the second ofa set of two, was first published in Vienna in 1795.
According to Clementi's friend and pupil, the Berlincomposer and pianist Ludwig Berger, it was based on asymphony, now lost. The first movement starts with ashort solemn introduction before the principal theme isheard, marked Allegro con fuoco, leading to a B flatmajor second subject. A dramatic central development isfollowed by a varied recapitulation. The E flat majorslow movement, marked Un poco adagio, opens with asinging theme which returns after an intervening passageof varied dynamics. The closing Molto allegro, a form ofrondo, finds room for a contrapuntal treatment of the maintheme in an E minor passage of canonic writing.
Clementi's three Op. 50 sonatas were published inLondon in 1821 by the composer, with other editions inthe same year in Leipzig and in Paris. These finalsonatas are dedicated to Cherubini and are examples ofthe very considerable development of Clementi's style.
The last of the set, Didone abbandonata - Scena tragica,won more contemporary favour than the first two, but allthree mark the culmination of Clementi's achievementas a composer of piano sonatas. The Sonata in A major,Op. 50, No. 1, opens Allegro maestoso e con sentimento,its imposing first subject followed by a dramatictransition, leading to the E major secondary theme. Thecentral development, with its chains of thirds, a featureof Clementi's technique as a player, explores thedynamic possibilities of the pianoforte, before the returnof the principal theme in recapitulation. The A minorslow movement, with the direction Adagio sostenuto epatetico, soon introduces a contrapuntal element beforethe Andante con moto, a thirty-bar canon at the fifth, areflection of Clementi's debt to Bach. The Adagioreturns to complete the movement. The sonata ends witha sonata-form movement. The central development findsroom for an opening passage in canon and there isfurther scope for counterpoint in the recapitulation in awork of marked originality.
There are two surviving versions of the Sonata inE flat major, Op. 41, the first in two movements and thesecond, in three movements, published by Clementi andhis partners, with a third unauthorised edition fromMollo in Vienna in 1804. Clementi was to publish nofurther sonatas until 1820. The second version of theSonata in E flat major is relatively undemanding, withan opening theme that recalls the style of piano writingfamiliar from Haydn's sonatas, leading to a secondarytheme. The relationship between the two themes isapparent in the contrapuntal opening of the developmentand the thematic material is recalled in the final variedrecapitulation. The B flat major Adagio explores thepossible resonance of the piano, introducing moreelaborate decoration of the material. Rapid thirds openthe final Allegro and there is some hand-crossing beforethe exposition comes to an end. The thirds of the maintheme start the development and make their inevitablereturn to start the final recapitulation.Keith Anderson