Muzio Clementi (24 January 1752 – 10
March 1832) was an Italian 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.
Muzio Filippo Vincenzo Francesco Saverio Clementi (baptized Mutius
Philippus Vincentius Franciscus Xaverius), was born in Rome, Italy,
on 24 January 1752, and was baptized the following day at S. Lorenzo
in Damaso. He was the eldest of the seven children of Nicolò
Clementi (1720–1789), a noted silversmith, and Madalena, née Caisar
(Magdalena Kaiser), who was Swiss. Nicolo soon recognized Muzio’s
musical talent and arranged for private musical instruction with a
relative, Antonio Baroni, the maestro di cappella at St. Peter’s
At the age of seven Clementi began studies in figured bass with the
organist Cordicelli, followed by voice lessons from Giuseppe
Santarelli. A few years later, probably when he was 11 or 12, he was
given counterpoint lessons by Gaetano Carpani. By age 13 Clementi
had already composed an oratorio, Martirio de’ gloriosi santi
Giuliano e Celso, and a mass. When he was 14, in January of 1766, he
became organist of the parish San Lorenzo in Dámaso.
Move to England
In 1766, Sir Peter Beckford (1740–1811), a wealthy Englishman and
cousin of the novelist William Thomas Beckford, twice Lord Mayor of
London, visited Rome. He was impressed by the young Clementi's
musical talent and negotiated with his father to take him to his
estate, Steepleton Iwerne, north of Blandford Forum in Dorset,
England. Beckford agreed to provide quarterly payments to sponsor
the boy's musical education until he reached age 21. In return, he
was expected to provide musical entertainment. For the next seven
years Clementi lived, performed, and studied at the estate in
Dorset. During this period, it appears, Clementi spent eight hours a
day at the harpsichord, practicing the works of Johann Sebastian
Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, George Frideric Handel, Domenico
Scarlatti, Alessandro Scarlatti and Bernardo Pasquini. His only
compositions dated to this period are the Sonatas WO 13 and 14 and
the Sei Sonate per clavicembalo o pianoforte, Op. 1.
In 1770 Clementi made his first public performance as an organist.
The audience was reported to be impressed with his playing, thus
beginning one of the outstandingly successful concert pianist
careers of the period.
In 1774, Clementi was freed from his obligations to Peter Beckford.
During the winter of 1774–1775 he moved to London, making his first
appearance as a harpsichordist in a benefit concert on April 3,
1775. He made several public appearances in London as a solo
harpsichordist at benefit concerts for two local musicians, a singer
and a harpist, and served as conductor (from the keyboard) at the
King's Theatre (Her Majesty's Theatre), Haymarket, for at least part
of this time.
Clementi started a three year European tour in 1780, travelling to
Paris, France, where he performed for Queen Marie Antoinette;
Munich, Germany; and Salzburg, Austria. In Vienna, he agreed to
enter a musical contest with Mozart for the entertainment of Holy
Roman Emperor Joseph II and his guests on 24 December 1781, at the
Viennese court. The composers were called upon to improvise and to
perform selections from their own compositions. The Emperor
diplomatically declared a tie.
January 12, 1782, Mozart reported to his father: "Clementi plays
well, as far as execution with the right hand goes. His greatest
strength lies in his passages in 3rds. Apart from that, he has not a
kreuzer’s worth of taste or feeling - in short he is a mere
mechanicus." In a subsequent letter, he wrote: "Clementi is a
charlatan, like all Italians. He marks a piece presto but plays only
Clementi's impressions of Mozart, by contrast, were enthusiastic.
Much later, the pianist Ludwig Berger recalled him saying of Mozart:
"Until then I had never heard anyone play with such spirit and
grace. I was particularly overwhelmed by an adagio and by several of
his extempore variations for which the Emperor had chosen the theme,
and which we were to devise alternately."
Despite later attempts to portray the two as rivals, there is no
evidence that their meeting was not cordial. At the time Clementi
was exploring a more virtuosic and flamboyant style, and this might
explain Mozart's disparaging attitude. One of the pieces he
performed was his Op.11 toccata, a display piece full of parallel
thirds. It would appear that later on Mozart's opinion might have
undergone some modification. As noted by Hermann Abert in his "W. A.
Mozart", the set of variations K.500 of 1786 "includes a handful of
novel pianistic effects that are foreign to Mozart's earlier style
and that clearly reflect the influence of Clementi".
Mozart used the opening motif of Clementi's B-flat major sonata (Op.
24, No. 2) in his overture for The Magic Flute. It was not unusual
for composers to borrow from one another, and this might be
considered a compliment. Though Clementi noted in subsequent
publications of his sonata that it had been written ten years before
Mozart's opera—presumably to make clear who was borrowing from whom—Clementi
retained an admiration for Mozart, as reflected in the large number
of transcriptions he made of Mozart's music, among which is a piano
solo version of the Zauberflöte overture.
From 1783, and for the next twenty years, Clementi stayed in
England, playing the piano, conducting, and teaching. Several of his
students include: Johann Baptist Cramer, Ignaz Moscheles, Therese
Jansen Bartolozzi, Ludwig Berger (who went on to teach Felix
Mendelssohn), and John Field (who, in his turn, would become a major
influence on Frédéric Chopin).
Publishing and piano manufacturing
In 1790, Clementi made the decision to give up his performing
career, possibly in order to bolster his reputation as a composer.
In 1798 he took over the firm Longman and Broderip at 26 Cheapside
(then the most prestigious shopping street in London), initially
with James Longman, who left in 1801. Clementi also had offices at
195 Tottenham Court Road from 1806. The publication line, "Clementi
& Co, & Clementi, Cheapside" appears on a lithograph, "Music" by W
Sharp after J Wood, circa 1830s.
Clementi also began manufacturing pianos, but on 20 March 1807 a
fire destroyed the warehouses occupied by his new firm in Tottenham
Court Road, resulting in a loss of about ₤40,000. That same year,
Clementi struck a deal with Ludwig van Beethoven, one of his
greatest admirers], which gave him full publishing rights to all of
Beethoven's music in England. He edited and interpreted Beethoven's
music but has received criticism for editorial work such as making
harmonic "corrections" to some of Beethoven's scores.
That Beethoven, in his later life, started to compose chamber music
specifically for the British market may relate to the fact that his
publisher lived in London.
In 1810, Clementi stopped concertizing in order to devote his time
to composition and to piano making. On 24 January 1813, together
with a group of prominent professional musicians in England, he
founded the "Philharmonic Society of London", which became the Royal
Philharmonic Society in 1912. In 1813 Clementi was appointed a
member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Music.
Meanwhile, his pianoforte business had flourished, affording him an
increasingly elegant lifestyle. As an inventor and skilled mechanic
he made important improvements in the construction of the piano,
some of which have become standard in instruments to this day.
At the end of 1816 Clementi made another trip to the continent to
present his new works, particularly at the Concerts Spirituels in
Paris. He returned to London in June 1818, after stopping off in
Frankfurt. In 1821 he once again returned to Paris, conducting his
symphonies in Munich and Leipzig. In London in 1824 his symphonies
were featured in five of the six programs at the 'Concerts of
Ancient and Modern Music' at the King's Theatre.
In 1826 Clementi completed his collection of keyboard studies,
Gradus ad Parnassum, and set off for Paris with the intention of
publishing the third volume of the work simultaneously in Paris,
London and Leipzig. After staying in Baden and most likely making
another visit to Italy, he returned to London in the autumn of 1827.
On 17 December 1827, a large banquet was organised by Johann Baptist
Cramer and Ignaz Moscheles in his honor at the Hotel Albion.
Moscheles, in his diary, says that on that occasion Clementi
improvised at the piano on a theme by George Frideric Handel. In
1828 he made his last public appearance at the opening concert of
the Philharmonic Society. In 1830 he retired from the Society.
Clementi moved to the outskirts of Lichfield, Staffordshire, in
1830, and spent his final years in Evesham, Worcestershire, where,
on 10 March 1832, after a short illness, he died. He was eighty
years old. On 29 March 1832, he was buried at Westminster Abbey.
Accompanying his body were three of his students: Johann Baptist
Cramer, John Field and Ignaz Moscheles. He had been married three
times and had five children, a son Carl by his second wife Caroline
Lehmann, the rest, Vincent, Caecilia, Caroline and John Muzio by his
third and final wife, Emma Gisborne.
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
In addition to the piano solo repertoire, Clementi wrote a great
deal of other music, including several recently pieced together,
long worked on but slightly unfinished symphonies. A likely reason
that these later works were not published in Clementi's lifetime is
that he kept revising them.
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. Beethoven recommended
these works to many people including his nephew Karl. A description
of Beethoven's regard for Clementi's music can be found in the
testimony of his assistant, Anton Schindler, who wrote "He
(Beethoven) had the greatest admiration for these sonatas,
considering them the most beautiful, the most pianistic of works,
both for their lovely, pleasing, original melodies and for the
consistent, easily followed form of each movement. The musical
education of his beloved nephew was confined for many years almost
exclusively to the playing of Clementi sonatas" (Beethoven as I Knew
Him, ed. Donald M. McArdle, trans. Constance Jolly, Chapel Hill and
London, 1966). Schindler continues with reference to Beethoven's
fondness for Clementi's piano sonatas: "For these he had the
greatest preference and placed them in the front rank of pieces
appropriate to the development of fine piano playing, as much for
their lovely, pleasing, fresh melodies as for the well knit, fluent
forms of all the movements." Moscheles' edition of Schindler's
biography quotes the latter as follows: "Among all the masters who
have written for pianoforte, Beethoven assigned to Clementi the very
foremost rank. He considered his works excellent as studies for
practice, for the formation of a pure taste, and as truly beautiful
subjects for performance. Beethoven used to say: 'They who
thoroughly study Clementi, at the same time make themselves
acquainted with Mozart and other composers; but the converse is not
the fact.' "
Carl Czerny also had the highest regard for Clementi's piano sonatas
and used them successfully in his teaching of Franz Liszt. Czerny
referred to Clementi as "the foremost pianist of his time."
Vladimir Horowitz developed a special fondness for Clementi's work
after his wife, Wanda Toscanini, bought him Clementi's complete
works. He recorded five of Clementi's Sonatas along with shorter
With ministerial decree dated 20 March 2008, the Opera Omnia of the
composer Muzio Clementi were promoted to the status of Italian
National Edition. The steering committee of the National Edition
consisting of the scholars Andrea Coen (Rome), Roberto De Caro
(Bologna), Roberto Illiano (Lucca — President), Leon B. Plantinga
(New Haven, CT), David Rowland (Milton Keynes, UK), Luca Sala
(Paris/Poitiers, Secretary and Treasurer), Massimiliano Sala (Pistoia,
Vice-President), Rohan H. Stewart-MacDonald (Cambridge, UK) and
Valeria Tarsetti (Bologna).
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