A Brief History of Clementi, the Underrated Innovator - PianoTV.net (2023)

On today's episode of PianoTV, we're going to talk about the story of Clementi, an underrated classical music composer, performer, entrepreneur and piano builder.

He is not someone who matters very much outside the piano world, if you are a violinist you will probably never learn Clementi, but he is very important as a pianist, especially at level 3.

In today's episode, we'll talk about the life and times of Muzio Clementi, his musical style and why he's important. Let's begin!

Clementi's story: basic details

First, basic details. Clementi was born in 1752 (two years after Bach's death) and lived until 1832 to the respectable age of 80. He was originally born in Rome, Italy, but has spent most of his life in England, particularly in London.

Muzio Clementi's father, Nicolo, noticed Clementi's musical talent at an early age. They had a relative who was music director at St. Peter's Basilica, so Nicolo asked him to give Muzio some keyboard lessons to help develop that talent.

When Clementi was 7 years old, he began more formal instruction. He learned to sing and studied double bass, which today would be similar to learning to improvise chords on the piano. Figured bass was the baroque style: looking at what were essentially chord symbols and improvising the backing part.

When I was 11, I was learning counterpoint, another baroque staple, basically when more than one melody is played at the same time, usually 3 or 4.

By the age of 13, Clementi had already composed an oratorio and a mass, vocal and instrumental works of great scale. So, in short: boy genius.

Clementi's Story: Early Career

As in the past people started their careers very young, Clementi became organist of a church in Rome, San Lorenzo in Damaso. He was 14 at the time, and the year was 1766.

However, he did not keep this job for long as he was taken to England.
In 1766, a man named Sir Peter Beckford traveled to Rome and met Clementi. He noticed that Clementi was very talented and decided he wanted to bring Clementi back to England.

(Video) A Brief History of Clementi, the Underrated Innovator

Beckford was quite wealthy, so he offered Clementi's father Nicolo a deal: Clementi would go to England to serve as musical entertainment at his estate at Steepleton Iwerne, north of the Blandford Forum in Dorset, England. In return, he would give quarterly payments to sponsor Clementi's education until he was 21.

Clementi's father, and I assume Clementi himself, were a match. He worked for Beckford for 7 years, until the agreed upon age of 21. During that time, Clementi apparently spent 8 hours a day playing the harpsichord, practicing composers such as JS Bach and CPE Bach, Handel, Scarlatti and other baroque staples.

Clementi's Story: Adult Life

Released from his musical obligations to Beckford, Clementi moved to London in 1774, making public appearances as a harpsichordist and conductor. By the late 1770s he was quite well known.

In 1780 Clementi toured other European cities such as Paris and Vienna. In Paris he was very well received, even acting for Marie Antoinette.

But it was in Vienna that he had an infamous duel with Mozart.

Clemente vs. Mozart: A Musical Duel

Not a fight, but a musical duel. They were at a party for the Viennese emperor, Joseph II, and he decided it would be fun to pit Clementi against Mozart. They each had to improvise and make selections from their own writings. Mozart would have been about 24 years old and Clementi 28. I assume that genius had occurred, and the emperor declared that the abilities of both were very great and equal.

Mozart did not like it and wrote to his father:

“Clementi has never played well, in terms of his right hand execution. His greatest strength lies in his passages in 3rds. Other than that, you don't havecruisetaste or feeling value, in short, is a meremechanic” (robot)

On the other hand, Clementi had nothing but a positive enthusiasm for Mozart. He must have admired Mozart's music, as he made many transcriptions of it.

More on Clementi and Mozart, Clementi wrote his Sonata in B flat major, Op. 24, no. 2, in 1770, which Mozart borrowed at the opening of his opera The Magic Flute in 1780. By this time Mozart would have had to face a copyright infringement lawsuit, but in those days musicians borrowed from a few others all the time and it was considered a compliment.

Still, Clementi felt the need to point out in the publication of his sonata that the original idea was, in fact, his, not Mozart's.

By 1783, Clementi was back in England, where he would remain for the next 20 years. He was 31 years old and established himself as a great pianist, conductor and teacher.

(Video) [Tutorial] How to Play Arietta by Clementi (Prep B)

Clementi History: Lineages of Students

There are some really interesting lineages of teachers and students worth mentioning here. One of Clementi's pupils was Ludwig Berger, who went on to teach the famous Felix Mendelssohn. He also taught John Field, who would become a major influence on Frederic Chopin.

Clementi's musical style

By the late 1780s, Clementi was known for his flamboyant, virtuosic style: he did a lot of impressive improvisation and tremendously difficult playing. In later life he held back a bit and developed that refined cantabile style he is known for today.

Clementi Story: Music Editing

Now let's jump to 1798: Clementi was 45 years old and entered the business world. He ended up taking over a publishing house in a very prestigious shopping street in London (26 Cheapside). He also opened other music publishing offices and even started making pianos.

Clementi e Beethoven

Now this is where we bring Beethoven. Mozart was quite critical of Clementi (not to his face, but in private letters to people), but Beethoven was the opposite: he only had good things to say about the guy.

To begin with, Beethoven granted Clementi full publishing rights to his music in England, which was no small feat.

Clementi was (and is) known for his sonatas and sonatas. Beethoven often played Clementi's sonatas and passionately recommended them to many people, including his nephew Karl.

Beethoven's assistant, Anton Schindler, had this to say about the matter:

“[Beethoven] had the greatest admiration for these sonatas, considering them the most beautiful and pianistic works, both for their beautiful, pleasant and original melodies and for the consistent and easy-to-follow form of each movement. His beloved nephew's musical education was for many years limited almost exclusively to the performance of Clementi's sonatas.


“Among all the masters who wrote for the piano, Beethoven gave Clementi the highest rank. He considered his works excellent as studies for practice, for the formation of pure taste, and as truly beautiful subjects for interpretation.

More Master Bloodlines

Carl Czerny, who was a student of Beethoven, also loved Clementi's piano sonatas, which makes sense since he was generally enthusiastic about Beethoven, and Beethoven would have taught him the sonatas. Czerny went on to teach the sonatas to Franz Liszt. Isn't the lineage of music education funny?

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Clementi's History: Later Years

In 1810, when Clementi was 58 years old, he gave up acting to concentrate on writing music and building pianos. He founded what is now the Royal Philharmonic Society, a group that used to put on performances by famous musicians and now runs programs for young musicians.

He was fine with himself. His piano-making business flourished, and Clementi was one of the pioneers of piano innovation that we know and love today. You see, harpsichords were the main keyboard instrument until the late 18th century, when the piano was created and started to gain popularity. Clementi was at the forefront of this wave, using his skills as both a pianist and an inventor/mechanic.

Never content with a simple life, Clementi decided to make some trips to Paris, Frankfurt, Munich and Leipzig between 1816 and 1821. On this trip he performed his new compositions and conducted his symphonies.

He made another trip in 1826-27 to publish his last collection of keyboard studies calledThe steps to Parnassus(Steps to the top of a mountain range in Greece,Parnassus).

In 1828, he made his last public appearance at the inaugural concert of the Philharmonic Society, from which he officially retired in 1830, when he was 78 years old.

Thereafter he officially retired to Evesham, Worcestershire, and died 2 years later, aged 80, in 1832. He died after a short illness. Basically, Clementi lived and died the dream: he worked hard, he probably had an interesting life (although, since so long ago, there's a lot we don't know), and he died quickly in old age, without major health problems. .

Clementi is buried in Westminster Abbey, along with others such as John Field.

music by Clementi

Let's spend a minute talking about Clementi's music. He composed almost 110 piano sonatas. Its 36 operation sonatinas are standard intermediate piano repertoire: they sound good, are great for finger exercises, and are difficult to play but easy to understand.

However, most of Clementi's sonatas are very difficult, more difficult than Mozart's. Mozart even told his sister, Nannerl, that she shouldn't play Clementi's sonatas, as they had huge heels and could spoil the natural lightness of her hands.

He also composed about 20 symphonies, but these are not very well known, most of them lost to time. Clementi is now known for his piano music.

Clementi's music is also not the kind you expect to see in concert halls. Clementi's music largely serves a functional and educational purpose. However, Clementi's recordings are not lacking.

Famous people who liked Clementi

In addition to Beethoven and Czerny being huge fans of Clementi, Chopin also had his students practice Clementi preludes and exercises. If it's good for Chopin, it's good for me!

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In our famous music video, we talk about Vladimir Horowitz. He is also very fond of Clementi. His wife once gave him the complete works of Clementi, and he liked them so much that he was inspired to record Clementi's sonatas.

Despite his fame and success in his day, and the enthusiasm that other composers such as Beethoven had for him, Clementi was destined for less fame than his peers such as Haydn and Mozart.

Although history has not given him the same degree of attention, he has remained a key element in the development of the classical piano style and in the development of the piano itself. After all, he is nicknamed the "Father of the Piano" for a reason.

More on Clementi's musical style

Clementi's playing style, according to Moscheles, was,

“Marked by a beautiful legato, a flexible touch in animated passages and an infallible technique”.

So when we pianists play Clementi, these are three key points we should always keep in mind.

last word

Finally, my last word on Clementi is this: he was the original pianist. He played on it, wrote for it (at every level from beginner to advanced), published piano music, and even built and manufactured them. If that doesn't make him the original pianist, I don't know what does.

If you enjoyed this story video, I highly recommend you check out some of the other story videos on this channel, like themozart storyit's himbeethoven story.

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2. A Brief History of Franz Joseph Haydn
3. A Brief History of Franz Schubert
4. A Brief History of Tchaikovsky: Part 2
5. A Brief History of Rachmaninoff
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