Muzio Filippo Vincenzo Francesco Saverio Clementi (January 24, 1752 –March 10, 1832) was a composer, pianist, pedagogue, conductor, music publisher, editor, and piano manufacturer, who was born in Rome, Italy, on January 24, 1752, but spent most of his life in England. 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 Basilica. 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, Martitio de’ gloriosi Santi Giuliano, and a mass. When he was 14, in January of 1766, he became organist of the parish San Lorenzo in Dámaso.
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 December 24, 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.
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. One of the pieces he performed was his Op.11 toccata, a display piece full of parallel thirds. 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). Influenced by Domenico Scarlatti’s harpsichord style, Haydn’s classical school, and the stile galante of Johann Christian Bach, Clementi developed a fluent and technical legato style, which he passed on to a generation of pianists. 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 puhlishing firm Longman and Broderip, initially with James Longman, who left in 1801.
Clementi also began manufacturing pianos, but on March 20, 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. In 1810 Clementi stopped concertizing altogetheer in order to devote his time to composition and to piano making. On January 24, 1813, together with a group of prominent professional musicians in England, he founded the “Philharmonic Society of London”, which later became the Royal Philharmonic Society. 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.
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 December 17, 1827, a large banquet was organized by Johann Baptist Cramer and Ignaz Moscheles in Clementi’s 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 outside Lichfield, Staffordshire, in 1830, and spent his final years in Evesham, Worcestershire, where, on March 10, 1832, after a short illness, he died at the age of eighty years old. He had been married three times and is said to have had four children. As a composer of Classical piano sonatas, Clementi was among the first to create keyboard works expressly for the capabilities of the pianoforte and has been called “Father of the Pianoforte.” Clementi composed almost 110 piano sonatas. In addition to the piano solo repertoire, Clementi wrote a great deal of other music, including several pieced together, long worked on, but slightly unfinished symphonies. 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.
The following three works by Clementi are included in my collection:
Overture in CM.
Symphony No. 1 in CM.
Symphony No. 3 in GM, “The Great National.”