1902 Encyclopedia > Muzio Clementi

Muzio Clementi
Italian pianist and composer

MUZIO CLEMENTI (1752-1832), an Italian pianist and composer, was born at Rome in 1752. His father, a jeweller, encouraged his son's musical talent, which was evinced at a very early age. Buroni and Cordicelli were his first masters, and at the age of nine Clementi's theoretical and practical studies had advanced to such a degree that he was able to compete successfully for the position of organist at a church. He continued his contrapuntal studies under Carpini, and at the age of fourteen wrote a mass which was performed in public and excited universal admiration. About this time Beckford, the author of Vathek, persuaded Clementi to follow him to England, where the young composer lived in retirement at one of the country seats of his protector in Dorsetshire up to 1770. In that year he first appeared in London, where his success both as a composer and pianist was rapid and brilliant. In 1777 he was for some time employed as conductor of the Italian opera, but he soon afterwards left London for Paris. Here also his concerts were crowded by enthusiastic audiences, and the same success accompanied Clementi on an artistic tour to Southern Germany and Austria which he undertook about 1780. At Vienna he was received with high honour by the Emperor Joseph II., in whose presence he met Mozart, and sustained a kind of musical duel with him. His technical skill proved to be equal if not superior to that of his great rival, who on the other hand infinitely surpassed him by the passionate beauty of his rendering. Such seems to have been the opinion of most of the witnesses of this remarkable meeting, and it is confirmed to some extent by the two musicians themselves. Apropos of the connection of these great men the fact may be mentioned that one of the finest of dementi's sonatas, that in B flat, shows an exactly identical opening theme with Mozart's overture to the Flauto Magico, also that at the concert given by the Philharmonic Society in commemoration of dementi's death, the German composer's Recordare was the chief item of the programme. Soon after his meeting with Mozart, Clementi returned to London, where he continued for the next twelve years his lucrative occupations of fashionable teacher and performer at the concerts of the aristocracy. He also started a pianoforte manufacturing firm of his own, and the commercial shrewdness characteristic of his nation greatly contributed to the lasting success of the business. Amongst his pupils on the pianoforte during this period may be mentioned John Field, the composer of the celebrated Nocturnes. In his company Clementi paid, in 1804, a prolonged visit to the large cities of the Continent, including Paris, Vienna, St Petersburg, and Berlin. At the Prussian capital he made a prolonged stay, and there counted Meyerbeer among his pupils. He also revisited his own country after an absence of more than thirty years. In 1810 Clementi returned to London, but refused to play again in public, devoting the remainder of his life to composition. Several symphonies belong to this time, and were played with much success at contemporary concerts, but none of them seem to have been published. His intellectual and musical faculties remained unimpaired up to his death, which took place at Evesham, Worcestershire, March 9, 1832. Clementi has been called the l( father of pianoforte playing," and it cannot be denied that the modern style of execution owes a great deal to his teaching and example. His technique is described as all but unequalled at his time, and remarkable even according to our present advanced notions. Moscheles, a pianist of a very different school, gives a vivid description of the effect produced by dementi's playing. At a dinner given in his honour in 1828 the composer was induced to play once more to a larger audience. " Smart, Cramer (another of dementi's pupils), and I," Moscheles writes in his diary, " conducted him to the piano. Every one's expectation is raised to the utmost pitch, for Clementi has not been heard for years. He improvises on a theme of Handel and carries us all away to the highest enthusiasm. His eyes shine with the fire of youth, those of his hearers grow humid dementi's playing in his youth was marked by a most beautiful legato, a supple touch in lively passages, and a most unfailing technique. The remains of these qualities could still be discovered and admired, but the most charming things were the turns of his improvisas tion full of youthful genius." Amongst his compositions the most remarkable are 60 sonatas for pianoforte, and the great collection of Etudes called Gradas ad Farnassti.m. As a work of instruction combining absolute artistic beauty with the highest usefulness for the purposes of teaching and self-practice the Gradus remains unrivalled.

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