The Italian-born English Virtouso, Muzio Clementi (1752 – 1832), who was four years Mozart’s senior, was not too well known on the continent but after his first tour in 1780, his reputation swept over Europe. Emperor Joseph II arranged for competitions between the greatest Austrian pianists and the greatest pianists outside of Austria. The great rivals included Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886) and Sigmund Thalberg (1812 – 1871), Mozart and Clementi. When Mozart met Clementi in January of 1781, Clementi gave an account of his initial encounter with Mozart to his student with:
’I received the invitation to play before the Emperor and upon entering the music room, I beheld an individual in elegant attire which led me to mistake him for an imperial ‘valet-de-chambre’. But no sooner as we entered into conversation than it turned on musical topics, and we soon recognized in each other, with sincere pleasure, brother artists – Mozart and Clementi’
Both Mozart and Clementi flaunted their skills and specialties for the Emperor but the victory was left undecided. Nevertheless, an onlooker Guiseppe Antonio Bridi had left on account of the contest and said that Emperor would prefer Mozart. After the competition, Clementi was very generous to compliment Mozart of his singing touch and exquisite taste. Mozart was less generous and dismissed his competition with the kind of hand wave. In his letter in January of 1782, he summed up his feeling of Clementi in four sentences:
‘He is an excellent cembalo player, but that is all. He has great facilities with is his right hand. His specialties are thirds and octaves but apart from that, he was not worth anything but a pure mechanist.’
Mozart implored his sister not to study any of Clementi’s works so she may not spoil her quiet even touch, and so that her hand did not lose her natural lightness, flexibility and smooth rapidity. By achieving sixths and octaves with utmost velocity, you only produce an atrocious chopping effect and nothing else. Clementi was a charlatan like all Italians. All he excelled in was his thirds and sixths. He sweated over them day and night in London; apart from that he could do absolutely nothing to even the slightest expression.
Beethoven (1770 – 1826), Brahms (1833 – 1897) and other twentieth century pianists who studied with Clementi’s Sonatas thought differently with great respect. Mozart’s dislike to Clementi had two causes; he was abhorrent to Mozart because of his showmanship and to Mozart he was unconventional and decidedly romantic.
Mozart did not learn from Clementi, but Clementi did from Mozart. Most scholars believed that after the 1781 encounter Clementi had realized that there were other things besides techniques that a musician could better employ than just technique. In his later year, he studiously avoided mentioning Mozart’s name at all cost. He subsequently achieved a more melodic and noble style of performance after listening attentively to famous singers and also by the means of the perfected mechanism of the English pianos, which formerly stood in the way of its legato and cantabile style of playing.
Clementi revealed that at the age of fourteen, he was ‘adopted’ by Peter Beckford, a wealthy family in England. Beckford was a collector and somewhat a music connoisseur who discovered the talent of the boy. Clementi told a French writer, J Amadeé that his daily regimen at the Beckford Estate:
‘He devoted eight hours a day to the harpsichord (link to The Italian Cembalo Music) a day; he was forced by Sir Beckford to fulfil his social obligation and therefore curtail his daily practice. He took note of his deficit and repaid the practice the following day. Somedays, he was obliged to practice a successive twelve to fourteenth hours of daily practice that he obliged upon himself. He practiced and studied studiously JS Bach, Emmanuel Bach, Haydn and Scarlatti. He did this for two different reasons: finger technique and composition.’
He was a highly trained, disciplined young musician of his days. He spent time in England and manufactured English Pianos with rich resonant and powerful sound, which shaped Clementi style. Before the emergence of Beethoven, he surpassed all his contemporaries in dash, bold, vigour and brilliance. Mozart’s playing was respectful and professional, but Clementi’s playing was playful and thrilled his audiences, in which Mozart never achieved.
Clementi was the founder of the modern piano school known as ‘the father of all technique’. He was an educated man, one with a scientific mind. He also started his own piano publishing company and piano manufacturing firm: Longman and Broderip in the early 1790s. Later he changed his company name to Clementi and Company. He went to Europe in 1802 for a several years and along with him, he took John Field (1872 – 1827), his best student with him as demonstrator.
Clementi visited Vienna and contemplated visiting Beethoven. Due to the certain protocol, they both hesitated to meet with each other. Clementi thought he was more famous and an older man with seniority over Beethoven, so he should not make the move to visit Beethoven first. A few years later, Beethoven and Clementi did get together for some business dealings.
Clementi is notorious for being stingy. He held on to everything and died a very rich man. He even survived loosing forty-thousand pounds (£40,000) when his factory burn down in 1807. When Sir Beckford brought Clementi to England he had taken care of all the expenses and responsibilities for Clementi’s education. However, when Clementi took John Field, an Irish boy, John had to pay Clementi a good sum and worked himself as an apprentice in the factory.
Field was obliged to play the piano in the warehouse for hours to display the instruments to the best advantage to the purchasers. Clementi was by all accounts, good natured, erudite, superb linguist, absent-minded and somewhat careless of his dressing but had an attractive personality. He lived in the country, all he did was composing. He was a young Italian but an old Englishman. He was more English than the local squire. As an old man in his seventies, he extemporized on a theme from Handel which delighted his audience with charm and freshness of his modulations in improvisation. He always made a great impression with his dilettantes.
Ignaz Moscheles (1794 – 1870), a fine musician and pupil of Clementi analyzed Clementi’s contribution to the piano school:
‘the cultivation of amazing powers of execution, overwrought sentimentality, and the production of the most piquant effects by the most rapid changes from the soft to the loud pedal, or by rhythms and modulations, which, if not to be completely repudiated, should only be allowed on the rarest occasions’.
Clementi advocates for quiet and light hands, fingers close to the keys, and never found it necessary to raise his hand as high as Beethoven and Liszt did. He was the one who started making his pupils practice with a coin on the back of their hands. The finger alone should manage all the work and if the coin fell off it was because of a faulty hand position. The fingers should be capable to produce fullness, clarity of tone and produce evenness in the scales. Mozart’s concertos were musically superior to anything Clementi created, but there is no denial that Clementi wrote more effectively on the keyboard. His pianistic layout in his piano sonatas carried a harmonic anticipation of Beethoven, who had a high opinion of Clementi. He considered Clementi’s work excellent for practice studies and for formation of taste. He recommended Clementi’s School of Piano Playing to students as late as 1826.
Clara Schumann (1819 – 1896), was another admirer of Clementi and had an interesting conversation with Brahms about how the old masters had the freest form, while modern composition moved within the stiffest and most narrow limits. Another significant work of Clementi, Gradus ad Parnassum was completed in 1817 which consisted of hundred studies covering every aspect of piano technique, which the modern art of playing piano relied on it.
Among his pupils, John Baptist Cramer (1771 – 1858), Kalkbrenner (1785 – 1849) and John Field were the most notable pupils in the early 1800s. Mozart was the first of the great pianists, but Clementi was the first of the great virtuosos, composer and much more.