Muzio Clementi. A concise Chronology of his Life and Works
The following biography retains the chronological subdivisions suggested by Leon Plantinga in his book on Clementi. Each section also lists the composer's works of that period (though readers must remember that dates of composition and dates of publication often do not correspond). For the numbering of the works, reference is made to the catalogue in: TYSON, Alan. Thematic Catalogue of the Works of Muzio Clementi, Tutzing, Schneider, 1967. For further information, write to
1752-1773: Muzio [Filippo Vincenzo Francesco Saverio] Clementi — eldest of the seven children of Nicolò Clementi, silversmith, and Magdalena Kaiser — was born in Rome on 23 January 1752 and baptised the following day in the church of S. Lorenzo in Damaso.
According to the biographical profile given in the Quarterly Musical Magazine (1820), Clementi began his musical studies at a very early age with a relative, Antonio Baroni (1738-1792), maestro di cappella at the basilica of St Peter's. At the age of seven he had lessons in the art of thoroughbass from the organist Cordicelli and then went on to study with Giuseppe Santarelli (1710-1790). Finally, at the age of 11-12, he was given lessons in counterpoint by Gaetano Carpani.
By the age of 13 he was sufficiently proficient to be given the post of organist at the church of S. Lorenzo in Damaso. By that time he had already written an Oratorio, Martirio de' gloriosi Santi Giuliano (only the text survives), and a mass.
In 1766, during a visit to Rome, Sir Peter Beckford met the young musician and was astounded by his skill at the harpsichord. Resolved to take Clementi back to England to provide musical entertainment at his house in Dorset, Beckford drew up a contract with his father, in which he agreed to make quarterly payments until the boy reached the age of 21.
Most likely Clementi left for Dorset already at the end of 1766, or at the beginning of the next year. News of his stay at the Beckford residence is somewhat scant. From the available sources it would appear that Clementi spent eight hours a day at the harpsichord, practising the works of Bach and his son Carl Philipp, Handel, the two Scarlattis (Alessandro and Domenico) and Bernardo Pasquini.
Few compositions can be dated to this period: only the Sonatas WO 13 and 14 and the Sei Sonate per clavicembalo o pianoforte of his Op. 1.
1774-1780: Between the end of 1774 and the beginning of 1775 Clementi moved to London. Here he sporadically appeared at public concerts until 1779: the evidence refers only to two harpsichord concerts in 1775 and three in 1779. In these early years he was engaged as 'keyboard conductor' at the King's Theatre.
He also published his variations on The Black Joke (WO2 1777), the Sonate per pianoforte o clavicembalo con accompagnamento di flauto o violino Op. 2 (1779, though composed probably in 1770), the three Duetti a quattro mani and the Sonate per pianoforte o clavicembalo con accompagnamento di flauto o violino Op. 3 (1779), and the Sei Sonate per pianoforte o clavicembalo con accompagnamento di flauto o violino Op. 4 (1780).
1780-1785: In 1780 Clementi began a long tour of Europe. He performed in Paris (for the queen, Marie Antoinette), in Salzburg and Munich, and in Vienna for the emperor (Joseph II) — the occasion of the famous competition with Mozart.
In the autumn of 1783 he returned to England via Switzerland and France, also giving a concert in Lyon. Back in London, he began giving lessons to Johann Baptist Cramer and in the first three months of 1784 gave five concerts at Hanover Square (some of them with his new pupil).
Patent Square Grand by Clementi & Co. - 1802
In April 1784 he once again set out for Lyon to see M.lle Marie Victoire Imbert-Colomés, with whom he had fallen in love and to whom he dedicated his Op. 8. After a stay in Bern, he returned to London before the end of the year and remained there almost eighteen years. During this period he published the five Sonate per pianoforte o clavicembalo and the Duo per due pianoforti o clavicembali Oeuvre 1 (1780-1781), as well as the Op. 5, Tre sonate per pianoforte o clavicembalo con accompagnamento di violino e tre Fughe, the Op. 13, per pianoforte con accompagnamento di violino o flauto. the works for piano or harpsichord Opp. 7-12, Due sonate per pianoforte o clavicembalo con accompagnamento di violino e tre Fughe Op. 6.
1785-1790: In these years Clementi reached the peak of his fame as a composer and performer at the Hanover Square Grand Professional Concerts (Morning Herald, 27 January 1786), and also wrote a great deal of chamber and symphonic music.
In spite of the immense celebrity he enjoyed at the time, after 1790 he ceased to pursue a career as a performer. A review in the Morning Chronicle of 25 February 1790 of a concert given the day before at Covent Garden reports: "But the performance beyond all others to astonish, was Clementi's concerto on the Piano Forte: what brilliancy of finger, and wonderful execution! The powers of the instrument were never called forth with superior skill, perhaps not equal; for however we venerate the expression of the late Schroeter, he scarcely equalled Clementi's rapidity".
Leon Plantinga deduces that the reason for Clementi's decision to stop playing was his concern over the reputation and social position then accorded to instrumentalists and singers in England. Accordingly, he preferred to devote himself to composition, publishing and instrument building.
During this period he wrote much music for piano or harpsichord, Opp. 16, 17, 20, 23, 24, 25, WO 12 (1786-1790), chamber works such as the Sonate per pianoforte o clavicembalo con accompagnamento di flauto e violoncello Opp. 21 and 22 (1788), three Duo per due esecutori su un pianoforte Op. 14 (1786), two Sinfonie Op. 18 (1787) and the Musical Characteristics Op. 19, a collection of preludes and cadenzas for harpsichord or piano, composed in the style of various composers (1787).
1791-1802: From 1791 to 1793 Clementi's position as a composer suffered greatly from the presence of Haydn in London. Only after Haydn's return to Vienna in 1793 did Clementi once again fully resume his activities, even as an orchestral conductor. During these years he is known to have composed three new symphonies.
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
When Haydn returned to London in 1794-5, Clementi's celebrity was once again eclipsed. In the meantime, however, the number of his private pupils grew: apart from Cramer and others, they included John Field, Benoît-Auguste Bertini, Miss Parke, Arthur Thomas Corfe, Benjamin Blake, Mme. Bartolozzi and Miss Theresa Jansen. He became a much sought-after teacher, giving regular lessons to a number of pupils.
Clementi invested the earnings from the private lessons in his publishing activities. In 1798, in collaboration with John Longman, he founded a new firm called 'Longman, Clementi e Co.'. In 1801 new partners were added and the firm was renamed 'Clementi, Banger, Hyde, Collard and Davis'. Until Clementi's retirement in 1830, the firm not only printed and sold music, but also built pianos.
Clementi's compositions of this period do not include orchestral works, though it is assumed that some of his sonatas were originally concertos or symphonies. A manuscript version of his Sonata Op. 33 no. 3 has survived as a concerto for piano and orchestra arranged by Johann Schenk (1797).
During these years the Opp. 26, 33, 34, 36, 37, 40, WO 5 and WO 6 were published for piano or harpsichord. The editions of his chamber music include the Sonate per pianoforte con accompagnamento di violino o violoncello Opp. 27, 28, 29, 35, the Sonate per pianoforte con accompagnamento di flauto e violoncello Op. 32 and WO 6, the Sonata per pianoforte con accompagnamento di violino Op. 30 and the Sonata per pianoforte con accompagnamento di flauto Op. 31. Other works include the Valzer per pianoforte con accompagnamento di tamburino e triangolo Opp. 38-39, the Due Canzonette per voce e clavicembalo o pianoforte WO 4 and finally his Introduction to the Art of Playing on the Piano Forte of 1801.
1802-1810: At the beginning of the summer of 1802 Clementi began a tour of the continent that lasted as long as eight years. His first stop was Paris. His reasons for the journey were above all commercial, i.e. to sell pianos and to negotiate the rights for printing and selling new music with various publishers and composers. During this period, however, he also taught a great deal and held a number of concerts at private academies. Apart from John Field, who accompanied him to Russia and duly settled in St Petersburg as music master to General Markloffsky, Clementi's pupils during this period included the German pianists Karl Zeuner, Alexander Klengel and Ludwig Berger (Mendelssohn's teacher).
John Field (1782-1837)
These years were spent in Paris, Vienna, St Petersburg, Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Zurich and Leipzig; he also visited Italy and certainly stayed in Rome, Milan and Naples. During this period Clementi also began negotiations with Beethoven to acquire the rights to publish his music in the 'British Dominions': the agreement was sealed with a contract in 1807.
In September 1804, between his two visits to Vienna, Clementi married Caroline Lehmann, a proficient pianist he had met in Berlin the previous year. He travelled with her to Italy. Unfortunately, the following year his very young wife died, leaving him a son: Carl.
During this period Clementi published only the Sonata Op. 41. He also worked on a number of orchestral works (which were never published) and on the revision of works for Breitkopf & Härtel's edition of the Oeuvres complettes. Only the sixth volume, however, was corrected and published under the composer's direction; with the others Clementi was not at all satisfied. But there do survive certain manuscripts revisions of the Sonate 1-3 of the Op. 5, the Sonate 4-6 of the Op. 13, the Musical Characteristics Op. 19, the Capriccio Op. 17 and both the Duo and first Sonata of the Oeuvre I.
1810-1832: In 1810 Clementi was once again in London, where his firm continued to thrive.
On 6 July 1811 he remarried, and his second wife, Emma Gisborne, bore him four children: Vincent, Caecilia Susannah, Caroline and John.
On 24 January 1813 the Philharmonic Society was founded by thirty composers. Its first directors were Clementi, J. B. Cramer and his brother François, William Ayerton and William Dance. This new institution was intended for the performance only of orchestral and chamber music and music for vocal ensembles. Thus once again Clementi had the opportunity to show his talent as a symphonist and keyboard conductor. During these years he wrote and published many arrangements for the piano of other composers' works, including the Overtures to Mozart's Don Giovanni and Haydn's Seasons. In 1813 he was appointed a member of the Swedish Royal Academy of Music.
Johann Baptist Cramer (1771-1858)
At the end of 1816 he made another trip to the continent, presenting his new works, particularly at the Concerts Spirituels in Paris. He returned to London only in June 1818, after stopping off also in Frankfurt. In 1821 he once again returned to Paris and he also performed his symphonies in Munich and Leipzig. Even in London he was widely acclaimed as a symphonist: in 1824 his symphonies were featured in five out of the six programmes at the 'Concerts of Ancient and Modern Music' at the King's Theatre.
In 1826 Clementi completed his monumental 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 only in the autumn of 1827.
On 17 December 1827 a large banquet, organised by Cramer and Moscheles, was held in his honour at the Hotel Albion. From Moscheles' diary we learn that on that occasion Clementi himself improvised at the piano on a theme by Handel. In 1828 he made his last public appearance at the opening concert of the Philharmonic Society; in 1830 he retired from the Society.
On 10 March 1832, after a short illness Clementi died at the age of eighty. On 29 March he was buried in Westminster Abbey: accompanying his body were Cramer, Field and Moscheles.
The original tombstone was replaced in 1877 with the present one, on which Clementi is remembered as the 'father of the pianoforte'.
During this last period Clementi published the three volumes of the Gradus ad Parnassum Op. 44 (1817, 1819, 1826), the Appendix to the Art of Playing on the Piano Forte Op. 43 (1811), and works for the piano Opp. 46-50 and WO 10-11. He also composed a great deal of music that remained in manuscript and incomplete: it includes the five Duettini for four-hand piano WO 24-28, two movements presumably from a Nonetto for strings and wind WO 30-31, the Canone finito a tre for two violins and viola WO29, four Sinfonie WO32-35, the Overtura in D major and a Minuetto Pastorale WO36.