Encouraged to study music by his father, he was sponsored as a young composer by Sir Peter Beckford who took him to England to advance his studies. Later, he toured Europe numerous times from his long-standing base in London. It was on one of these occasions, in 1781, that he engaged in a piano competition with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Influenced by Domenico Scarlatti's harpsichord school and Haydn's classical school and by the stile galante of Johann Christian Bach and Ignazio Cirri, Clementi developed a fluent and technical legato style, which he passed on to a generation of pianists, including John Field, Johann Baptist Cramer, Ignaz Moscheles, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Friedrich Kalkbrenner, Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Carl Czerny. He was a notable influence on Ludwig van Beethoven.
Clementi also produced and promoted his own brand of pianos and was a notable music publisher. Because of this activity, many compositions by Clementi's contemporaries and earlier artists have stayed in the repertoire. 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.
Muzio Filippo Vincenzo Francesco Saverio Clementi (baptized Mutius Philippus Vincentius Franciscus Xaverius) was born in Rome, Italy, on 23 January 1752, and baptized the following day at San Lorenzo in Damaso. He was the eldest of the seven children of Nicolò Clementi (1720-1789), a silversmith, and Madalena, née Caisar (Magdalena Kaiser), who was Swiss. Nicolò 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 the age of 13 Clementi had already composed an oratorio, Martirio de' gloriosi santi Giuliano e Celso, and a mass. When he was 14, in January 1766, he became organist of the parish church of San Lorenzo in Dámaso.
In 1766 Sir Peter Beckford (1740-1811), a wealthy Englishman and cousin of William Beckford, twice Lord Mayor of London (and father of the novelist William Thomas Beckford), 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 the age of 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.
Mozart used the opening motif of Clementi's B-flat major sonata (Op. 24, No. 2) in his overture for The Magic Flute. It was not unusual for composers to borrow from one another, and this might be considered a compliment. Though Clementi noted in subsequent publications of his sonata that it had been written ten years before Mozart's opera--presumably to make clear who was borrowing from whom--Clementi retained an admiration for Mozart, as reflected in the large number of transcriptions he made of Mozart's music, among which is a piano solo version of the Magic Flute overture.
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).
In 1798, Clementi took over the firm Longman and Broderip at 26 Cheapside (then the most prestigious shopping street in London), initially with James Longman, who left in 1801. Clementi also had offices at 195 Tottenham Court Road from 1806. The publication line, "Clementi & Co, & Clementi, Cheapside" appears on a lithograph, "Music" by W Sharp after J Wood, circa 1830s.
Clementi also began manufacturing pianos, but on 20 March 1807 a fire destroyed the warehouses occupied by his new firm in Rotten Road, resulting in a loss of about ?40,000. That same year, Clementi struck a deal with one of his greatest admirers Ludwig van Beethoven, which gave him full publishing rights to all of Beethoven's music in England. He edited and interpreted Beethoven's music but has received criticism for editorial work such as making harmonic "corrections" to some of Beethoven's scores.
In 1810, Clementi stopped performing in order to devote his time to composition and to piano making. On 24 January 1813, together with a group of prominent professional musicians in England, he founded the "Philharmonic Society of London", which became the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1912. In 1813 Clementi was appointed a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.
Meanwhile, his piano business had flourished, affording him an increasingly elegant lifestyle. As an inventor and skilled mechanic he made important improvements in the construction of the piano, some of which have become standard in instruments to this day.
At the end of 1816 Clementi made another trip to the continent to introduce 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 17 December 1827, a large banquet was organised by Johann Baptist Cramer and Ignaz Moscheles in his 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 to the outskirts of Lichfield, Staffordshire, in 1830, and spent his final years in Evesham, Worcestershire, where, on 10 March 1832, after a short illness, he died, aged eighty. On 29 March 1832, he was buried at Westminster Abbey. Accompanying his body were three of his students: Johann Baptist Cramer, John Field and Ignaz Moscheles. He had been married three times and had five children, a son Carl by his second wife Caroline Lehmann, the others, Vincent, Caecilia, Caroline and John Muzio by his third and final wife, Emma Gisborne. Among his descendants are the British colonial administrators Sir Cecil Clementi Smith and Sir Cecil Clementi, Air Vice Marshal Cresswell Clementi of the RAF and Sir David Clementi a deputy-governor of the Bank of England.
As a composer of classical piano sonatas, Clementi was among the first to create keyboard works expressly for the capabilities of the piano. He has been called "Father of the Piano".
Of Clementi's playing in his youth, Moscheles wrote that it was "marked by a most beautiful legato, a supple touch in lively passages, and a most unfailing technique." Domenico Scarlatti may be said to have closed the old and Clementi to have founded the newer school of technique on the piano.
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Clementi composed almost 110 piano sonatas. Some of the earlier and easier ones were later classified as sonatinas after the success of his Sonatinas Op. 36. Erik Satie, a contemporary of Debussy, would later parody these sonatinas (specifically the Sonatina Op. 36, No. 1) in his Sonatine bureaucratique. However, most of Clementi's sonatas are more difficult to play than those of Mozart, who wrote in a letter to his sister that he would prefer her not to play Clementi's sonatas due to their jumped runs, and wide stretches and chords, which he thought might ruin the natural lightness of her hand.
Clementi also wrote one piano concerto.
Clementi's symphonies are less well known. Though many of his manuscripts have been lost, autograph portions of his unpublished symphonies, which include everything from sketches to complete movements, are in the Library of Congress and the British Museum. From these autographs scholars have been able to reconstruct four symphonies. Clementi also published two symphonies as Op. 18 in 1787, the first in B-flat major and the second in D major. Clementi successfully performed his symphonies in London and other cities in Europe, predominantly from 1813 to 1828. Based on performance reports, scholars estimate that he composed approximately twenty symphonies in total during his life. Clementi used the theme to "God Save the King" in his Symphony No. 3 in G major, often called the "Great National Symphony", catalogued as WoO. 34. In 2002, for the 250th anniversary of his birth, scholars published new research about Clementis life and works. Ut Orpheus is publishing the 61 volume set of Clementi's complete works, which will include new editions of his symphonies
Clementi's influence extended well into the 19th century, with composers using his sonatas as models for their keyboard compositions. Ludwig van Beethoven, in particular, had the highest regard for Clementi. Beethoven often played Clementi sonatas and often a volume of them was on his music stand. Beethoven recommended these works to many people including his nephew Karl. A description of Beethoven's regard for Clementi's music can be found in the testimony of his assistant, Anton Schindler, who wrote "He (Beethoven) had the greatest admiration for these sonatas, considering them the most beautiful, the most pianistic of works, both for their lovely, pleasing, original melodies and for the consistent, easily followed form of each movement. The musical education of his beloved nephew was confined for many years almost exclusively to the playing of Clementi sonatas" (Beethoven as I Knew Him, ed. Donald M. McArdle, trans. Constance Jolly, Chapel Hill and London, 1966). Schindler continues with reference to Beethoven's fondness for Clementi's piano sonatas: "For these he had the greatest preference and placed them in the front rank of pieces appropriate to the development of fine piano playing, as much for their lovely, pleasing, fresh melodies as for the well knit, fluent forms of all the movements." Moscheles' edition of Schindler's biography quotes the latter as follows: "Among all the masters who have written for piano, Beethoven assigned to Clementi the very foremost rank. He considered his works excellent as studies for practice, for the formation of a pure taste, and as truly beautiful subjects for performance. Beethoven used to say: 'They who thoroughly study Clementi, at the same time make themselves acquainted with Mozart and other composers; but the converse is not the fact.' "
Frederic Chopin would often require his pupils to practice Clementi's preludes and exercises because of the exceptional virtues he attributed to them.
Vladimir Horowitz developed a special fondness for Clementi's work after his wife, Wanda Toscanini, bought him Clementi's complete works. He recorded five of Clementi's Sonatas along with shorter pieces.
By a ministerial decree dated 20 March 2008, the Opera Omnia of Muzio Clementi were promoted to the status of Italian National Edition. The steering committee of the National Edition consisting of the scholars Andrea Coen (Rome), Roberto De Caro (Bologna), Roberto Illiano (Lucca -- President), Leon Plantinga (New Haven, CT), David Rowland (Milton Keynes, UK), Luca Lévi Sala (Paris/Poitiers, Secretary and Treasurer), Massimiliano Sala (Pistoia, Vice-President), Rohan H. Stewart-MacDonald (Cambridge, UK) and Valeria Tarsetti (Bologna).