Haydn, Mozart, & Beethoven: Studies in the Music of the Classical Period

By Sieghard Brandenburg | Go to book overview

3
A New Manuscript from Clementi's Early Years as a Keyboard Virtuoso

OLIVER NEIGHBOUR

Clementi's sudden rise to fame at the end of the 1770s is not well documented. The early accounts, relying on information supplied by the composer forty years or more later, are misleading. However, it now seems clear that for some time after his move to London in 1773 or 1774 from the Dorset seat of his patron Peter Beckford, Clementi made little headway as a solo harpsichordist. So far as can be told from newspaper announcements his performances of a concerto and a sonata of his own composition in public concerts in 1775 remained isolated events. It was only after the publication of his Op. 2 sonatas in the spring of 1779 that his success was assured. By that time he had developed formidable technical powers, particularly in the execution of passages in octaves, thirds, and sixths, and he advertised his prowess in the three solo sonatas of the set, Nos. 2, 4, and 6. The fame of these works apparently spread quickly to the Continent; at all events he soon felt emboldened to try his fortune there. In the summer of 1780 he set out for Paris.1

For a man of 28 his published output was small, consisting merely of his Opp. 1-4 and the 'Black Joke' variations. All are keyboard works, but since some employ accompanying instruments he could draw for his solo recitals only on the six early, small-scale sonatas issued in 1771 as his Op. 1, the variations, and the three sonatas from Op. 2. Moreover, in the event Op. 1 apparently proved unsuited to French taste, and he published a new though scarcely more ambitious version of it in Paris, using only bits and

____________________
1
For details of Clementi's life and works the present article is heavily indebted to Alan Tyson, Thematic Catalogue of the Works of Muzio Clementi (Tutzing, 1967), and Leon Plantinga, Clementi: His Life and Music ( London, 1977).

-21-

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