If all the music by the British-based composer, pianist,
teacher, publisher and piano manufacturer Muzio Clementi were as rewarding
as the lyrically spontaneous Molto adagio, sostenuto, e cantabile
of op. 40/1 or the first movement of op. 40/2 with its strong introduction
and splendidly driving Allegro con fuoco, it would probably be
under our fingers and in our concert halls with as much frequency as
late Haydn. On the other hand, if it were all as dry as the wretched
canons that make up the third movement of op. 40/1 we should scarcely
find time for him at all.
Most honoured in the schoolroom, where his six Sonatinas
remain the standard gateway to the classics – and rightly so, for their
lively invention and formal clarity put them on a higher level than
most similar works – Clementi was plainly far more important than the
struggling student realises. Much admired by Beethoven (less so by Mozart),
his long series of sonatas has always intrigued musicologists for its
anticipation, in the earlier works, of certain aspects of the Beethovenian
style, and for the proto-romanticism of a number of passages in the
later pieces. Indeed, the exact relationship between Beethoven and Clementi
is not always easy to establish. The first movement of op. 40/3, for
example, after an imposing introduction, leads into a D major theme
so identical in its pianistic texture (but not notes) to the opening
of Beethoven’s op. 28, also in D major, that one can only gasp at such
a blatant "crib". Clementi published this sonata in 1802,
the Beethoven had been published in 1801, so Clementi could have
seen the Beethoven, grabbed his pen and pinched the idea in time for
his own sonata, but do we actually know when Clementi wrote this
work? The booklet notes, while noting the similarity, do not offer a
date for composition. We know for sure that Clementi’s previous sonata
publication was in 1798, allowing the logical assumption that op. 40
was composed gradually in the intervening three years. Furthermore,
as early as 1799 the publication of four new sonatas by Clementi had
been announced. They were not issued, but what could they have been
if not those of op. 40, maybe withheld for revision? The "crib",
then, may in reality be a remarkable coincidence.
A fascinating if frustrating composer, no one has ever
accused Clementi of excessive brevity. Just six sonatas on two well-filled
discs suggests in itself something closer to Schubertian heavenly lengths
than Beethovenian concentration, and the undoubted inspiration of the
celebrated "Didone abbandonata" sonata is weakened by its
sprawling structure. Pianists often turn to these sonatas in their own
music studios, but less often feel impelled to play them in public.
In many ways the greatest satisfaction is to be found in Clementi’s
earlier and more disciplined sonatas; however, this album gives us some
of his last works, op. 40, published in 1802 as already said, and op.
50 which though published in 1821 is thought to have been written around
Maria Tipo has been a widely respected name in Italy
over the last few decades and plays with clarity and musicality. She
is capable of great vitality and also shows much poetic sensibility.
If I am not altogether convinced, this regards a problem which only
an expert in Clementi editions can resolve. I shall start by declaring
that I have before me the Henle Edition, edited by Sonja Gerlach and
Alan Tyson, of op. 40/1-2 and op. 50/1. Over the last 50 years Henle
have established a reputation for the rigour and scholarship of their
Urtext editions and Alan Tyson is one of the leading experts in Clementi.
The correctness of this text is presumably beyond doubt. The trouble
is that it was not available to Maria Tipo since it was published in
1982. I also have, for these same three sonatas plus op. 40/3 and op.
50/3, a French edition published by Heugel in 1924. This has numerous
divergences as regards dynamics and phrasing though they seem to agree
over the actual notes. Whether these divergences derive from variant
readings of Clementi’s own text or from the "creative" editing
considered acceptable in those days I have no way of knowing. In any
case, what Maria Tipo plays is often different again. Maybe she is "doing
her own thing" but I have never supposed her to be that sort of
pianist and I suspect she is scrupulously following some Italian edition
current at the time of the recording.
To take one example, from b. 99 of the first movement
the Henle Edition (you can follow this up on disc 1 between 4’ 56"
and 5’ 18" of track 1) marks a steep crescendo leading to forte
and then fortissimo at b. 103. The music then storms forward
till the dramatic pause at b. 109. The Heugel edition is identical save
for a the omission of a few extra sforzandos. But Tipo
makes a longer, more gradual crescendo and then tapers away to reach
piano before the pause, which is therefore not dramatic at all.
Surely the effect would be much stronger as written in Henle and Heugel?
Then the slow movement which follows has, in Henle,
numerous accents, sforzandos and hairpin crescendos and
diminuendos which, if observed, would create an altogether more
intense effect than the gently poetic rendering we have from Maria Tipo,
who frequently reverses the indications entirely. In this case the Heugel
edition contains precious few of these expression marks. Now if Clementi
had really left the music as bare of expression marks as the Heugel
edition (and maybe that followed by Tipo) lets us suppose, then Tipo’s
solutions would be perfectly acceptable. But I cannot believe that Alan
Tyson added all these things without just authority, and the nature
of the music is thereby changed.
However, while Maria Tipo may be the victim of a poor
edition, and cannot be blamed for this since the Henle was not available
to her, at the same time her general approach (maybe under the influence
of this edition) does seem inclined towards lessening the stronger qualities
of the music. While I accept that to storm about in Clementi as if he
were Beethoven can be counter-productive, I find her too willing to
stem the flow and drift into a poetic revery of her own. Take the opening
of op. 50/1. After just four bars of strong music there comes a passage
marked dolce and con espressione. Tipo is certainly that,
but does she have to lose all sense of direction so early in the movement?
Certainly, Clementi must take his share of the blame, but a more forward-moving
performance might have shown him in better light. The suspicion arises,
as the discs procede their agreeable way, that one is listening to a
vast collection of cadenzas.
You will gather that I am rather perplexed as to whether
this is the best presentation of some often very fine music. The booklet
contains two excellent essays, but you’ll be better off if you can read
them in the original Italian, thereby avoiding such quaint phrases as
the following: "The second movement, ‘Molto Adagio, sostenuto e
cantabile’ has a very sweet beginning but then crumbles into a perhaps
excessive proliferation of flowering that shadow the ‘cantabile’ qualities".
"Of the three Sonatas the first is perhaps the less interesting,
if not in the wide ‘Allegro maestoso e con sentimento’, so rich in figure
inventions and characterized by an orchestra like sounding pianism".