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Muzio CLEMENTI (1752-1832)
Sonatina Op.36, no.1 in C Major (1797, revised 1820) [3:32]
Sonatina Op.36, no.4 in F Major (1787, revised 1820) [6:08]
Sonata Op.13, no.6 in F Minor (1785, revised 1807?) [14:41]
Sonatina Op.36, no.2 in C Major (1797, revised 1820) [5:26]
Sonata Op.24, no.2 in B flat Major (1788-9) [13:29]
Sonatina Op.36, no.6 in D Major (1797, revised 1820) [6:04]
Sonata Op.34, no.2 in G Minor (1795) [20:17]
Liv Glaser (fortepiano)
rec. 26-30 June 2005, The Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto.
SIMAX PSC 1258 [69:43]


 

Muzio Clementi - or to give him his splendid full name, Mutius Philippus Vincentius Franciscus Xaverius Clementi - was the son of a Roman silversmith; showing early musical abilities he was, at the age of 13, made organist of San Lorenzo in Damaso. That church, now incorporated into the Palazzo della Cancelleria on the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II contains a small fresco of some delightful angel musicians by Cavaliere d’Arpino (1568-1640) which hopefully smiled down on the new young organist. Certainly his talents impressed some human listeners. So much so that in 1766, on hearing him play, Peter Beckford (cousin of the notorious novelist William Beckford) paid the young Clementi’s father a sum sufficient to get his services for seven years and brought him to England where, at Beckford’s estate in Dorset, he entertained visitors, practised and studied. Clementi stayed in Beckford’s service until 1774.

From these unusual beginnings, Clementi went on to develop a very successful musical career, both in London and on the continent, as a pianist, composer, teacher, music publisher and maker of pianos. This present CD offers an interesting selection of his work for piano, excellently played by Liv Glaser on a replica of a Longman and Clementi instrument of 1799 made in 2003 by Chris Maene. And how lovely it sounds! With a range of five octaves, and two pedals, it has a beautifully rounded tone, without any excessive brightness and Glaser’s use of the sustain pedal produces some lovely overtones.

Glaser’s playing is not at all showy, and she finds a tenderness in much of this writing which hasn’t always been located by some previous interpreters. The booklet notes take the form of an imaginary letter from performer to composer (a pleasant conceit, though it unfortunately comes at the cost of there being very little ‘hard’ information on dates etc. I have supplied those above myself, from other sources). In her ‘letter’ Glaser tells Clementi, rightly enough, "that your many keyboard studies and exercises have had a tendency to overshadow all the epoch-making, exciting and passionate music that you have created for the piano, which stylistically embraces the rhetoric of both the Galant style and Romanticism. Someone very wisely said that you have created a bridge from Scarlatti to Chopin. Now who could have put it better than that?". Certainly the reduction of Clementi’s posthumous reputation to that of being essentially a pedagogue is one that is only slowly being overcome. A CD such as this present one should help the case considerably.

Whether in the elegance of the sonatinas – the C Major is particularly charming – or in the more powerful writing in the sonatas Glaser is a thoroughly convincing advocate for Clementi’s work. The G Minor sonata which closes the disc is a wonderful work, full of propulsive rhythms and octave melodies; it surely influenced Beethoven. Very fine, too, is the B flat Major sonata, which Clementi played in his ‘contest’ with Mozart in Vienna in 1781 and which is echoed by Mozart in the overture to The Magic Flute. In the F minor sonata, Glaser articulates very attractively the two and three part texture of the opening allegro agitato; she and her fortepiano bring out both the expressive melodies and the passing dissonances of the central adagio and there are anticipations of Beethoven (again) to be heard (this time of the Eroica) in the closing allegro.

The remark which Glaser quotes (where does it come from?), to the effect that Clementi "created a bridge from Scarlatti to Chopin" is really very apposite. We know that works by Scarlatti were amongst those which the teenage Clementi played and studied in Peter Beckford’s music library in Dorset (where he also studied works by Handel and by J.S. and C.P.E. Bach, amongst others). In later life, of course, John Field was to be one of Clementi’s students. The "bridge", in other words, exists both in what one can hear in the music and in the range of music and musicians with which Clementi, in an extraordinarily busy and productive life, was in touch. But we must be careful not to over-emphasise Clementi’s role as a "bridge" or a catalyst in musical history, since that risks underplaying the extent of his own actual achievement – any listeners not already convinced of the considerable substance of that achievement are urged to listen to this CD.

Glyn Pursglove

 


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