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The relationship between Beethoven and Clementi, a little-known chapter

March 31, 2020

by Marina Rodríguez Brià

(A translation of the article published in the Revista Musical Catalana)

One of the evolving disciplines, like so many aspects of today, is music research. The work of thousands of researchers in various parts of the world and the many publications that appear continuously allow us to obtain more information and to complete or rectify the story that tradition has been repeating.

This is the case of the new studies on Muzio Clementi (1752-1832). In the late 18th century music scene, the focus of London pianism, known as the London Pianoforte School, of which Clementi was one of the main protagonists, is one of the least explained. But who was this musician who defined himself "I'm a young Italian but an old Englishman"?

Muzio Clementi's portrait after James Lonsdale.

Clementi, a versatile and cosmopolitan musician

Initiator of what is considered the first generation of professional pianists, Clementi, as well as a composer, pianist, conductor and teacher, was a music publisher and piano maker during the first three decades of the nineteenth century. He was a man of his time and contributed decisively to the transformation of the European music scene, as being a constantly moving, cosmopolitan character, his musical activity was known everywhere. In William Gardiner's memoirs, referring to a meeting with Clementi, we can read: “He sat at the table with French people, Spanish, German, Italian, Russian, Turkish and Arab and talked to everyone, usually in their own language. As a linguist, his command of all European languages ​​was considered extraordinary, and he knew the classics very well… ”.

The London press of his time described him as the "father of modern piano music" for being the first to understand, explore and use with excellence the expressive possibilities of the new instrument. He was so famous that he was buried with honours in Westminster Abbey with the epitaph "The Father of the Piano Forte".

Beethoven's portrait.

Similarities between Clementi's piano idiom and Beethoven's

Beethoven was eighteen years younger than Clementi. During their lifetime both musicians professed great respect and mutual admiration and agreed on the same musical taste. According to his biographer Anton Schindler, Beethoven had almost all of Clementi's Sonatas on hand: “he had the greatest admiration for these Sonatas, and considered them the most beautiful and pianistic works, both for their charming, pleasant, original melodies as for its consistent and easy to follow form of each movement ”.

Beethoven also appreciated the Gradus ad Parnassum. Clementi, in a letter to piano builder Sébastien Erard, says: "I heard from Berger that Beethoven has praised my didactic work. The praise of a great man is always immensely gratifying".

Without discussing his genius at all, there are some characteristics that tradition has attributed in the first place to Beethoven, but that studying Clementi's work it can be seen that he was the first to use them. For example, the legato touch, which would be an expressive feature of the Romantic period, already appears in Clementi's Sonatas of the 1780s. In fact, in his method he verbalizes the preference of the tied touch. Also some harmonies, chromatisms, accents, virtuosity, the use of double notes and the rhythmic richness of Clementi contain new aspects. He often indicates forte and sudden piano, a feature repeatedly ascribed to Beethoven, but which Clementi already used profusely when the former was still a child. The first sonata with a slow introduction is also said to be Beethoven's Pathetic (1798), but it has a clear precedent in the Sonata in G minor, op. 34 núm. 2 (1793) by Clementi. Both sonatas share a great emotional intensity and rhythmic vigor in the first movement and make the introductory theme reappears inside. The truth is that Clementi's innovative musical style and the piano school he created in London were definitive references to Beethoven's language.

The press of the time placed the work of the two composers equally at the highest level of musical expression and wisdom.

"Beethoven and I have become good friends in the end" *

* (Letter from Clementi to the publisher Härtel. Vienna, April 22, 1807.)

The editorial relationship between the two musicians

In 1807 Beethoven and Clementi treated each other personally. From their meeting, on April 20, 1807, a contract arose which they both signed in Vienna and which granted Clementi the exclusive publishing rights in England and his domains of this series of works by Beethoven: The Three Razumovsky Quartets, op. 59, the Fourth Symphony, op. 60, the Coriolanus Overture, op. 62, the Fourth Concerto for piano and orchestra, op. 58, the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, op. 61 and, at Clementi's request, the same Concerto arranged for piano and orchestra. He also commissioned two Sonatas and a Fantasia for piano.

Fragment of the piano and orchestra version of the Violin Concerto op. 61 by Beethoven,
comissioned by Clementi. Royal College of Music, London.

This was the beginning of an editorial relationship that lasted throughout Beethoven's life and was fruitful for both musicians. Beethoven was very pleased with the deal, as can be seen in the letter he sent to Count Franz von Brunswick a few weeks later: “[…] I am to get 200 pounds sterling - and, what is more, I shall be able to sell the same works in Germany and France […] ”. He also told Prince Esterházy that exceptionally advantageous offers had been made to him from London.

The contract was not limited to these works. Until the 1820s, Clementi published many more in England before they were published on the continent. Among which, the Choral Fantasy, op. 80, the Fifth Concerto for piano and orchestra, “Emperor,” or the String Quartet op. 74, “The Harps”.

Cover of the String Quartet in E flat major, op. 74, “The Harps” by Beethoven edited by Clementi & Co.

The Philharmonic Society of London

In 1813 Clementi and other musicians founded the Philharmonic Society of London, which is still known as the Royal Philharmonic Society. His intention was to provide instrumental music concerts by the best composers of the time, with professional criteria and the best possible performances. The inaugural concert, conducted by Muzio Clementi and Johann Peter Salomon, included a Beethoven Symphony on the program. During the fifteen years that Clementi was at the institution he directed twenty-five times, most of them with the inclusion of works by Beethoven and also some of his own.

In addition, in 1822, the London Philharmonic Society commissioned Beethoven a work that became the Ninth Symphony. A series of delays in delivery led him to compose an Overture, Die Weihe des Hauses, op. 124, the London premiere of which was directed by Clementi. The English premiere of the Ninth Symphony took place in 1825, under the direction of Sir George Smart. During the period of composing this great work, Clementi was first editing his Sonatas for piano, op. 110, op. 111 and the Bagatelles op. 119.

In 1827, shortly before his death, the London Philharmonic Society sent Beethoven a hundred pounds "to be applied to his comforts and necessities during his illness".


Clementi and Beethoven's musical taste was very close, and the list of works published by Clementi in England before the Continent shows the editorial scope that Clementi dealt with Beethoven.

Clementi from the beginning and later also other musicians made Beethoven's music well known and much appreciated in England.

There is no doubt that Clementi was a special character. His personality and career are uncommon, as is his wide circle of friends and acquaintances. It is no wonder that days after sharing a dinner with him, writer Walter Scott told host and mutual friend Ignaz Moscheles, “And when you see the fine old gentleman Mr. Clementi, will you oblige me by remembering me to him?”

Some works by Clementi

-Vladimir Horowitz. Clementi, Sonata F minor, op. 13 n. 6 (1785). (In the link it appears with another numbering: op.14 n. 3):

-Lazar Berman. Clementi, Sonata B minor, Op. 40 n. 2 (1802):

-Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. Muzio Clementi, Sonata B flat major, op. 12 n. 1 (1784):

-Maria Tipo. Clementi, Sonata G minor, op. 50 n. 3, “Didone abbandonata”:

-Andreas Staier. Clementi, Musical Characteristics, op. 19. I Prelude alla Haydn in C major (1787):

-Peter Katin. Clementi, Sonata F sharp minor, op. 25 n. 5 (1790):

-Emil Gilels. Clementi, Sonata C major, op. 34 n. 1 (1793):

-Ilia Kim, performs Clementi's Sonatas and Preludes:

Some works by Beethoven commissioned by Clementi

-Daniel Barenboim. Beethoven, the piano version of the Violin Concerto in D major, op. 61 (it is necessary to emphasize the cadence of the first movement with the dialog of the piano with the timpani):

-Elisabeth Leonskaya. Beethoven, Fantasia op. 77, commissioned by Clementi:

-Annie Fischer. Beethoven, Sonata n. 24 Fa sharp major, op. 78

-Daniel Barenboim. Beethoven, Sonata n. 25, G major, op. 79

The author, Marina Rodríguez Brià, is a pianist, researcher and curator of the exhibition “Muzio Clementi, the Father of Pianoforte. Confluences with Beethoven ”, which is presented at the Barcelona Music Museum. She is also a founding member of the Muzio Clementi Association of Barcelona.  https://marinarodriguezbria.blogspot.com/p/blog-page_21.html

Featured image: Detail of the portrait of Beethoven by W. J. Mähler (c. 1804). https://www.welt.de/kultur/klassik/article204345202/Beethoven-in-Bonn-Hoerrohre-Handschriften-und-ein-leeres-Schlafzimmer.html#cs-Bilder-der-Ausstellung-BEETHOVENWELT.jpg

March 31, 2020
by Marina Rodríguez Brià