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Friday Arts Feature - An Italian In England

by Chauncey Tinker – 29 Nov 2019

Image By Thomas Hardy (1757–1804) - http://diglib.hab.de/varia/portrait/a-03784/max/000001.jpg, Public Domain, Link

Another composer whose music has been somewhat lost in the mists of time is Muzio Clementi. He is thought to have written 20 symphonies, but only fragments have survived (a few have been reconstructed), and he is most remembered today for his keyboard works. Here is an example of Clementi's work, the set of Sonatinas op. 36 (played here on a clavichord):

It was common at the time for English gentlemen to take tours in Europe, they would often visit sites of classical antiquity. Although born in Italy, Clementi was brought to England in 1766 (when he was only 14) by Sir Peter Beckford, and he lived here for the rest of his life, although he did later tour extensively on the continent. Classical architecture was all the rage of course:

Stowe House, England

Image By Kevin Gordon, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

The two greatest composers of Clementi's time expressed rather different views about his music. Beethoven admired him greatly and often played his piano works, whereas Mozart once dismissed him as a "mechanic". Clementi met Mozart and they had a piano-playing competition, an 18th century version of the battle of the bands, you might say.

Erik Satie expressed a similar criticism perhaps in 1917 by writing a parody of the above Sonatina by Clementi, with the humourous title "the Sonatine bureaucratique". Here's a performance of the parody:

Have a good weekend everyone.


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Muzio Clementi

Sonatine Bureaucratique

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