First concert of the Beethoven-Clementi series at the Royal Academy of Music

Beethoven (1770-1827) – Clementi (1752-1832) recital series (1)


Jeremy Eskenazi, piano

Wednesday 21st February 2007, 6pm
David Josefowitz Recital Hall
Royal Academy of Music, Marylebone Road, London NW1 5HT

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L.V. Beethoven: Sonata Op. 78 in F sharp major (pub. 1810)

1. Adagio cantabile – Allegro ma non troppo
2. Allegro vivace

M. Clementi: Sonata Op. 25 No. 5 in F sharp minor (pub. 1790)

1. Piùttosto allegro con espressione [mp3]
2. Lento e patetico [mp3]
3. Presto

L.V. Beethoven: Sonata Op. 109 in E major (pub. 1821)

1. Vivace, ma non troppo – Adagio espressivo – Tempo I – Adagio espressivo – Tempo I [mp3]
2. Prestissimo
3. Gesangvoll, mit innigster Empfindung (Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo)

M. Clementi: Sonata Op. 50 No. 1 in A major (pub. 1821)

1. Allegro maestoso e con sentimento
2. Adagio sostenuto e patetico – Andante con moto – Tempo primo
3. Allegro vivace [mp3]



When the London-based Italian musician Muzio Clementi met Beethoven during one of his trips to Vienna in 1807, the German composer had just published his ‘Appassionata’ sonata op. 57. While Beethoven's notoriety was rapidly increasing, Clementi, eighteen years Beethoven's senior, was already firmly established throughout Europe as pianist, composer, pedagogue, publisher, and instrument maker. In fact, it was Clementi who had revolutionised piano playing with his notoriously difficult op. 2 sonatas (published in 1779), and who was now actively involved in promoting the still newly-developed ‘pianoforte’ (nowadays called ‘piano’) across Europe. His meeting with the ‘rising star’ Beethoven, after a few failed attempts, was a success on both personal and professional planes. Clementi wrote to his business partner Collard in London: ‘Conceive...the mutual ecstasy of such a meeting!’.1 A contract followed, whereby Beethoven agreed to send manuscript scores of some of his own works to London for publication by Clementi & Co. Additionally, Clementi commissioned Beethoven to compose three new piano sonatas, which all feature in the present concert series: op. 78, 79, and 81a ‘Farewell’.

Hans von Bülow's somewhat exaggerated claim that Beethoven would have remained a great composer had he only written the first four bars of his sonata op. 78 (published in 1810) makes a point: an intense lyricism is conveyed from the very opening of the first movement, despite the apparent simplicity of the motives. Beethoven praised this sonata over other works of his that enjoyed greater popularity, such as the ‘Moonlight’ sonata op. 27 No. 2. The second movement of op. 78 is rather heterogeneous, displaying virtuosic and improvisatory gestures around an opening theme that recalls ‘Rule Britannia’ (which Beethoven had set into variations for piano in 1803 and later re-used in his ‘Wellington's Victory’).

Clementi's sonata op. 25 No. 5, published in 1790, combines several features that often characterize this composer's most original works. The three movements are in a minor key, the motives of the first movement all derive from the opening phrase, and the movements themselves are motivically connected. The pianist Vladimir Horowitz considered the third movement of op. 25 No. 5 one of the best of its time.

Beethoven's sonata op. 109, published in 1821, opens the ‘triptych’ of his final works in the sonata genre. In the first movement, a lively and candid opening line is violently interrupted by an Adagio that juxtaposes contrapuntal writing with improvisatory sweeps. The short second movement displays moments of turbulence before the tranquil mood of the third movement, an Aria with six variations.

Op. 50, published in 1821, is Clementi's last sonata set. The first movement of the sonata op. 50 No. 1 ‘wanders’ from one idea to the next, though in strict sonata form. The other two movements exhibit a device that Clementi used with particular originality in his late works: the canon. Rohan Stewart-MacDonald describes this unusual Clementi idiosyncracy: ‘Ironically, a familiar and profoundly ‘learn-ed’ contrapuntal technique, canon, becomes a mystified, defamiliarised entity. The overriding sensation is of heightened freedom: the ‘most strict’ is transformed into the ‘most free’ and one might ally the passages with the same improvisatory instinct that caused cadenzas to permeate some of Clementi's earlier piano sonatas.’2

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1 This letter can be found in Plantinga, Leon, Clementi: His Life and Music (London: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 197.

2 Stewart-MacDonald, Rohan, ‘Canonic Passages in the Later Piano Sonatas of Muzio Clementi : Their Structural and Expressive Roles’, in Ad Parnassum: A Journal of 18th- and 19th-Century Instrumental Music, vol. I/1, April 2003 (Bologna, Italy: Ut Orpheus Edizioni), p.106.

© Jeremy Eskenazi 2016