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

Beethoven (1770-1827) – Clementi (1752-1832) recital series (4)


Jeremy Eskenazi, piano

Monday 18th June 2007, 6pm
Concert Room
Royal Academy of Music, Marylebone Road, London NW1 5HT

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L.V. Beethoven: Sonata Op. 10 No. 1 in C minor (pub. 1798)

1. Allegro molto e con brio
2. Adagio molto
3. Prestissimo

M. Clementi: Sonata Op. 40 No. 3 in D major (pub. 1802)

1. Adagio molto – Allegro
2. Adagio con molta espressione [mp3]
3. Allegro

M. Clementi: Sonata Op. 34 No. 2 in G minor (pub. 1795)

1. Largo e sostenuto – Allegro con fuoco – Largo – Tempo primo
2. Un poco adagio
3. Molto allegro



It is probably safe to assume that Beethoven acquainted himself with Muzio Clementi's piano sonatas in his teenage years. At the time Beethoven was growing up, Clementi was establishing his reputation as an international virtuoso pianist-composer. Following the success of his op. 2 sonatas in London (1779-1780), Clementi played for the Queen Marie–Antoinette in Paris, and in the courts of Strasbourg and Munich (1781). On 24th December 1781, he participated in a prestigious competition against Mozart held by the Emperor Joseph II of Vienna, who had no less than the Duke and Duchess of Russia as guests for this occasion. Despite the fact that Clementi eventually settled in London, his works were well distributed on the Continent: op. 5 and 6 were first printed in Paris (1780-1781), op. 8 in Lyon (1782), and the sonata sets op. 7, 9, and 10 in Vienna (1782-1783). His op. 13 sonatas, printed in London in 1785, appeared that same year in the publisher Simrock's catalogue of music for sale in Bonn (Beethoven's native city). Leon Plantinga, invoking Beethoven's connections with Simrock, states: ‘it is hard to imagine that the ambitious 14–year-old pianist in Bonn would not have got his hands on this very recent music of the newly–famous virtuoso Clementi, available in the shop of a family friend.’1

In fact, a glance at Clementi's output of 1782–1798 shows that Beethoven often borrowed material and ideas of formal design from his Italian predecessor. The French scholar and composer Guy Sacre, in the introduction to his penetrating analyses of all Clementi's piano works, notices that ‘we now excessively label «Beethovenian» all sorts of traits that were, at first, «Clementinian».’2

Beethoven's sonata op. 10 No. 1 of 1798 represents one of his most original early works: the sharp opposition between themes, the fierce dynamic and registral contrasts, and the abundance of abrupt ‘sforzando’ accents all bear his stamp. One of the shortest early Beethoven sonatas, op. 10 No. 1 was probably first conceived as a four-movement work. Two versions of a ‘missing Scherzo’ for this sonata have survived: the Presto in C minor WoO 52, and the Allegretto in C minor WoO 53. It is possible that Beethoven withdrew the first piece because of the close resemblance of its main motive with the opening theme of Clementi's sonata op. 34 No. 2.

For Leon Plantinga, Clementi's op. 40 No. 3 (1802) forms the ‘most impressive of the three sonatas of Opus 40. (...) The Adagio... and most of this sonata, is vintage Clementi; more modest in its aims than much of Opus 40, it is a composition of substance and integrity.’3 Though the B minor sonata of op. 40 also deserves particular attention, this third sonata of op. 40 is a remarkable work, notably through its masterly treatment of relatively simple material.

Clementi's sonata op. 34 No. 2, published in 1795, is a typical illustration of a ‘Beethovenish’ work before the hour. In particular, the main first movement theme strongly anticipates Beethoven's fifth symphony. The sonata displays a wide palette of pianistic sonorities: orchestral colours, ‘singing’ legato lines, judicious polyphonic blends, in a manner that would become an essential part of Beethoven's idiom.


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1 Plantinga, Leon, ‘Clementi «et ses Trois Styles»’, in Bösel, Richard, and Sala, Massimiliano, eds. Muzio Clementi, Cosmopolita della Musica: Atti del Convegno Internazionale in Occasion del 250° della Nascita (Bologna: Ut Orpheus, 2004), p. 13-15.

2 ‘... et l'on appelle abusivement « beethovéniens » toutes sortes de traits qui ont d'abord été « clementiniens ».’ Sacre, Guy, La Musique de Piano: Dictionnaire des Compositeurs et des Oeuvres, vol. 1 (Paris : Robert Laffont, 1998), p. 755 (article on Muzio Clementi: p. 755 to p. 793).

3 Plantinga, Leon, Clementi: His Life and Music (London: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 181 and 184.

Copyright © Jeremy Eskenazi 2008. All rights reserved.

© Jeremy Eskenazi 2016