Third concert of the Beethoven–Clementi series at the Royal Academy of Music

Beethoven (1770-1827) – Clementi (1752-1832) recital series (3)


Jeremy Eskenazi, piano

Friday 11th May 2007, 6pm
Concert Room
Royal Academy of Music, Marylebone Road, London NW1 5HT

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M. Clementi: Sonata Op. 40 No. 1 in G major (pub. 1802)

1. Allegro molto vivace
2. Adagio, sostenuto, e cantabile
3. Allegro
4. Presto

L. V. Beethoven: Sonata Op. 81a in E flat major ‘Das Lebewohl’ (‘The Farewell’, pub. 1811)

1. ‘Das Lebewohl’ (‘The Farewell’): Adagio – Allegro
2. ‘Abwesenheit’ (‘The Absence’): Andante espressivo (in gehender Bewegung, doch mit viel Ausdruck)
3. ‘Das Wiedersehn’ (‘The Return’): Vivacissimamente (im lebhaftesten Zeitmasse)

M. Clementi: Sonata Op. 50 No. 3 in G minor ‘Didone abbandonata – Scena tragica’ (pub. 1821)

1. Largo patetico e sostenuto – Allegro ma con espressione (diliberando, e meditando)
2. Adagio dolente [mp3]
3. Allegro agitato, e con disperazione



Beethoven is said to have possessed many Clementi piano sonatas in his personal library, and to have considered these ‘the most beautiful, the most pianistic of works, both for their lovely, pleasing, original melodies and for the consistent, easily followed form of each movement.’1

We know that Beethoven appreciated Clementi's pedagogical text Introduction to the Art of Playing on the Piano Forte. In a letter to his friend Stephan von Breuning in September 1826, he wrote: ‘Here is Clementi's Klavierschule which I promised to send you for Gerhard [Stephan's son]. If he uses it in the way I shall instruct him to do later on, it will certainly produce good results.’2 According to Schindler, Beethoven considered Clementi's treatise the most effective of all contemporary writings on pianoforte technique. In fact, Schindler tells us that Beethoven used Clementi's sonatas for the piano instruction of his own nephew Carl ‘almost exclusively’ for several years.

However, in sheer musical terms, signs of stylistic divergence between Beethoven's piano music and Clementi's begin to show as early as 1802. While Clementi's writing reveals elements of a proto–Romantic idiom and foreshadows the styles of Hummel and Mendelssohn, Beethoven's later piano works do not readily lend themselves to comparison with pieces written in the 1830s. By the time Clementi published the second of his three books of piano Etudes Gradus ad Parnassum in 1819, his pianism had followed a quite different course from Beethoven's. In an article from the London Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review of 1822 entitled ‘Remarks on Instrumental Composers’, one reads that Beethoven's piano music was generally appreciated for its ‘originality and science’, and Clementi's for its ‘pathos, elegance, and spirit’.3

Clementi's op. 40 No. 1, published in 1802, represents his only known sonata in four movements. It displays a kaleidoscope of pianistic writing. The first movement combines energy and elegance in true eighteenth–century fashion. The second movement moves forward in style, with its Italianate melismas pointing to early Romantism. The third movement is a compositional ‘tour de force’: strict two-part canons throughout (straight and inverted at the fifth below), all remarkably expressive. The fourth movement pushes the paradox of contrast and unity to an extreme: a sonatina–like opening leads to a passionate, ‘Chopinesque’ central episode that is motivically derived from the first section.

The sonata op. 81a ‘Farewell’, the last of the ‘Clementi commissions’, published in 1811, is the only piano work to which Beethoven gave a title. Under the first three notes of the introduction, he writes ‘Le-be-wohl’, after the parting of his friend the Archduke Rudolph, to whom the sonata is dedicated. These three notes bear a significant structural role in the first movement. In the Andante, a blend of intense expression and melodic inventiveness recalls Clementi's slow–movement manner. The ebullient Finale portrays the excitement of a long–awaited return.

Clementi also ascribed a name to only one of his piano sonatas, op. 50 No. 3 ‘Didone abbandonata’ (1821), his last one. As in Beethoven's ‘Farewell’, the first movement is built upon a descending three–note line heard in the introduction. In fact, there are here fewer ‘digressions’ from this structural anchor than in Beethoven's sonata. The second movement fluctuates from one key to the next, conveying a feeling of ‘wandering confusion’ that also characterises Beethoven's ‘Absence’ movement. However, Clementi's Finale is no ‘happy end’: the quasi–suffocating key of G minor that permeated the previous movements is maintained, and a sense of Dido's imminent death is poignantly conveyed.


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1 Schindler, Anton, Beethoven as I Knew Him, ed. MacArdle, Donald W., trans. Jolly, Constance (London: Faber and Faber, 1966), p. 379.

2 Anderson, Emily, The Letters of Beethoven, vol. 3 (London: MacMillan & Co., 1961), p. 1313.

3 Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review, vol. IV (London: 1822), p. 9.

Copyright © Jeremy Eskenazi 2008. All rights reserved.

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