As the inscription on the cenotaph of Westminster professes, Clementi was the "father of the piano". He was another child prodigy, whose talent was noticed in 1766 by an English nobleman, Sir Peter Beckford, en route to Rome, who took him to Steepleton offering him the opportunity to further his studies. These studies were put to good use given that only a few years later his piano playing aroused the enthusiasm of the public and sparked the career of one of the greatest musicians of all time, often on tour throughout Europe. Even the Emperor Joseph II called him into a musical duel with the young Mozart
, one of the most famous battles in the history of music which ended in a draw, but was a moral victory for Clementi, who had words of great esteem and praise for the opponent (who did not reciprocate the sentiment).
Aside from being a successful performer, director, teacher (his greatest pupil was John Field), piano maker and publisher (he published all the works of Beethoven
), Clementi is best known for his Gradus ad Parnassum, a collection of over a hundred studies for the piano that combine technical lessons with aesthetic in one hundred sonatas for the instrument (the last of the three from op.50 Didone abbandonata
and the beautiful piece in F sharp minor, op. 26, no. 2, show a great romantic sensitivity). Living in the days of two absolute giants of the musical world, Mozart
, Clementi has not received the credit he deserves, despite the popularisation of other famous pianists such as Vladimir Horowitz, Maria Tipo and Pietro Spada. He also left us with many other compositions, including several symphonies. The fact remains that his contribution to music, specifically for the piano, exhibits all of the expressive and harmonic qualities possible, as well as technical difficulties related to the mechanics of the new instrument: this deep understanding created, virtually from scratch, a new musical language and technique for pianists.
It is almost miraculous how he alone predicted the total capabilities of this new instrument - the piano - and how he managed to compose specifically for it (despite the various pieces he wrote for ‘harpsichord or fortepiano’); he ‘invented’ a new technique for himself and for those to followed. Unlike many other harpsichord composers who only partially understood the possibilities of the new instrument – including a host of composers from GB Platti
to CPE Bach – Clementi’s work included the full harmonic possibilities, expressive potential and technical difficulties for the instrument, arising from mechanical innovations, and wittingly created the new pianistic language.