Muzio Clernenti was born in Rome in 1752, the son of a silver smith. By the age of thirteen he had become proficient enough as a musician to be employed as organist at the Church of S. Lorenzo in Damaso and to attract the attention of an English visitor, Peter Beckford, a cousin of William Beckford, author of Vathek and builder of the remarkable Gothic folly of Fonthill. Peter Beckford, as he himself claimed, bought Clementi from his father for a period of seven years, during which the boy lived at Beckford's estate in Darset, perfecting his ability as a keyboard player and, presumably, his general education. In 1774 Clernenti moved to London, where he began to take part in professional concert life as a composer and performer, playing his own sonatas, some of which were published at this time, and directing performances at the Italian opera.
Clementi's success as a performer persuaded him to travel and in 1780 he played for Queen Marie Antoinette in France and early in 1782 for her brother, the Emperor Joseph II, in Vienna. Mozart met Clementi in January, when they were both summoned to play for the Emperor. Clementi improvised and then played a sonata, according to his later account, the Sonata in B flat major, Opus 24 No.2, and the Toccata, Opus 11. Mozart then played and both of them shared the performance of sonatas by Paisiello, and improvised on a theme from one of the sonatas on two pianos. Mozart had a poor opinion of Clementi's musical taste and feeling, but grudgingly admitted his technical ability in right-hand playing of passages in thirds: in other respects he was a mere mechanicus. A year later he wrote again about his rival, describing him as ciarlatano, a charlatan, like all Italians, writing the direction Presto on his music, but playing merely Allegro, and adding that his sonatas were worthless: the passages in sixths and octaves he considered striking, but dangerous for his sister to practise and potentially damaging to her lightness of touch.
Mozart's opinion of Clementi has proved damaging to the latter's reputation but it is possible that Mozart and Vienna suggested new styles of playing to Clementi, who returned to England in 1785, winning a distinguished place for himself through the brilliance of his playing and for his piano teaching. He wrote symphonies and concertos, but found his position threatened during Haydn's two visits to London in the 1790s. In the same decade he involved himself in piano manufacture and music publishing with Longman and Broderip and from 1798, after the firm's bankruptcy, in partnership with Longman, Hyde, Banger and Collard. He travelled abroad extensively in the earlier years of the nineteenth century in the interests of the company. John Field, his pupil, was employed to demonstrate the new keyboard instruments and accompanied him to Russia, while in Vienna he secured the English publication rights for compositions by Beethoven, who held him in esteem as a composer and performer.
From 1810 Clementi was again in England, where he was much respected and won particular success for his teaching compositions, an Introduction to the Art of Playing the Piano Forte of 1801, revised in 1826, and the famous Gradus ad Parnassum, completed and published in the same year. He retired from business in 1830, settling first in Lichfield and then in Evesham, where he died in 1832, to be buried in Westminster Abbey. His legacy to pianists was a significant one, both through his compositions and through his teaching, an introduction to a new virtuosity and exploration of the possibilities of a newly developed instrument.
The six sonatas of Op. 25, were published in 1791 by Joseph Dale. Op. 25, No.2, has a brilliant opening, soon leading to rapid triplets, a continuing feature of the movement. The second movement rondo has a simple principal theme and includes, in its course, a G minor episode. The lyrical F sharp minor sonata Op. 25, No.5, won particular praise, its slow movement the inspiration for a poem by the late nineteenth century Vicenza poet Antonio Fogazzaro. The last movement includes passages in thirds, a technique for which Clementi was particularly well known both as performer and composer. The Sonatina in D major, Op. 37, No.2, variously numbered, appeared as one of a set of three. It remains thoroughly characteristic of Clementi's earlier work.
The six Progressive Pianoforte Sonatinas were written in 1797 and revised in 1820. The first of the set, in C major, offers an ingenuous first subject, followed by a brief modulation to the dominant and a development of similar length. There is an F major slow movement and a final lively return to the original key. The second sonatina of the group, in G major, provides the player with a marginally greater challenge, leading to a second movement in dotted rhythm and a final movement in 3/8 metre. The third sonatina, in C major, opens with a first subject formed from the descending arpeggio, the development opening with the same figure inverted. The G major movement, in two parts only, cans for cantabile playing and leads to a final C major Allegro. The following sonatina, in F major, includes a B flat major slow movement and a final energetic rondo with triplet rhythms. This is followed by the fifth sonatina, in G major, in which the running triplets of the first movement are succeeded by a Swiss air and a closing rondo of dynamic contrast. Opus 36 ends with a further D Major sonatina, with an opening over an Alberti bass and a second movement that makes characteristic use of thirds.
The Sonata in B flat Major, Op. 24 No.2, was published in 1788-9 in Mozart's friend Stephen Storace's Collection of Original Harpsichord Music. It was revised and re-issued as Op. 41 No.2 in 1804. It was suggested that Mozart remembered the sonata from the Vienna court performance of 1782, when he came to write the Overture to The Magic Flute in 1791. Any thematic resemblance is probably coincidental, although the modem listener cannot but be aware of the similarity of the first subject.
The Hungarian pianist Balazs Szokolay was born in Budapest in 1961, the son of a mother who is a pianist and a father who is a composer and professor at the Liszt Academy. He started learning the piano when he was five and in 1970 entered the preparatory class of the Budapest Music Academy, where he completed his studies with P�l Kadosa and Zolt�n Kocsis in 1983. He later spent two years at the Academy of Music in Munich, with a German government scholarship.
Balazs Szokolay made an early international appearance with peter Nagy at the Salzburg Interforum in1979, and in 1983 substituted for Nikita Magaloff in Belgrade in a performance of the Piano Concerto No.1 of Brahms. He is now a soloist with the Hungarian State Orchestra and has given concerts in a number of countries abroad, including Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, Poland, the former Soviet Union, Bulgaria and the former Czechoslovakia. In September, 1987, he made his recital debut at the Royal Festival Hall in London. He has won a number of important prizes at home and abroad, including, most recently, success in the 1987 Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians Competition. He took fourth place in the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1990, when his playing was particularly commended in the British press for its energy and imagination.
ReviewsSzokolay's meticulous precision and imaginative sublety are impressive throughout this disc - Gramophone