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Kids, you have Clementi to thank for your piano sonatina skills. (It’s his birthday today, Jan. 23.)

Kids, you have Clementi to thank for your piano sonatina skills. (It’s his birthday today, Jan. 23.) featured image

Five-year old Anke Chen, in a high-spirited performance of Clementi

Muzio Clementi , born January 23 in 1752, was an Italian-born composer who moved to England when he was 14 and remained there the rest of his life. Known as “Father of the Piano”, he was influenced by the keyboard mastery of Domenico Scarlatti, the classical school of Haydn, and the “stile galante” (galant style) of JC Bach. Clementi developed a fluent and technical legato style which made a competitor out of Mozart and a disciple out of Beethoven. Along with his composing, he was an entrepreneur – he promoted his own brand of pianos (he made significant improvements in the construction of the piano, which are standard today) and was a prominent publisher (successful enough to live well). It’s no wonder many of his works are still played; dozens of piano pieces (sonatinas) and studies remain staples of the Royal Conservatory’s piano repertoire books.

Clementi was also one of the first composers to truly take advantage of the piano’s capabilities, and incorporated more jumps and octaves and sudden contrasts in dynamics. Beethoven ran with that concept, thanks to Clementi’s example, and explored the piano’s range even further – lots of leaps, the hands moving farther apart on the keyboard – more than any composer previously – and using even more extremes in sudden shifts between loud and soft. Clementi was also a huge influence on Carl Czerny (another composer whose piano pieces and studies show up throughout a piano student’s education).

When Clementi died, he was buried in Westminster Abbey, where many great musicians, artists, and poets were buried before him and in the centuries to follow.

In 2016, this performance of the first movement, Allegro con spirito, of Clementi’s Piano Sonata in D Major, Op. 36 No.1 went viral because the performer, Anke Chen, was only five years old. She played with amazing vigour and attack, and skillfully managed her own page turn. The only time (other than the end) she glances at the camera was when she missed a few of the low notes in a few left hand octave jumps. She can be forgiven … I mean, listen to her! (And her hands are tiny.)

Clementi was born on January 23, 1752 in Rome, Italy and died on March 10, 1832, in Evesham, Worcestershire, England.

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