January 23, 2017. Mozart – and Clementi. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27th of 1756. Every year we consider different episodes from Mozart’s life, and last year we wrote about his final years in Salzburg in the Archbishop Colloredo’s employ, a bitter resignation and his move to Vienna. It was 1781, Mozart was 25 years old, and the success of his new opera Idomeneo was still fresh in his memory. That was very important, as opera was then the most prestigious form of art, recognized as such in courts and palaces; a composer could write many wonderful symphonies and sonatas (and Mozart had already written 34 symphonies and many sonatas), but an opera could make his name. But Mozart was then a freelancer, without a permanent position or salary. In Vienna, he found several students, some among the nobility and that helped to pay the bills. He also continued to compose; several of his piano and violin sonatas were written during that period, many dedicated to his pupil, Josepha von Auernhammer, who was madly in love with him. He was also performing in many public and private halls, and was considered the best keyboard player in town.
An unusual competition took place on the 24th of December, 1781, as Mozart confronted an unexpected rival. Muzio Clementi, a composer and keyboard player, had recently arrived in Vienna. He acquired his fame in London, and the Emperor Joseph II, an enlightened ruler and patron of arts, decided to have a competition between him and the local virtuoso.
Clementi, whose birthday we also mark this week, was born on January 23rd of 1752 in Rome. He studied music as a child and by the age of 14 became the organist of the church of San Lorenzo in Damaso in Rome. That very year, Peter Beckford, a wealthy Englishman, heard him play and was impressed. He negotiated with Muzio’s father an arrangement under which he’d take Clementi to his estate, pay for his continued musical education and be entertained in return. Muzio lived in Beckford’s estate for the following seven years, and it’s said that every day he spent eight hours playing the harpsichord. He then moved to London, where he established himself as a performer and composer of keyboard sonatas. In 1789 Clementi embarked on a European tour, which took him first to Paris, where he played for Marie Antoinette and then to Vienna. The competition organized by Joseph II was a grand affair: Mozart and Clementi played in the presence of the court and the Emperor’s guests, Grand Duke Paul of Russia, the son of Empress Catherine the Great, who later became the Emperor of Russia, and his wife. This episode reminds one of a competition between another German and Italian – Handel and Scarlatti – organized by Cardinal Ottoboni in Rome in 1709. Both Mozart and Clementi were asked to improvise, then sight-read sonatas of Paisiello and finish with selections from their own compositions. No official verdict was delivered but the Emperor was very impressed, and continued speaking of it for a long time. Apparently, the self-assured Mozart was taken aback by the quality of Clementi’s playing. While Clementi was effusive in his praise of Mozart’s performance, Mozart was critical of Clementi, as he described the competition in aletter to his father. It’s especially interesting considering that one of the pieces played by Clementi was his Sonata op. 24 no. 2, which Mozart later used as one of the themes for the overture to his opera The Magic Flute! Here’s Clementi’s sonata in the performance by the pianist Young-Ah Tak, and here – the overture to the Magic Flute. Bernard Haitink conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.
Copyright 2008-2014 Classical Connect, LLC