Immortality in Cyberspace

Every musician knows the names Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. (Non-musicians may be a little hazy about Haydn.) But Muzio Clementi is largely forgotten today.

I’ve been reading Performance Practices in Classic Piano Music by Sandra Rosenblum. How I came by this book is a story for another time; the point is, Rosenblum puts Clementi on the same plane with Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. This got me curious, so I went looking around online for Clementi piano sonatas. He apparently wrote about a hundred of them, but it appears that most are completely out of print. There’s a Dover reprint edition containing ten, and for all I know those ten may be the best of the lot, but still, it’s a shame that the rest have vanished into oblivion.

Ah, but on the Internet nothing ever dies! With a little googling around, I managed to find a website (the IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library) that has a big bunch of Clementi sonatas. Some of them are scans of hundred-year-old editions, which means they’re smudgy and a bit marked up with pencil here and there. Also, these old volumes will have been edited in ways that undoubtedly showed less respect for original performance practice than today’s performers would demand. But the music is there, and that’s the important thing.

I don’t have all of the sonatas, I’m sure — but I now have more than enough to keep me happy. Considering my extremely modest level of proficiency as an amateur pianist, it would take me years to learn the 35 or 40 that I’ve downloaded. I may, in the end, learn one or two, but it’s nice to have a variety to choose from.

Rather than print them out for sight-reading, I think I’ll flatten the music rack on the piano and set the Mac laptop on it. Maybe I should have a friend come over and take photos of that. It would be a cute high-tech visual.

After downloading the sonatas, I noticed links to a couple of scanned Clementi caprices. Normally, you’d expect a caprice to be a light-hearted little piece, hardly worth the 1’s and 0’s it would take to download it. But I took a look anyway, and I’m glad I did. The caprices are basically sonatas under another name — but far more interesting, one of them has a movement in 5/4 time. This was written at least 50 years before Tchaikovsky tried 5/4 in the Pathetique. According to wikipedia, an early Baroque composer named Giovanni Valentini wrote in asymmetrical meters, including 5/4, but I’ve never seen any other music from the Baroque or Classical period in 5/4. What a find!

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1 Response to Immortality in Cyberspace

  1. Andy says:

    Wow, thank you for the link to this excellent resource. I had a piano teacher that recommended Clementi, but outside of the handful she gave me to work on I have not found much else on my own (I stopped looking years ago and had kinda forgotten about him until reading this post).

    Thanks again,
    ~ andy.f

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