Muzio Clementi was an Italian born composer, pianist, conductor, music publisher, editor and piano manufacturer. However, despite being born in Italy he spent the majority of his life in England.
His father, a silversmith soon realised his son’s musical gift and arranged for private lessons with a relative who also happened to be the maestro di capella at St. Peter’s Basilica.
When he was seven Clementi had lessons in figured bass followed by voice, then studied counterpoint. He wrote his first oratorio by the time he was just thirteen. He was referred to as the ‘Father of the Piano’.
Aged fourteen Clementi made a huge impression on the wealthy Englishman Sir William Beckford who was visiting Rome. The Englishman made an arrangement with Clementi’s family to sponsor Clementi through a musical education until the age of twenty one in return for musical entertainment. During this time Clementi studied incredibly hard – eight hours a day!
At the age of twenty one when Clementi had fulfilled his obligations he travelled to London where he became a successful pianist and composer.
For three years he was a harpsichordist at the Italian Opera in London then toured around Europe. During his tour he played for Queen Marie Antoinette in Paris and partook in a friendly musical contest with Wolfgang Mozart at the request of Roman Emperor Joseph II. In case you were wondering, the Emperor diplomatically declared the contest a draw.
In 1799 Clementi’s popularity declined as a result of Joseph Haydn’ frequented visits to London, along with Mozart’s highly publicised comment that ‘Clementi was a Charlatan like all other Italians’. (Bizarrely a few years before his comment Mozart used the opening motif of Clementi’s B-flat major sonata (Op. 24, No. 2) in his overture for The Magic Flute).
Clementi was a pretty astute businessman and these issues did not suppress his ambition. He co-founded a company manufacturing piano’s and publishing music, which despite a devastating fire became incredibly successful. He even made an agreement with Beethoven which gave him full publishing rights on all his music in England. In addition to all his other incredible attributes Clementi was a skilled mechanic and made improvements to the piano which are still in place today.
In 1810 he became one of the founders of the Philharmonic Society of London.
During his life he married three times and had five children.
In his later years Clementi travelled and conducted many of his symphonies around Europe. In 1828 he made is last public at the opening of the Philharmonic Society and retired from there two years later. He spent his final years in Evesham, Worcestershire and died after a brief illness. He is buried in Westminster Abbey alongside three of his students.