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Muzio Clementi: Mr Do-it-all

Was there something in the realm of piano music that Muzio Clementi did not delve in? Like his full name Muzio Filippo Vincenzo Francesco Saverio Clementi, he held a list of music-related jobs, such as composer, pianist, conductor, music publisher, editor, and piano manufacturer.

Unlike Leonard Bernstein and Antonin Dvorak, whose paths towards careers in music were less straightforward, Clementi had been encouraged to study music by his father. Like Mozart, his talent was noticed and as a young musician he sponsored to advance his studies in London, and used it as a base to tour Europe with performances.

Clementi's personal style was very much influenced by Domenico Scarlatti and Joseph Haydn. His music possesses a characteristic fluent and technical legato style, and had significant influence on later composers such as John Field, Carl Czerny, and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Outside of composing, Clementi also produced and promoted his own brand of pianos and was a notable music publisher. Did you know he had offices in Cheapside and Tottenham Court Road? (If he had lived in the Muswell Hill vicinity, he would have merely needed to get on the 134 to work!) Clementi also began manufacturing pianos, but on 20 March 1807 a fire destroyed the warehouses occupied by his new firm in the unfortunately-named Rotten Road, resulting in a loss of about ₤40,000. But that loss was off-set by some good fortune. That same year, Clementi struck a deal with one of his greatest admirers Ludwig van Beethoven, which gave him full publishing rights to all of Beethoven's music in England. Wearing his "editor" hat, Clementi edited and interpreted Beethoven's music but has received criticism for editorial work such as making harmonic "corrections" to some of Beethoven's scores. They may have suited Clementi's more traditional harmonic ears, but the clashes in harmony may have been the sort of dissonance Beethoven intended.

Clementi's music was famous with other composers. Mozart used the opening motif of Clementi's B-flat major sonata (Op. 24, No. 2) in his overture for The Magic Flute. The borrowing of a tune may have been a form of musical homage or tribute, although Clementi may not have been impressed. He made efforts to note in subsequent publications of his sonata that it had been written ten years before Mozart's opera. Just so the world knew who had borrowed from whom.

Some of Clementi's students included Ludwig Berger, who went on to teach Felix Mendelssohn, and John Field, who would have enormous influence through his nocturnes on the piano music of Frederic Chopin.

Clementi founded the "Philharmonic Society of London", which became the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1912. His piano business had flourished, affording him an increasingly elegant lifestyle. As an inventor and skilled mechanic he made important improvements in the construction of the piano, some of which have become standard in instruments to this day.

From his base in London Clementi travelled to Europe to conduct his symphonies and also perform his collection of keyboard studies, Gradus ad Parnassum. Debussy's piece "Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum" (the first movement of his suite Children's Corner) makes playful allusion to it. Wonder what Clementi made of that?

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