Showing posts with label Piano. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Piano. Show all posts

23 January 2017

Muzio Clementi – composer and pianist

Musician is remembered as ‘father of the piano’

Muzio Clementi, the Italian composer who helped  found England's Royal Philharmonic Society
Muzio Clementi, the Italian composer who helped
found England's Royal Philharmonic Society
Composer Muzio Clementi, whose studies and sonatas helped develop the technique of the early pianoforte, was born on this day in 1752 in Rome.

He moved to live in England when he was young, where he became a successful composer and pianist and started a music publishing and piano manufacturing business. He also helped to found the Royal Philharmonic Society in London.

Clementi was baptised Mutius Philippus Vincentius Franciscus Xaverius the day after his birth at the Church of San Lorenzo in Damaso in Rome.

His father was a silversmith, who soon recognised Clementi’s musical talent and arranged for him to have lessons from a relative, who was maestro di cappella at St Peter’s Basilica.

By the time he was 13, Clementi had already composed an oratorio and a mass and he became the organist at his parish church, San Lorenzo in Damaso, at the age of 14.

Sir Peter Beckford, a wealthy Englishman, was so impressed with Clementi’s musical talent and his skill with the harpsichord when he visited Rome in 1766 that he offered to take him to England and sponsor his musical education until he was 21.

The interior of the church of San Lorenzo in Damaso in Rome, where Clementi was baptized and was later organist
The interior of the church of San Lorenzo in Damaso in
Rome, where Clementi was baptized and was later organist
In return, Clementi was to provide musical entertainment for Beckford and his guests. The musician lived for seven years at Beckford’s country estate practicing on the harpsichord, composing sonatas and performing.

Mozart used the opening of one of Clementi’s sonatas in the overture for The Magic Flute. Although this was meant as a compliment, Clementi made sure he put it on record that his sonata had been written ten years before Mozart’s opera.

Clementi moved to live in London when he became an adult, playing the piano, composing, conducting and teaching music.

He began publishing music in 1798, taking over a firm in Cheapside, which was then the most prestigious shopping street in London. Ludwig van Beethoven gave him full publishing rights to all his music in England and in later life Beethoven started to compose chamber music specifically for the British market because of his connection with Clementi.

The house in Kensington Church Street where Clementi lived in London
The house in Kensington Church Street where
Clementi lived in London
In 1813 Clementi was part of a group of prominent musicians who founded the Philharmonic Society of London, which became the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1912.

Bartolomeo Cristofori from Padua has been widely credited with creating the first piano as a development of the harpsichord in 1700.

The oldest surviving Cristofori piano is a 1720 model, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The piano had been slow to catch on, but after composers, such as Clementi, started writing for it, the piano became more popular and by the late 18th century it had become a leading musical instrument.

The piano was probably more of a success in England than anywhere else and Clementi carefully studied its features in order to make the best use of the instrument’s capabilities.

Many of his compositions have been lost or are incomplete, but his chief claims to fame are thought to be his piano sonatas and his studies, such as Gradus ad Parnassum - Steps Towards Parnassus - which he composed in 1817.

Clementi started a business manufacturing pianos in London and, as it flourished, he made important improvements to the construction of the instrument, some of which have become standard in the pianos manufactured today.

At a banquet held in his honour in London in 1827, one of the organisers noted in his diary afterwards that Clementi ‘improvised at the piano on a theme by Handel’.

The tomb of Muzio Clementi can be  found in Westminster Abbey
The tomb of Muzio Clementi can be
found in Westminster Abbey
The musician made his last public appearance at a Philharmonic Society concert in 1828 and then retired and moved to live in Staffordshire.

Clementi died in Evesham in 1832 at the age of 80. He was buried in Westminster Abbey and on his tombstone inscription he is remembered as ‘father of the piano’.

Clementi had been married three times and had five children.

Among his descendants are the British Colonial administrators, Sir Cecil Clementi Smith and his nephew, Sir Cecil Clementi, Air Vice Marshall Cresswell Clementi of the RAF and a deputy governor of the Bank of England, Sir David Clementi.

Travel tip:

The Basilica of San Lorenzo in Damaso, the church where Clementi was baptised and also played the organ, is in the southern part of the historic centre of Rome between the Corso Vittorio Emanuele II and the Tiber. It may once have been the site of a pagan temple, but a church was built there in about 380 by Pope Damasus I. This building was demolished in the time of Pope Sixtus IV, who commissioned the construction of the Palazzo della Cancelleria in 1489. The new church of San Lorenzo in Damaso, where Clementi would have played the organ, was incorporated into the side of the palace.

The Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome
The Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome
Travel tip:

The Palazzo della Cancelleria, the Papal Chancellery, is believed to be the earliest Renaissance palace in Rome. It is a property of the Holy See and has been designated a World Heritage Site. Just to the south of the square named after the palace, Piazza della Cancelleria, is the Campo dè Fiori, the site of a market in Rome for centuries, which has plenty of bars and restaurants and is a popular nightspot when the markets stalls have all been packed away.

More reading:

Bartolomeo Cristofori - the inventor of the piano

Why Lorenzo Perosi chose sacred music over opera

How Nicolò Amati created the world's finest violins

Also on this day:

1980: The death of car designer Giovanni Michelotti, the man behind the Triumph Spitfire

(Picture credits: San Lorenzo interior by antmoose; London house by Simon Harriyott; tombstone by oosoom; Palazzo della Cancelleria by Lalupa)


12 December 2016

Lodovico Giustini – composer

Church organist who wrote the first music for piano

Lodovico Giustini
Lodovico Giustini
Lodovico Giustini, composer and keyboard player, was born on this day in 1685 in Pistoia in Tuscany.

Giustini is the first composer known to write music for the piano and his compositions are considered to be late Baroque and early Classical in style.

Giustini was born in the same year as Bach, Scarlatti and Handel. His father, Francesco Giustini, was a church organist, his uncle, Domenico Giustini, was a composer of sacred music and his great uncle, Francesco Giustini, sang in the Cathedral choir for 50 years.

After the death of his father in 1725, Giustini took his place as organist at the Congregazione dello Spirito Santo in Pistoia, where he began to compose sacred music, mostly cantatas and oratorios.

In 1728 he collaborated with Giovanni Carlo Maria Clari on a set of Lamentations, which were performed later that year.

The dome of the Basilica of Santa Maria dell'Umiltà in Pistoia
The dome of the Basilica of Santa Maria dell'Umiltà in Pistoia
In 1734 he was hired as the organist at the Basilica of Santa Maria dell’Umiltà in  Pistoia. He was to hold this position for the rest of his life. In addition to playing the organ he also gave performances on the harpsichord, often playing his own music.

Giustini is mainly remembered for his collection of 12 Sonate da cimbalo di piano e forte detto volgarmente di martelletti, 12 sonatas written for the piano.

These were composed by Giustini specifically for the hammered harpsichord, or fortepiano, which had been invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori in around 1700.

The sonatas were published in Florence in 1732 and are dedicated to the younger brother of the King of Portugal, probably because the Portuguese court was one of the few places where the early piano was being regularly played.

They were written for the church and have alternating fast and slow sections. They predate all other music specifically written for the piano by about 30 years.

The 1720 Cristofori piano, the oldest surviving,  at the  Metropolitan  Museum of Art in New York
The 1720 Cristofori piano, the oldest surviving,  at the
 Metropolitan  Museum of Art in New York
Giustini uses all the capabilities of the piano in his music, effects that were not available on other keyboard instruments at the time. They are typical of pieces written during the transition from the late Baroque to the early Classical period.

It is considered surprising by some music experts that the sonatas were ever published at all as, at the time they were composed, there were only a few pianos in existence and these were owned mainly by royalty.

The oldest surviving Cristofori piano is a 1720 model, which is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Giustini died in 1743 and since then most of his sacred music has been lost, but his published piano sonatas have kept his memory alive and are well worth hearing.

Travel tip:

Pistoia, where Lodovico Giustini was born and worked as an organist, is a pretty medieval walled city in Tuscany to the north west of Florence. The city developed a reputation for intrigue in the 13th century and assassinations in the narrow alleyways were common, using a tiny dagger called the pistole, made by the city’s ironworkers, who also specialised in manufacturing surgical instruments.

Fresco of the Madonna at the Basilica
della Madonna dell'Umiltà

Travel tip:

The Basilica della Madonna dell’Umiltà, where Lodovico Giustini played the organ in the 18th century, is in Via della Madonna in Pistoia. It was built to replace an ancient church after a miracle involving a 14th century fresco of the Madonna. According to legend, in 1490 in the middle of a period of fighting between the local power factions, people noticed blood dripping from the forehead of the Madonna in the fresco, which was interpreted as a sign that the Virgin Mary was suffering because of the bloodshed in the region at the time. Important local families got together to build a new Basilica to house the Madonna fresco. The octagonal church was designed by architect Ventura Vitoni. A heavy dome was added to the Basilica in 1560, designed by architect Giorgio Vasari.

More reading:

How Bartolomeo Cristofori adapted a harpsichord to create the first piano

Alessandro Scarlatti - a prolific composer ahead of his time

How Giovanni Gabrieli inspired the spread of Baroque style

Also on this day: