Tonight on Reflections from the Keyboard, David Dubal looks at the battle between Muzio Clementi and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, history’s greatest dueling concert pianists. In part one, the stage is set for the two illustrious pianists to meet. In part two, David Dubal continues the tale of the famous duel and plays music from the legendary piano competition.
Clementi, often called the father of the pianoforte, was born in Rome in 1752. Like Mozart, he was a prodigy. When he was 14, an extremely wealthy Englishman, Peter Beckford, struck a deal to buy him from his father. He brought Muzio back to his country estate in England and gave him fine tutors as well as a new English Broadwood piano. Muzio experimented with new techniques and developed a legato playing style, something he could not achieve with the harpsichord.
Mozart was born four years after Clementi in Salzburg, Austria. As a child he first encountered the piano through J.S. Bach’s youngest son, Johan Christian, then the best pianist in London. Mozart became a prime advocate of the early piano and a master of Viennese-type instruments, which were lighter in action and sound.
Mozart was freelance composing in Vienna when he met Clementi in 1781. The Broadwood Piano Firm had sent Clementi on a tour to promote their recently built grand pianos. While he was in Vienna, Emperor Joseph II invited him to face off against Mozart before the entire glittering court of the Viennese empire. The contest, which featured solo pieces and sight-reading, ended in a tie.
Muzio Clementi: Sonata in B-Flat, Opus 47, No. 2 / Arthur Loesser
Muzio Clementi: Sonata C major Op. 34 No. 1; Mvt 1. Allegro con spirito / Emil Gilels
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Sonata for Piano no 8 in A minor, K 310; Mvt 1 / Dinu Lipatti
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Concerto for Piano no 25 in C major, K 503; Andante / Murray Perahia
Muzio Clementi: Piano Sonata in B-flat major, Op 12, No 1; Mvt 1 / Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Sonata for Piano no 11 in A major, K 331: Mvt 3 Rondo alla turca / Maria-Joao Pires
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Concerto for Piano no 21 in C major, K 467 / Anda, Géza
Muzio Clementi: Sonata In F Minor, Op. 14, No.3 / Vladimir Horowitz
When we last left our two heroes, they had just encountered each other at the Austrian Court of Emperor Joseph II in 1781. Mozart was 25 and Clementi was 29. The Emperor had invited Clementi to play at court and it was there that the two composers finally met.
Both musicians were dressed elegantly, though Mozart was rather bejeweled and carried a sword. The Emperor gave Clementi an Italian song to improvise on and Clementi executed it impressively. Meanwhile, the emperor became impatient waiting for Mozart to show his skills.
The two would soon entertain the magnificent court of the Austrian empire in a blistering competition. It was a tense battle and Mozart was in for the match of his life. Worse, his Viennese prestige was at stake.
For the duel, each artist had to develop a theme and improvise on it, as well as exhibit their own pianistic talents. Clementi astonished everyone with a sonata, full of octaves and thirds, played with unprecedented force– his specialty. Mozart was peeved, but showed himself well in fugue playing.
After the competition, Mozart, upset by Clementi’s magnitude and talent, denounced him badly and often. Clementi, however, spoke highly of Mozart and praised his singing touch, his beautiful plasticity, and exquisite taste.
Muzio Clementi: Sonata in C Major Opus 34 No.1 – Finale / Emil Gilels
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 5 K175 – Finale / Vladimir Ashkenazy; Philharmonia Orchestra
Muzio Clementi: Piano Sonata Opus 37 No.2 - Rondo / Vladimir Horowitz
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Sonata in A minor – Presto / Dino Lipatti
Muzio Clementi: Piano Sonata in Bb Opus 12 No.1 - Finale / Arturo Benedetti Michalangeli
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto in A major K488 – Adagio / Walter Gieseking; Herbert Karajan; Philharmonia Orchestra
Muzio Clementi: Piano Sonata in F# minor – First movement / Vladimir Horowitz
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Sonata in C Major K545 – First movement / Maria Joao Pires
Muzio Clementi: Country Dance Opus 49 No. 2 / Pietro Spada
Muzio Clementi: Piano sonata in F# minor Opus 26 – Finale / Vladimir Horowitz