Everyone’s heard of Wolfgang Mozart. And many piano students may also have heard of Muzio Clementi. They were classical composing contemporaries who were both born this very week, four years apart (Clementi 1/24/1752; Mozart 1/27/1756.)
Interestingly, their paths overlapped at in Vienna in 1781 when the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II asked that the two virtuoso pianists perform a competition for him and his guests at the Viennese court. The composers were called upon to improvise and to perform selections from various compositions. The Emperor diplomatically declared a tie.
After the competition, Mozart wrote to his father: “Clementi plays well, as far as execution with the right hand goes. His greatest strength lies in his passages in 3rds. Apart from that, he has not a kreuzer’s worth of taste or feeling – in short he is a mere mechanicus.” Later, he wrote: “Clementi is a charlatan, like all Italians. He marks a piece presto but plays only allegro.”
Mozart and his dad weren’t fond of Italians, thinking that Italians always got favorable treatment when it came to some of the best jobs.
Clementi, on the other hand, said of Mozart that he’d never before seen anyone play with such “spirit and grace.”
Despite Mozart’s insulting words, Clementi remained an influential musical figure and Mozart’s later work showed influences from Clementi. Among other pieces, the overture for Mozart’s famous opera, The Magic Flute, borrowed the opening motif from Clementi’s B-flat Major Sonata, which was written 10 years earlier. This was customary at the time for composers to borrow in this manner, and it would most certainly be regarded as a nod to Clementi’s work.
Here was the playlist from the competition:
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