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ClassicsOnline Home » CLEMENTI, M.: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 / Overture in C Major (Rome Symphony Orchestra, La Vecchia)
Muzio Clementi’s four surviving mature symphonies were never published in his lifetime and were rescued from neglect through painstaking reconstruction. His sophisticated use of counterpoint can be heard in his treatment of the tune God Save the King in the Third Symphony. Classical poise, drama and eloquence of expression in both works can be traced to the influence of Haydn and Mozart. Clementi’s Symphonies Nos 1 and 2 can be heard on Naxos 8.573071.
Muzio Clementi (1752–1832)
Symphonies Nos 3 ‘The Great National’ and 4 • Overture in C major
Although Muzio Clementi was a prolific composer of piano works, he was far more abstemious when it came to writing orchestral music. Two chamber symphonies were issued as his Opus 18 in 1787, when Mozart was still alive, but he never published any other orchestral works. And yet, there is documentary evidence that he wrote and conducted further symphonies up to as late a date as 1824, after which, as Moscheles noted, both these and the Op 18 works disappeared from the repertory. In 1817, the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung reported that Clementi had dedicated considerable energy over the previous dozen or more years to composing six symphonies for large orchestra, and between 1813 and 1824 some of these works were performed in London, Paris, Munich and Leipzig. Unfortunately, we have no precise information about the dates of composition, and very little in the way of detail about the performances: in most cases, the listing simply reads “Clementi Symphony”, with the exception of three concerts held in 1824 at London’s King’s Theatre, at which The Great National Symphony (Symphony No 3, as featured on this recording) is known to have been on the programme. It is curious that Clementi, a man who owned a publishing house, conducted performances of his symphonies but did not produce printed editions of them. This may have been, as Leon Plantinga suggests in his indispensable biography of Clementi (1977), because he was continually revising and reworking them (transferring movements from one work to another, for example, or transposing their order within a single symphony) once there was an orchestra available to play them, that of the Philharmonic Society of London, of which he was one of the founder members. It may be that he simply lacked the confidence to issue his mature symphonies at a time when Beethoven had set a standard seemingly beyond anyone else’s reach.
Nothing was heard of Clementi’s symphonies for a century, until Georges de Saint-Foix discovered lengthy sections of them within a set of manuscripts acquired in 1917 by the Library of Congress. Further material, also in manuscript form, was held by the British Library, but in neither place were there complete versions of any of the symphonies. Manuscripts are of course subject to the whims of fate; the full scores and individual parts, which must have existed for performances to have taken place, were perhaps among the papers mistakenly destroyed by the servant of one of Clementi’s descendants…So began the process of reconstruction, a task undertaken with dedication and love—in the first instance by Alfredo Casella, a great champion of the rebirth of Italian instrumental music. In the mid-1930s, he created editions of two of the symphonies, WO 32 and WO 33, to which he made numerous revisions and additions (attracting fierce criticism in the process, despite the successful performances he gave of them). He felt that not enough survived of the others to enable their reconstruction. Forty years later, however, Pietro Spada produced editions of Symphonies 3 and 4, again based on existing manuscripts, and an edition of an Overture in C, originally the opening movement of a lost symphony (a triple-time Allegro with an Adagio introduction), which is also included on this recording.
To be clear then, the four symphonies of Clementi’s maturity that can be heard today are works deservedly edited and revised by other hands who were convinced that the composer was too historically significant for his orchestral works to be neglected; but, unless further plausible discoveries are made, it will remain impossible to speak in terms of definitive versions. There is sufficient original music available, however, for us now to gain a reasonable image of Clementi the symphonist.
Symphonies 3 and 4 are conventional in form and display all the compositional qualities for which Clementi is renowned: an intense chromaticism which at times obscures the tonality, especially in the slow movements; great mobility in the individual parts; and an abundant use of counterpoint, something that stemmed from his lifelong love for the music of Bach.
Formally, both symphonies follow the same pattern: an opening Allegro is introduced by an Andante sostenuto (in the Classical symphony, the slow introduction was a sign of the composer’s serious intent); next comes a triple-time Andante; then a Minuet and Trio; and lastly a lively and humorous Finale (with coda) in duple metre and rondo-sonata form. In Symphony No 4 Clementi had considered placing the Minuetto in second position, but Spada’s edition restores the usual order and places it third, after the Andante.
An example of Clementi’s love of contrapuntal writing can be seen in the way he treats the tune of God Save the King in the second movement of Symphony No 3, where it appears elusive and fragmented, and is also used in inversion, with a literal quotation reserved for the final moments. Another instance from the same work is the entire development of the first movement, which is otherwise very Classical in form. The national anthem in fact becomes something of a leitmotif in the Third Symphony: the music of the Minuetto is rudely interrupted by it, this time in instantly recognisable form, and Clementi uses it again in the Finale, as the last motif in the second thematic block, skilfully incorporating it into the duple meter without allowing it to lose its identity.
Clementi uses both counterpoint and chromaticism in a more sophisticated and convincing manner in his orchestral music than he does in his piano works, where these techniques too often obscure his compositional clarity. In the symphonies, however, they play a key rôle in adding to the density of the dramatic moments that break up the balance of the Classical form. Although, as mentioned, it is impossible to date these works with any certainty, all Clementi’s mature symphonies were written in the first three decades of the nineteenth century, and yet to an extent are tied more closely to the tradition of Haydn and Mozart than they are to post-Eroica Beethoven, despite the moments of intense drama that show the latter’s undeniable influence. It is also worth noting the instrumentation, with its foregrounding of the winds and inclusion of three trombones (as in Beethoven’s Ninth).
Clementi was a central figure in many areas of music during the transitional period between Classicism and Romanticism, and acquiring even a partial insight into the way in which he viewed the symphony will add another layer to our understanding of the orchestral works being written and performed in the early decades of the nineteenth century.
English translation by Susannah Howe
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CLEMENTI, M.: Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 / Overture i...