Muzio Clementi and the British Musical Scene

International Conference, Lucca, Complesso Monumentale di San Micheletto

November 2015

A Conference Report by Majella Boland

The international conference ‘Muzio Clementi and the British Musical Scene’ (24–26 November 2015) was hosted by the Centro Studi Opera Omnia Luigi Boccherini, in collaboration with the Ad Parnassum journal and Italian National Edition of the Complete Works of Muzio Clementi. Located in the old city of Lucca, the Complesso Monumentale di San Micheletto was a well-suited venue. The conference was attended by scholars from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Austria, France, Spain, New Zealand, and the United States. The motivation behind it was to assess the burgeoning musical activity in Britain in the long nineteenth century, through Clementi, one of the foremost figures in the musical world at this time. The programme included single sessions, as well as round-table discussions, and two key-note speakers.

There were twenty individual papers, and while Clementi was primarily the focus, there were scholars who considered Clementi through the lens of his students, business connections, or contemporaries. Roberto Illiano opened the conference with a welcome address after which Clementi’s use of the minor mode as a deliberate compositional practice in keyboard music was examined, while Clementi as an editor was considered through his introduction of the first edition of Scarlatti’s sonatas in England. This session closed with a glance at changes to keyboard performing practice at the end of the eighteenth century. The first keynote address was delivered by Simon McVeigh who surveyed Britain and Europe during Clementi’s life, highlighting British pride as well as an opposition between ancient and modern music by the turn of the nineteenth century. The day ended with a detailed presentation concerning Clementi’s pianos, and the role Clementi played in piano manufacturing, as well as including a pre-recorded performance of Clementi songs on various keyboard instruments.

The second day was rather varied. The relationship between composers and publishers, with Clementi as a case study, was examined, through which revised editions as a means of retaining copyright became evident, as well as simultaneous publishing by way of securing copyright for composers in various countries. That the publisher always had an advantage over the composer was easy to discern. The growing music trade in Bath over a fifty-year period (1780–1830) was appraised significantly, with strong trading links to Dublin emphasised; Clementi’s products in Bath also made an appearance. In relation to the commercial environment in musical life in nineteenth-century London, as well as the rise of women musicians, and the international appeal of the city, identity in the piano concerto in commercial, gendered, and national terms was explored with members of the retrospective London Pianoforte School (John Field, Ignaz Moscheles, Johann Nepomuk Hummel) – of which Clementi has been considered founder – as case studies. Continuing from this period the concerti of William Sterndale Bennett, Johann Baptist Cramer, and Cipriani Potter were discussed in relation to their approach, and by way of situating them in an appropriate theoretical framework, while another paper considered Bennett as a performer, lecturer, collector, and composer. The second key-note address was delivered by Leon Plantinga, who provided a comprehensive overview of Clementi’s life and musical activity in London, after which Clementi’s student, Moscheles featured as a figure who contributed to the revival of early music in Britain.

The final day opened with an extensive discussion on Clementi’s works and studies. Considering Clementi’s compositional output, and the manner in which music scholarship has progressed in recent decades, a thematic catalogue on the composer has not been updated since 1967. Luca Sala has embarked on such a journey, and here he presented the process while demonstrating the wealth of information that has been collated to date, and that will be available in 2016. Following this, a round-table discussion, ‘Clementi Studies: New Evidence’ was led by David Rowland, Luca Sala, and Rohan Stewart-MacDonald after which Simon McVeigh, Leon Plantinga, and Susan Wollenberg responded. Further discussion was opened up to the floor.

The final sessions of the conference brought with it presentations pertaining to the role of the prelude in musical life as a piece to prepare the musician and to accustom one to the key of the sonata that followed; this was primarily because tuning varied. Later, reflections on Clementi during formative years of piano tuition made clear the extent to which they have and continue to hold importance in the pedagogical world. Some of Clementi’s less well-known compositions, i.e. for the Tambourine, were exhibited in one of the most memorable presentation of the conference, by the end of which, the popularity of the tambourine in the nineteenth century was hard to contest. Providing live performances with recorded accompaniment, Sam Girling’s presentation was entertaining and engaging and unveiled compositions by Clementi generally not known, while further consolidating Clementi’s prowess as business man. The Clementi-Beethoven relationship was examined, serving to emphasise his ability to negotiate and to make connections, while the question as to whether the piano in London contributed to the decline of the Italian String Quartet was raised. The conference closed with an appraisal of the Clarinet during Clementi’s period rather than focussing on Clementi.

Although Clementi was considered in various contexts – composition, editor, piano manufacturer, publisher, and teacher – the dominant perception that emerged throughout the conference was Clementi as a successful and astute businessman. That Clementi has contributed to musical life from the late eighteenth century, through to today, was easy to discern. Despite the surge in scholarship on music in Britain, and in Clementi studies, many lines of enquiry have yet to be explored. This may be directly or indirectly: for example, the impact of the publication of Clementi’s correspondence (2010) is far from saturated, while there is a wealth of possibilities to be pursued in relation to Clementi’s students, business links, compositions, and editions. Nevertheless, the forthcoming thematic catalogue of Clementi’s works will be an invaluable and long-overdue edition to research, and to musicology.

Conference Programme and Abstracts available here