Notes and Editorial Reviews
Overture in D. Symphony No. 1 in C,
Symphony No. 2 in D,
Francesco La Vecchia, cond; Sinfonica di Roma O
NAXOS 8.573071 (60:10)
I have to admit there are times when my sense of music history’s chronology, like my sense of geography, is more a fancying of what I think it should be, as opposed to what it is. It seems counterintuitive to me, for example, that Alaska is further west than Hawaii,
but it is. Similarly, I rather fancy Muzio Clementi (1752–1832) an earlier composer than he actually was, associating him with a pre-Classical era of composers, particularly that of Johann Christian Bach and Carl Friedrich Abel. Part of the reason for my chronological misplacement of Clementi has to do with the fact that, though born in Rome, he spent much of his life in England, where he would surely have encountered Bach and Abel; and that much of the music by which he’s known—mostly keyboard sonatas—was composed prior to 1800, after which he devoted much of his time and effort to his publishing and piano manufacturing businesses.
But there’s another reason Clementi appears to me as a man waiting for a parade that has already passed. Look at his dates. Born 20 years after Haydn and surviving Beethoven by five years, Clementi, like Scarlatti before him, focused virtually his entire creative energies on composing sonatas and pieces for piano. Not that these are to be undervalued, for it’s said that he was the first composer to write for the fortepiano as a pianoforte rather than as a harpsichord, and that his keyboard style was an important influence on Beethoven. But it wasn’t until 1784 that Clementi produced two fairly modest symphonies, cataloged as op. 18, by which time Haydn had produced over 75 of his 106 symphonies.
We don’t encounter any other orchestral works by Clementi until the overture and two symphonies on this disc, which are actually part of a group of six scores, cataloged without opus number and consisting of four symphonies and two overtures. While no dates are given for these six works, there appears to be a record, according to note author Maria Marullo, of the Symphony in D Major, WoO 33, being performed in London in 1819. If true, then that would suggest that the piece is a much later effort than Clementi’s two op. 18 symphonies.
Unfortunately, only incomplete manuscripts of the six “without opus number” works exist, and they weren’t even discovered until 1921 by a Georges du Parc Poulain Saint-Foix, doing research in the Library of Congress. And there they languished for another 14 years, until 1935, when Alfredo Casella undertook to reconstruct two of the symphonies—the two heard here—for performances in Rome, Naples, and Turin. If I understand the album note correctly, the two-part Overture in D—an
, followed by an
Allegro con brio
—consists of the same material found in the opening movements of the two symphonies on the disc.
If, indeed, these scores were written sometime around 1819, something that is immediately evident in the hearing of them is that Beethoven’s keyboard style may have been influenced by Clementi, but Clementi’s symphonic style was clearly influenced by Beethoven and even, to some extent, by Schubert. Formally, the two symphonies comport with the high classical, mature symphony model advanced by Haydn, but in melodic/harmonic content and dramatic style, they belong to the early Romantic period.
So why do I continue to think of Clementi as a composer behind his time? Well, just as Haydn had already completed over 75 of his 106 symphonies before Clementi tried his hand at writing two symphonies in 1784, Beethoven had completed eight of his nine symphonies well before Clementi undertook the two symphonies on this disc, presumably in 1819. And as appealing and satisfying as these two symphonies are, there is nothing revolutionary about them, as there is about Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony (1804), nothing as dramatically explosive or formally radical as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (1807), and nothing as imaginative and fanciful as Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony (1808). So, as indicated earlier, Clementi’s historical importance to the development of keyboard style and technique notwithstanding, his handful of orchestral works are as the efforts of a composer tossing confetti after the last float has passed the reviewing stand.
These works have been recorded before. In fact, all four of the above-noted “without opus number” symphonies are available in an Apex twofer with Claudio Scimone conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra for an amazing price of $11.99 at ArkivMusic. Granted, these are older recordings, released on LP by the Musical Heritage Society in 1980. Also on a multi-disc set from ASV, you will find not only the four “without opus number” symphonies and two overtures, but also the two early op. 18 symphonies, in performances by Francesco D’Avalos leading the Philharmonia Orchestra which made
’s Hall of Fame three times, once by David Johnson in 17:2, and then twice by Michael Carter, in 27:1 and 28:1. Unfortunately, I suspect the ASV set has been deleted and that new copies are few and hard to come by, but Amazon will be happy to sell you one for $179.
For my money, this new Naxos release, especially if it’s followed up by a second volume containing the remaining symphonies, is an excellent choice. Playing by Rome’s Orchestra Sinfonica under the leadership of Francesco La Vecchia is stylish and smart, and the recorded sound is bright and nicely detailed. Though Clementi’s symphonies are not history-altering works, they’re expertly crafted and their many felicities are immensely enjoyable. Recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Overture in D major by Muzio Clementi
Francesco La Vecchia
Rome Symphony Orchestra
Symphony No. 1 in C major, WoO 32 (completed by Alfredo Casella, 1938): I. Larghetto - Allegro vivace
Symphony No. 1 in C major, WoO 32 (completed by Alfredo Casella, 1938): II. Andante con moto
Symphony No. 1 in C major, WoO 32 (completed by Alfredo Casella, 1938): III. Minuetto: Allegretto - Trio
Symphony No. 1 in C major, WoO 32 (completed by Alfredo Casella, 1938): IV. Finale: Allegro vivace - Animato e giocoso
Symphony No. 2 in D major, WoO 33 (edited P. Spada): I. Adagio - Allegro
Symphony No. 2 in D major, WoO 33 (edited P. Spada): II. Larghetto cantabile
Symphony No. 2 in D major, WoO 33 (edited P. Spada): III. Minuetto: Allegretto
Symphony No. 2 in D major, WoO 33 (edited P. Spada): IV. Finale: Presto
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