Howard Shelley

Clementi: The Complete Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2

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Howard Shelley's second volume of the complete solo sonatas of Muzio Clementi continues with those of Opp. 9-12. These were all written around the around the same time, when Clementi was touring Europe as a performer and doing some teaching along the way. The trip included a few months' stay in Vienna, where Clementi and Mozart together played one evening's entertainment for the emperor. That he was performing is obvious in these sonatas, given their propensity toward ostentation over real substance and character. There is less variety in these 11 sonatas and a toccata than there was in sonatas of Shelley's first volume. All of the outer movements closely follow the accepted sonata-allegro and rondo forms of the day and all are marked with some version of an Allegro or Presto tempo. Even the Op. 11 Toccata is marked Prestissimo. The middle movements, therefore, tend to serve as islands of respite between the almost giddy energy of the outer movements. Two of the middle movements -- those of the Op. 9/2 and Op. 12/4 sonatas -- are the only movements at all in minor keys, managing to add some drama or deeper thoughtfulness to contrast with the rest of the music. Everything else is in the major, with an air of playful lightless and carefree buoyancy, decorated with speedy runs, all of which aim to please and impress the audience. Singly, the sonatas are very enjoyable, but taken all together start to paint a picture of Clementi as a one-trick pony. Mozart himself was not at all awed by Clementi's playing, but Shelley's proficiency and gracefulness in these does inspire admiration, more for his own talent than for Clementi's because of the general sameness of the music, strongly rooted as it is in Classical convention. Still, taken in context with the era and with Clementi's life and output, this volume does serve its purpose of revealing an often-neglected part of piano history very well indeed.

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