I know of Clementi mostly because of his piano sonatinas, which are among the classical repertoire for piano students.
But his contributions to the field of music are so much more than just the sonatinas.
Born on January 23, 1752, in Rome, the firstborn of seven children. His father recognized his musical talent early and arranged for music lessons for him. By the time he was 14, he was the parish organist.
Around that time, Sir Peter Beckford of Dorset, England, traveled to Rome, and he heard the young Clementi play. He persuaded Muzio’s parents to allow the boy to come live with him in England to continue his musical studies until he turned 21. During that seven-year period, Clementi practiced harpsichord eight hours a day, learning the works of J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, Handel, Domenico and Allesandro Scarlotti, and Bernardo Pasquini. In 1774, he moved to London.
In 1780 he began a three-year tour of Europe. In Paris, he played for Marie Antoinette. On Christmas Eve of 1781, he participated in a competition with Mozart for the entertainment of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II and his guests, improvising and playing selections from their own compositions. (The emperor declared it a tie.) Clementi expressed enthusiastic respect for Mozart’s brilliance; Mozart responded with less enthusiasm about Clementi, yet imitated Clementi’s style in a set of variations and borrowed one of Clementi’s themes for the overture for The Magic Flute.
Clementi returned to England, and, except for a couple other forays around Europe, spent the rest of his life there, performing on piano, composing, and conducting. In 1798, he took over a music publishing house, and won a contract as sole publisher of Beethoven’s work in England. He also started building pianos, making innovative improvements that are still used today.
Beethoven was a great fan of Clementi’s piano compositions, recommending them to his nephew for study. Clementi was also a piano teacher, and one of his students was John Field, who became a well-known composer in his own right.
Clementi wrote over 100 sonatas for the piano. But I didn’t know he also wrote 20 symphonic works. His most famous, No. 3, is nicknamed The Great National Symphony, because it uses God Save the King as one of its themes.