Artur Balsam plays Clementi
Second of his three Opus 40 Piano Sonatas
The career of Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) spans some of the most significant developments in western classical music. He is perhaps unique in being both a inspiration, particularly in the field of the piano sonata, to both Beethoven and Haydn, and also to live and compose long enough to be influenced by them both. A virtuoso pianist, he was famously involved in a playing contest against Mozart for the Emperor Franz Joseph II in 1782 - Mozart later castigated Clementi for his lack of "of taste or feeling - in short he is a mere mechanicus", whilst Clementi was far more generous to his rival: "Until then I had never heard anyone play with such spirit and grace. I was particularly overwhelmed by an adagio and by several of his extempore variations for which the Emperor had chosen the theme, and which we were to devise alternately." The Emperor called it a draw - and Mozart went on to use the main theme of a Clementi piano sonata for the overture to Die Zauberflaute.
Meanwhile Clementi, largely based in London, prospered both as a musician and composer, as well as a music publisher and manufacturer of pianos. He was also reputedly the most expensive piano teacher in the city, supposedly charging a guinea per lesson. Indeed the only times his star waned was during the visits to England of Haydn, whose international fame and reputation overshadowed that of Clementi. The effect was short-lived - Clementi soon recovered his position on the departure of Haydn. It seems too that Clementi, whilst perhaps a little envious of Haydn, was genial in his welcome, and the two men spent time together at Clementi's country house in Evesham, Worcestershire.
Of his numerous piano sonatas, the B minor, second of three published as his Opus 40 in 1802, is in every way amongst those categorised by one critic as "worthy to be ranked side by side with those of Mozart... full of charm, pleasing melodic phrases, graceful ornamental passages, elegant and clear in form, and often rich in harmonic and contrapuntal treatment."
Artur Balsam (1906-1994), born in Warsaw, Poland, was considered one of the world’s most important and influential pianists. With more than 250 recordings of piano and chamber music works, Balsam worked with many of the world’s internationally renowned solo instrumentalists including violinists Joseph Fuchs and Oscar Shumsky, Nathan Milstein, and cellist Zara Nelsova. As soloist, he appeared with the Royal Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the Philharmonia of London, Milan, and Warsaw, as well as the radio orchestras of Berlin, London, and Zurich.
Balsam students include Edmund Battersby, Murray Perahia, and Emanuel Ax. He was also instrumental in the re-emergence of the Kneisel Hall music center in Blue Hill, Maine, as one of the most important summer retreats for the study and performance of chamber music.