Piano Playing And Composition : Clementi To Field

During the period after Mozart to the beginning of the Romantic movement, one name alone attains the first rank —that of Beethoven. At the same time there are several epoch-making pianists, whose compositions display talent rather than genius, but who have each rendered indisputable service in accomplishing the transition from the classic to the romantic composers. The landmarks, so to speak, of this period are Clementi, Cramer, Hummel, Czerny, Moscheles and Field.

Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) was born at Rome. His father was quick to perceive his son’s gift for music, and strove to develop it by the best teaching available. While he was still a lad, an Englishman, Bedford or Beckford, took young Clementi with him to England where he lived with his benefactor until 1770, perfecting himself in piano playing and composition. At his first appearances in London he created a furore, and from 1777-1780 he conducted at the piano in the Italian opera there. In 1781, he began his travels as a virtuoso. At Vienna he made the acquaintance of Josef Haydn, and also had a sort of musical combat with Mozart. Each read at sight, played his own compositions and improvised. Opinion was divided as to the outcome. Clementi displayed more virtuosity, while Mozart charmed by his singing-tone, finished phrasing and expressive style. For the following twenty years, Clementi lived in London. He became interested in a piano manufactory and when the firm failed, he established another, which is still carried on. In 18o2, Clementi went on a concert-tour with two favorite pupils, J. B. Cramer and John Field. They visited Paris, Vienna and even St. Petersburg, arousing great enthusiasm everywhere. In 1810, he settled in London permanently, devoting himself to composition and business. In 1817, he published his Gradus ad Parnassum, a series of one hundred studies treating every branch of technic and every problem of piano playing then known.

Clementi as Composer and Pianist.—In addition to his early works, Clementi composed symphonies, more than one hundred sonatas for piano, preludes, toccatas, canons and other piano music and finally the Gradus. As Clementi was a true Italian by temperament, and German in his education, the sonatas show the influence of Domenico Scarlatti, as well as of Haydn and Mozart. They are technically in advance of their day, though inclined to dryness musically.

However, Beethoven admired them, and is said to have preferred them to those of Mozart. Clementi’s monumental work, the studies, treats every difficulty and style of piano playing so very comprehensively that it is still indispensable to the student. In his youth Clementi was a bravura-player, pure and simple. “Strong in runs of thirds, but without a pennyworth of feeling” was Mozart’s verdict. But later, when Clementi had become acquainted with the larger tone of the English pianos, he cultivated expressive playing. At his best, his brilliancy and facility were dazzling, and he invariably carried all before him. Considering the fundamental value of his studies, and his preeminent abilities as a pianist, it is just to give him the title of “The Father of Piano Playing.”

Johann Baptist Cramer (1771-1858) was born at°Mannheim, Germany. When he was but a year old his father moved to London. As a boy he studied the violin and the piano, as well as the theory of music, but soon showed the greater aptitude for the piano. Later he became a pupil of Clementi. Handel, Bach, Scarlatti, Haydn and Mozart were the objects of his attention, thus establishing a taste for the classics. In 1788, Cramer began a series of tours on the Continent, living at London in the intervals. In 1828, he founded the music publishing firm of J. B. Cramer & Co. He lived in Paris from 1832 to 1845, but returned to Lon-don, where he remained until his death.

Cramer as Composer and Pianist.—Of Cramer’s numerous compositions, such as seven concertos and one hundred and five sonatas for the piano, besides variations, rondos, fantasias, etc., a quartet and quintet, little is worth survival. His representative work is a series of seventy-six studies, Op. 50, to which he afterwards added. These studies long enjoyed a reputation second only to those of Clementi. They do not aim primarily at virtuosity, but towards the cultivation of musical style; at the same time they exhibit novelty of technical invention, and demand a decided proficiency. Thus they tend to supplement the studies of Clementi which are chiefly concerned with technic. As a performer, Cramer was greatly admired for his perfect legato, distinctness of phrasing and quiet singing tone. Beethoven is said to have preferred him to all other pianists of his time. While Cramer does not present a technical advance over Clementi, he undoubtedly did much for the cultivation of the more strictly musical qualities and thus stands for a definite progress.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) was born at Presburg, Hungary. His father, who had been instructor in music at a military school in Wartburg, moved to Vienna in 1786 to become director at the theatre of Schikaneder, (the author of the libretto of Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute). Mozart soon took so deep an interest in young Hummel that he took him to live with him and taught him for two years. From 1788 to 1795, Hummel traveled as a virtuoso. On returning to Vienna he studied composition with Albrechtsberger, and received advice from Salieri and Haydn. From 1804 to 1811 he was music-director under Prince Esterhazy, Haydn’s patron. In 1816, he became conductor at Stuttgart, and in 1819 he occupied a similar position at Weimar. From here he went to Russia, where he made a successful concert-tour, playing at Warsaw, where the youthful Chopin heard him. From 1825 to 1833 he traveled on concert-tours, returning to Weimar, where he passed the remainder of his life.

Hummel as Composer and Pianist.—Hummel’s compositions include operas, ballets, masses and other church music, a quintet, trios, rondos, studies and other music for the piano, but he is best known for the piano concertos in A-flat, A minor and B minor, the sonatas in F-sharp minor and D major, the Septet, Op. 74, and a voluminous instruction-book for the piano, chiefly remarkable for its pedantry and absence of practicality. As a pupil of Mozart, he followed his teacher’s form and style, without exhibiting marked creative genius. His technic is noticeable chiefly for its superficial glitter of brilliant passages, which constitute a certain development in themselves. His compositions were in great vogue at one time, and he was once even regarded as the equal of Beethoven. As a pianist, Hummel was unusual. His style was distinguished by precision, clearness, and command of brilliant effect. His influence as a concert pianist was very great, and in this direction his extension of the province of the virtuoso is considerable. He undoubtedly affected Chopin’s piano style for a time and for this reason alone should claim our attention.

Carl Czerny (1791-1857) was born at Vienna. His father, an excellent musician, taught his son piano playing at an early age. Beethoven became interested in him, and gave him lessons. He also learned much from Hummel and Clementi. Czerny soon became in great demand as a teacher. He made concert-tours to Leipzig, Paris, London and Lombardy. For the most part he lived quietly in Vienna, teaching and composing. In 1850, his health gave way from overwork. His most celebrated pupils were Franz Liszt and Theodore Leschetizky.

Czerny’s Compositions.—Czerny was an indefatigable and over-fluent composer who weakened his powers by over-productivity. Hence, of more than a thousand works, his masses, requiems, symphonies, overtures, chamber-music, etc., are obsolete, but his educational works are destined to live. Of many valuable sets of studies, the most used are those for Velocity, Op. 299, and Finger Training, Op. 740. Musically, they are of slight importance, but they are in-valuable to this day in acquiring facility. Czerny had an immense knowledge of the higher mechanism of piano playing, and a keen perception of practical methods. His fame as a pianist was overshadowed by his ceaseless work as teacher and composer.

Ignaz Moscheles (1794-1870), described as “the foremost pianist after Hummel and before Chopin,” was born at Prague. He studied the piano with Dionys Weber, director of the Prague Conservatory, and at fourteen played a concerto of his own in public. After the death of his father, he went to Vienna to make his way as a teacher, and to continue his studies in composition. He soon became in great demand as a pianist and teacher, and for ten years lived the life of a traveling virtuoso.. In 1824, he gave lessons to Mendelssohn, then a boy of fifteen, at Berlin. Soon after his marriage at Hamburg, in 1826, he went to London, where he remained with some interruptions for nearly twenty years of activity as pianist, teacher and conductor. In 1845, he took the post of teacher of the piano at the Leipzig Conservatory, founded by. Mendelssohn.

Moscheles as Composer and Pianist.—As a composer, Moscheles was divided between his classical training and his unmistakably romantic instincts. Hence, a long list of variations, fantasias, rondos, written to please publishers, in accordance with the fashion of the time, have not survived, but his best works, the concerto in G minor, the “Pathetic” concerto, the sonata, Op. 49, his duet for two pianos, “Hommage â Handel” and especially the studies, Op. 70 and 95, combine a respect for classic form with the growing Romantic movement. The studies may be regarded as the legitimate successors to those of Cramer, and paved the way for the more romantic etudes of Chopin. Moscheles was a solidly trained pianist of great brilliancy. He had many characteristics of the classical school ; he used the pedals sparingly, he played octaves with a stiff wrist, his phrasing was precise and his accents were sharply marked; but in the brilliant style he had no rivals. He was famous for his improvisations ; his cadenzas to concertos and his extempore treatments of well-known themes were marked by spontaneity, brilliance and exquisite feeling.

John Field (1782-1837), one of the last connecting links between the Classical and Romantic schools, was born at Dublin. Early. in life, he was taken to London and apprenticed to Clementi, who gave him lessons, and employed him to show off his pianos. In 1802, he went on a concert-tour with Clementi to Paris, Germany and Russia. Field lived for many years as pianist and teacher at St. Petersburg and Moscow. After returning to England, he made a long tour through Belgium, Switzerland, and finally, Italy, where his health gave way. Shortly after he returned to Moscow, where he died.

Field as Composer and Pianist.—Field’s compositions in classical forms include seven concertos, four sonatas, rondos, variations, etc. They are forgotten now, although Chopin had a partiality for his concerto in A-flat and gave it to his pupils; but his lyric pieces for piano, entitled nocturnes, are still played. They are the forerunners of the type so extended and developed by Chopin. He is thus one of the first of the romanticists in spite of his classical training. In 1802, Field astonished the Parisians by his masterly playing of Bach and Handel, but his individuality later took a more romantic turn. His tone was tender and melancholy, and his phrases gently expressive. Shortly before his death, though broken in health, he created a stir in Vienna by his interpretations of his own nocturnes. In some respects his playing was akin to Chopin’s highly individual style.

To sum up, it will be seen that Clementi was the originator of a system of technic that has served as the foundation of modern piano playing; Cramer was the conserver of classic style and purity of standard; Hummel, as a brilliant pianist, had a decided influence on the piano playing of his time, but as a composer attempted to pass superficial brilliance for the true coin of musical substance ; Czerny, one of the greatest educators in the history of piano playing, has had an immense influence through his invaluable educational works, and as the teacher of Franz Liszt, the epitome of modern piano playing, and also of Theodore Leschetizky, possibly the foremost teacher of the present day; Moscheles, the classic pianist, gave decided impetus to the cause of romanticism by his best compositions ; Field, though the pupil of Clementi, prepared the way through his own individuality for the greatest piano composer of the Romantic period, Chopin, and thus became an important factor in the transition from the Classic to the Romantic period.


Grove.—Dictionary of Music and Musicians, articles on Pianoforte Playing and players mentioned in this lesson. Weitzmann.—History of Piano Playing.

Bie.—The Piano.

Fillmore.—Pianoforte Music.