Clementi - Rondo (Allegro spiritoso) 2nd mv, Sonatina in D Op 36 No 6
Muzio Clementi (1752 - 1832) was born in Rome but died in England, where he had worked for a number of years.
Clementi began studying music as a child and, whilst still only a boy, he became organist at San Lorenzo in Damaso.
Although Clementi's reputation was originally founded on his ability as an organist and harpsichordist, he later became a renowned pianist, composer, teacher, conductor, publisher and piano manufacturer.
Despite apparently failing to impress Mozart, Clementi exerted some influence on the development of piano music, including that of the young Beethoven, reaching beyond virtuosity to emphasise a more cantabile style of playing, requiring legato technique.
Pupil Match & Suitability
In many ways this is a straightforward piece, since there is no awkward ornamentation and the structure is easy to follow.
Apart from the necessity of playing at a lively pace, with carefully balanced hands, there are no undue technical demands.
The student will need to have some affinity with the Classical style in order to make the music sound elegant as well as lively and lighthearted.
Style & Tempo
Clementi's style was thought, in his heyday, to be virtuosic and he was, to some extent, influential in the development of new piano technique in the Classical era.
Although the sonatas of Clementi's contemporary, Mozart require, perhaps, more poise and artistry and those of Beethoven need more depth of feeling, the works of Clementi do demand respect, both musically and technically.
Indeed, the great pianist, Horowitz was known to be fond of Clementi's work.
It is interesting to hear how this legendary pianist interprets Clementi. Here Horowitz plays the Rondo from Clementi's Sonata Op. 47 No 2:
Phrasing & Articulation
Well shaped phrasing is essential for a successful interpretation.
Listen to the 'work in progress' here. Credit is due for a fluent performance at a suitable pace, but this student may be disappointed to be awarded only a pass mark in an exam.
Notice three significant problems:
1/ the slurred notes fail to give an elegant strong-weak tone:
2/ the phrasing lacks shape because the dynamic is the same throughout the phrase, rather than making a crescendo into the phrase, then a diminuendo towards the end of the phrase;
3/ there is too much emphasis on every beat of the bar, rather than a naturally graded ebb and flow of tone.
Tone & Texture
Publications differ on the point of dynamics, so we can assume either that Clementi wrote in few indications of his own, or that his dynamic markings have been edited because they do not translate appropriately onto the much bigger tone of the modern piano.
Dynamic variety is essential to a successful characterisation of style and mood. The music itself is our guide as to effective use of dynamic colour.
It seems logical to begin fairly quietly, since the music seems to demand a brighter sound for the faster moving notes from Bar 13 - 24.
A quieter start for the second section is needed to make it sound playful, but then we have some choices to make:
1/ As suggested in the ABRSM publication, we can be much bolder in tone with the figure at Bar 27, dropping down to p at Bar 31 ready for a crescendo towards Bar 33.
2/ We can follow the Schirmer edition suggestion of making a diminuendo towards Bar 33 instead.
Either interpretation could show musical integrity.
Listen to Shehori's dynamics in the second section from Bar 24 - 38 and decide whether this interpretation resonates with you.
Playing neat, even scale passages is one of the technical challenges. Good posture at the piano will help the student to achieve this more easily, since freedom of movement is essential.
Ensure that the student is sitting at an appropriate height on the stool, that is with the forearms parallel to the floor, with the weight balanced evenly, feet on the ground close to the pedals.
Stand behind the student to check whether they are lifting their shoulder as the hand moves towards the centre of the keyboard. The shoulders should remain in a relaxed, natural position, otherwise the resulting tension will disturb the even fluency.
Consistent use of helpful fingering is absolutely essential in lively pieces such as this.
The conventional fingering patterns learned in scale and arpeggio practice should be used where possible eg in the RH scale of Bar 6.
Older editions of this piece use unnecessarily complicated fingering choices. Although the fingering of the RH thirds works in the Schirmer edition, shown here, the ABRSM edition fingering is much simpler.
Finger changing, as suggested in the Schirmer edition, can be a good idea in some contexts, but it would make the LH unnecessarily complicated at the start this piece.
The grace note in Bar 7, and similar, needs to be played as a 'squashed in' note and it matters little whether it comes on the beat or before it.
The ornamentation in Bars 17 and 19 need not feel rushed here since it can fit in very neatly if played on the beat.
Very little pedal is needed here.
Pedalling may be used in a very subtle way to enhance the tone of longer notes, such as giving slight dabs on the first beat of the bar - but only where there are no semiquavers.
Bars 37 - 38 will benefit from pedalling, since these are to be smoothly articulated.
An advanced student may also like to 'cushion' the note ending at Bar 38, first quaver, before the leap, to avoid a clipped sound.
The main requirement of the teacher is to enable the student to give a secure, stylistically sound performance.
This is best achieved through meticulous attention to detail of fingering and through ensuring that the student can first play scales, including scales in thirds, sufficiently fluently to be able to do this piece justice.
In initial lesson on this piece listening to some performances comes high on the agenda. Students can be curiously reluctant to listen at home, so sometimes listen together to recording during the lesson. Being freed from playing gives you the chance to focus the student's attention on stylistic features.
Always demonstrate important points, such as how to make the slurring taper elegantly in tone.
Practising the relevant scales and arpeggios, including D major in thirds will be a useful starting point.
Early practice should revolve around slow, meticulous work to achieve accuracy with a steady pulse and correct, consistent fingering.
Learning small sections with well considered detail in articulation and dynamics is the most effective way to achieve a stylish performance.
The sections are then practised linked together, with a gradually increasing tempo over the weeks.
The main problems perceived in performance of this piece are an unsettled tempo and / or lack of neatness, fluency and control.
These are usually the result of the candidate not actually listening to their playing, along with uneven confidence in the various sections.
The place where many candidates come to grief is in the second section, Bars 27 - 38. The difficulty is invariably caused by not knowing the LH well enough.
An excellent performance will be lively and spirited, lighthearted and playful. Fluency will be assured and there will be appropriate detail in dynamics, articulation and phrasing. Any use of pedal will be subtle and there will be sensitive textural awareness.
A good performance will show secure stylistic awareness in use of detail. Fluency will be reliable although there may not be the same degree of poise and control as in an excellent performance. The tempo will be quite lively, yet settled and not subject to speeding up for the Da Capo.
A sound performance will demonstrate well known notes and rhythms, with some appropriate detail. There may be a few smudges in accuracy but these will not detract from the continuity. The pace may be a little slower than a good performance, or may be rather faster than the candidate can control successfully.