NO composer had a more fortunate life-span than Muzio Clementi. He was born in Rome in 1752, two years after Bach's death, while Handel was still an active figure on the musical scene of London, where Clementi would spend much of his life; he died in 1832, a year before the birth of Brahms, just as Berlioz, Chopin, Schumann, and Mendelssohn were getting their careers under way. In 1781 Clementi engaged in a piano competition with Mozart in Vienna, for the benefit of Emperor Joseph II; during the 1790s he shared the stage of London's Hanover Square Concert Rooms with the visiting Haydn; in 1807, once again in Vienna, he carried on elaborate negotiations with Beethoven that resulted in his becoming the composer's principal English publisher; and on June 21, 1824, he attended the London debut of Franz Liszt. During most of his life he was more famous than Mozart, his reputation exceeded only by those of Haydn and Beethoven both of whom he not only was influenced by but also influenced. In addition, Clementi was one of the premier keyboard virtuosos and teachers of his day, and he ran a highly successful publishing firm that also manufactured pianos. At his death he was buried with high ceremony in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey.
Yet today Clementi's name is scarcely known. His monumental Gradus ad Parnassum (1817-1826), once studied by all budding pianists, lives on only in Debussy's affectionate caricature, "Dr. Gradus ad Parnassum," from the Children's Corner Suite. During the 1950s Vladimir Horowitz's recordings briefly revived interest in some of Clementi's sonatas, but they, too, are no longer studied as they once were, and are seldom programmed.