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Mozart, Clementi and the Vienna Seal of The Magic Flute
Joseph II loves rivalry
The Viennese emperor Joseph II adored rivalry and duel between ambitious artists.
      One may call it also an old strategy to be always the ruler among too ambitious talented individuals, or simply the love of the emperor for Schlacht.
      The list of duels and rivalries at the Vienna Imperial Court of Joseph II is rather long and, if one usually sees Salieri and Mozart as an exception, well... Salieri and Mozart was not an exception.
      We can remember: Storace vs. Coltellini, Fischer vs. Benucci, the Italian Opera group of singers vs. the Singspiel group of singers, Casti vs. Da Ponte, Mozart vs. Clementi, Salieri vs. Mozart, Dittersdorf and Haydn vs. Kreibich etc. and in many cases we are sure that the rivalry was ignited and fed by the emperor Joseph II himself.

The musical duel of December 1781
        On 24 December 1781, Joseph II organized a special musical duel between two leading pianists of that period: Clementi and Mozart. This event marked the beginning of Mozart's ten years stay in Vienna (Mozart was finally dismissed by the Archbishop of Salzburg on 8 June 1781 with a kick).
      As far as we know, the two keyboard virtuosos were not aware of the fact that they were going to face a public competition one against the other. They just reached the Imperial Palace and, only when there, they discovered they were going to battle one against the other.
      The emperor organized a competition in three stages: 1. they had to play selections from their own music; 2. sight-reading from Paisiello's Sonatas supplied by the Grand Duchess of Russia; 3. they received two pianos and, while one had to improvise on a theme from the Sonata, the other had to accompany.
      Despite the fact that the contest was declared a draw, the memory of that night left an enduring impression both on Mozart and on Clementi.
      It is not sure what kind of music Mozart played during the competition (certainly some variations), while, instead, we know exactly which pieces Clementi chose from his own repertoire for that occasion: Toccata Op. 11 and the Sonata Op. 24 No. 2.
      Even though, when they met the first time at the Imperial Palace, Mozart and Clementi greeted each other in the most friendly manner, we know that, after the competition, Mozart left very harsh written comments on him, on his music and on his playing, declaring Clementi «a mere mechanicus» (January 1782) and (June 1783) even «Clementi is a ciarlattano... He writes presto and even prestissimo and alla breve on his sonatas, but plays them allegro 4/4 time...» etc.

From Clementi to The Magic Flute
      However Mozart, when writing critics on other composers of his era in his letters, should not always be considered too trustworthy: unfortunately he used to write critics against all those he considered potentially dangerous for his own already difficult career.
      Curiously enough, while Mozart was writing critics in his letters, at the same time he was jotting down musical ideas entirely derived from his much criticized adversaries (sic est!): he did that with Vogler (he developed Vogler's dramatic style for his Thamos and Idomeneo), he did that with Stamitz (he developed Stamitz's concertos style for clarinet/basset horn and orchestra) and he did that also with Clementi. So, evidently, also for Mozart the music of his adversaries was not completely useless... 
      In the case of Clementi, probably a sign of destiny, Mozart transformed the beginning bars of Clementi's Sonata Op. 24 No. 2 (played at Vienna Court during the 1781 famous competition against Mozart) into the most famous bars of the Allegro of the overture to The Magic Flute (1791).
      It's in this way that the very Clementi's notes of that Christmas Eve 1781, which sealed the beginnig of Mozart's stay in Vienna, sealed also Mozart's last opera, ten years later, in 1791: The Magic Flute, a few weeks before his own death.
      Clementi was perfectly aware of the fact that Mozart re-used his 1781 Sonata bars for the overture to The Magic Flute. In fact, when Clementi published his Sonata Op. 24 No. 2 (already published in 1788) in 1804 he added (in French in the original version) this note: «This Sonata, with the Toccata that follows, was played by the author before His Imperial Majesty Joseph II in 1781, Mozart being present», just to make clear who borrowed what and from whom.
      A lesser known conclusion of this story is that also Cimarosa, when presenting the Vienna premiere of his most successful Il Matrimonio Segreto on 7 February 1792 at the Vienna Imperial Palace, shows in his music various bars, that, according to some scholars, are clearly derived from the same opening motif of Clementi's 1781 Sonata and re-used by Mozart for The Magic Flute (1791).
      As is well known, the borrowing of Cimarosa from Mozart has been never studied accurately yet, however it is a common opinion that somehow a few quotations from Mozart's The Magic Flute (1791) inserted into his Il Matrimonio Segreto (1792: i.e. Io ti lascio, perché uniti) were intended by Cimarosa as a homage paid to the recently dead Mozart.

The importance of Clementi's style
      While today the importance of Clementi's style for pianoforte is well recognized as fundamental and Clementi received the well deserved nickname of The Father of Pianoforte, between 1781 and 1829 the pupils and friends of Clementi tried to find a reason for the harsh comments of Mozart against the art of Clementi, also because Clementi always showed admiration for Mozart and not rivalry.
      Clementi, in this way, admitted that in 1780s his major artistic target was to develop «a great and brilliant dexterity» in his piano playing style and that only a few years later he moved towards «the more melodious, nobler style of performance which he acquired through careful attention to then famous singers» and also thanks to the fundamental technical improvements of the piano as more modern instrument, finally capable of true cantabile.
M. Clementi, Piano Sonata Op. 24 No. 2:

Piano Sonata Op. 24 No. 2 (


Howard Shelley, Piano
Clementi: Piano Sonatas Vol. 3 - Hyperion Records
S. & L.M. Jennarelli