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Clementi’s Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Gradus ad Parnassum, and

the Prelude

A Thesis

submitted by

Peter D'Elia

In partial fulfillment of the requirements

for the degree of

Master of Arts




May 2009

ADVISER: Professor Jane Bernstein

UMI Number: 1463926

Copyright 2009 by
D'Elia, Peter

All rights reserved


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Scholars have long recognized the influence of J.S. Bach's music on that of Muzio

Clementi. Clementi often used Bach's music as a model when composing his own pieces.

In particular, his last major work, the Gradus ad Parnassum, has continually been

compared to Bach's famous Well-Tempered Clavier since its first publication in 1817-26.

In exploring the relationship between the music of Bach and Clementi, scholars

have generally pointed to the fugue as the most profound connection. In focusing on the

influence of fugue, however, scholars have ignored the less obvious, but far more

influential effect of Bach's preludes on Clementi's Gradus ad Parnassum.

This thesis shows how Bach’s music impacted Clementi’s life as a composer,

using as evidence a detailed comparison of the Gradus with the preludes of the Well-

Tempered Clavier. Qualities at the heart of Bach's preludes such as improvisation,

technical virtuosity, and didactic purpose made them excellent models for Clementi's



I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my adviser, Professor Jane

Bernstein, for guiding me through the writing process, always with a smile and a helpful

comment. Her unending patience and enthusiasm helped me immeasurably as I forged

my way through the world of Bach and Clementi.

I would also like to give thanks to my readers, Professors Joseph Auner and

Alessandra Campana, for their insight and commentary.

My fellow students, friends, and family were an essential source of energy and

inspiration for me and I could not have done it without them.

Table of Contents

Abstract: ii

Acknowledgments: iii

Introduction: 1

Chapter 1: Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier:

Origins, Function, and the Prelude 5

Chapter 2: Bach and Clementi: The Importance

of Instrument 15

Chapter 3: Clementi's Life, the Piano, and

Baroque Influences 27

Chapter 4: Gradus ad Parnassum and Well-Tempered

Clavier: the Evolution of the Didactic Prelude 37

Conclusion: 67

Appendix A: 71

Bibliography: 72


When Muzio Clementi died in 1832, he had in his possession a manuscript

copy of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier(WTC). Clementi acquired it as early as

1774, and the manuscript remained a part of his life for nearly sixty years, quite

obviously as a prized possession.1 His ownership of this iconic work is

representative of Bach's influence on the English composer's musical activities.

As a music publisher, Clementi included pieces by Bach in his collections of

works by older composers. In his teaching, he introduced preludes and fugues

from the WTC to his students. Most significantly, Clementi often used Bach's

music as a model when composing his own pieces. In particular, his last major

work, the Gradus ad Parnassum, has continually been compared to Bach's WTC

since its first publication in 1817-26.

These observations inevitably lead to a number of questions. How was

Clementi's admiration for Bach, and especially the WTC, made manifest in his

music? Are there any direct influences of the WTC on Clementi's Gradus, and if

so, can we pinpoint them?

In exploring the relationship between the music of Bach and Clementi,

scholars have generally pointed to the fugue as the most obvious and profound

connection. Indeed, Clementi wrote many fugues in the baroque style, sometimes

using subjects suspiciously close to Bach's. In the Gradus, a number of fugues

intermix with other types of pieces. While much has been written about this

connection, however, not only has this connection been overstated, but it has been

1 Leon Plantinga, Clementi: His Life and Music (London, New York: Oxford University Press,
1977), 82.
made at the expense of other genres. In focusing on the influence of fugue,

scholars have ignored the numerous similarities between the preludes of the WTC

and the exercises of the Gradus. In fact, it is Bach's preludes which had the

strongest influence on Clementi's piano music, and whose concepts of piano

music carry over to nineteenth-century virtuosi.

The prelude as a genre has a rich and diverse history. It originated as a

piece, improvised upon an instrument, which was designed to introduce a

subsequent work. However, an authoritative definition is difficult to achieve, as

its meaning changed at different points in history and for different composers.

This amorphous quality is one of the defining characteristics of the prelude. Four

qualities, though, stemming from the origins of the genre cited above, have

remained a constant part of the genre's identity. Improvisation, instrument-

specificity, instrumental technique, and didactic intent can all be found in both

Bach's preludes from the WTC and in Clementi's Gradus. The four chapters of

this thesis will explore these themes in various ways.

Chapter 1 begins with a history of Bach's use of the WTC, and goes on to

explore the various historical perspectives of the prelude genre that may be

applied to the preludes of the WTC. Several scholars have remarked on the

amorphous nature of the preludes, and some have tried to orient them historically.

Essentially, Bach used the vagueness of the genre as a way to include pieces of

various types and styles at his own discretion. This chapter asks the question; for

what purpose did Bach do this?

Chapter 2 focuses on the instruments used by both Bach and Clementi,

and how the notion of instrument specificity affects the pieces in the WTC and the

Gradus. Though debate rages about the appropriate instrument on which to play

the WTC, the clavichord and the harpsichord appear to be the the best choices.

Clementi clearly wrote the Gradus for the piano. This chapter argues that the

instrument is integral to the identity of the prelude, and raises a question which is

answered later in the thesis; how can we trace the influence of instrument in the

WTC and the Gradus?

Chapter 3 traces Clementi's relationship with the piano from the

perspective of his own career. The English composer learned to play on a

harpsichord, and only switched to the piano at a surprisingly late point in his

career. The chapter also explores the connections between Clementi's career and

the music of the Baroque, particularly Bach. These associations open up a

question which is addressed in the next chapter; what is the relationship, not only

between the prelude tradition and the works of the two composers, but also

between the WTC and the Gradus themselves?

The final chapter compares the two works at a detailed level, exploring all

the aspects discussed in the previous chapters as they interact in the music.

Improvisation, piano technique, instrument-specific writing, and didactic intent

are all traced throughout both works using numerous examples. The discussion

includes the way in which the prelude tradition connects the two works to each


Ultimately, Bach's preludes affected Clementi's Gradus ad Parnassum in a

significant way, but the extent of this influence has never been fully explored.

This thesis does not propose to reveal all of Bach's influences on Clementi, but

rather traces the transformation of the prelude as it passed from Bach to Clementi

and beyond.

Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier: Origins, Function, and the Prelude

Clementi greatly admired both volumes of the WTC, and he published the

“Second Part of Clementi's Introduction to the Art of playing on the Piano

Forte...Containing...Two masterly Fugues of Sebastian Bach,” which includes the

C major and the C# minor fugues from Book II. As a composer, Clementi loved

Bach's fugues, but as a teacher and virtuoso pianist he must have equally admired

the preludes. In this chapter I will describe the known history of the inception of

the WTC and explore the current scholarship on the preludes of the WTC.

The two books of the WTC are heterogeneous collections of works, made

up of previously composed pieces as well as pieces recomposed for the WTC.

They probably originated with Bach's teaching at Weimar. There is only one

source that illuminates the inception of Book I of Bach's WTC, namely Ernst

Ludwig Gerber's life of Bach in his Lexicon der Tonkunstler. Heinrich Nikolaus,

Gerber’s father, recollects several instances in which Bach played preludes and

fugues from the WTC to substitute for giving Nikolaus a lesson. In addition to the

following passage, Nikolaus remembers being told that Bach had composed the

WTC in a very short time. He describes his lessons with the master:

…and this astonishing facility, this fingering never used before him, he
owed to his own works; for often, he said, he had found himself compelled
to make use of the night in order to be able to bring to realization what he
had written during the day. This is all the easier to believe since it was
never his habit in composing to ask advice of his clavier. Thus, according
to a certain tradition, he wrote his Tempered Clavier (consisting of fugues
and preludes, some of them very intricate, in all 24 keys) in a place where
ennui, boredom, and the absence of any kind of musical instrument forced
him to resort to this pastime.2
2 David Ledbetter, Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier: the 48 Preludes and Fugues (New Haven,
Although Gerber does not specifically state the location of this place, scholars

have speculated that it could be the prison in Weimar, where he spent a month just

before leaving for Cothen. Other details in the passage point to Bach’s composing

practices. Writing music away from the keyboard is not unusual among

composers, but the “fingering” mentioned by Gerber is probably Bach’s use of the

thumb. Though not unknown during Bach’s youth, he developed its use far

beyond the standard practices of the time. He based his technique on the pivoting

potential of the thumb, probably to allow him to play a more sustained legato on

the organ and the clavichord.3

The Clavier-Buchlein vor Wilhelm Friedemann Bach is the main source

from which Bach compiled Book I of the WTC. This collection of pieces was put

together for Bach's eldest son and is dated 1720, two years before the first version

of the WTC. In this earlier work, eleven of the first twelve preludes of Book I

appear in shortened or incompletely copied out versions. The preludes as they

appeared in the Clavier-Buchlein were primarily intended to develop keyboard

technique. As these preludes made the trip to the WTC, they retained their

technical focus. A look at the title page of the WTC and an exploration into

Bach's teaching methods will provide a framework for how Bach used the WTC.

The 1722 title page of Book I states:

The Well-Tempered Clavier.

Or Preludes and Fugues

through all the tones and semitones,

London: Yale University Press, 2002), introduction.

3 Ibid.
both with the major 3rd, or Ut Re Mi

and with the minor 3rd, or Re Mi Fa

For the use and improvement of musical

Youth eager to learn,
And for the particular delight of those
already skilled in this discipline

Composed and presented by Johann

Sebastian Bach

While capellmeister to the Prince of

Anhalt-Cothen, and director of his chamber

In the year 1722,4

Bach's phrase “for the use and improvement of musical youth

eager to learn” clearly establishes the WTC as an instructional work. Bach wrote

several collections of pieces intended as aids to teaching, with different focuses in

each sometimes articulated on a title page. His “Upright Instruction” book

advocates playing two and three separate voices on the clavier, and is written for

those who wish “to arrive at a singing style in playing” and to learn the

fundamentals of composition. His “Little Organ Book” is for beginners on the

organ, teaching them how to harmonize chorales and how to use the pedals. The

Well-Tempered Clavier is for more advanced students, and became an often used

pedagogical tool by Bach as well as by subsequent generations of piano teachers.5

David Ledbetter provides a thorough summary of what is known about

4 Ibid.
5 Christoph Wolff, “Invention, composition and the improvement of nature: Apropos Bach the
teacher and practical philosopher,” in The Keyboard in Baroque Europe, ed. Christopher
Hogwood (Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 1.

Bach's teaching style and techniques. Reports from his sons and pupils provide

the best resource for descriptions of Bach's teaching methods. Philipp David

Krauter studied with Bach early on at Weimar in 1712-13. He says of his teacher:

He is an excellent, and also conscientious, man both for composition and

clavier, and also for other instruments. He gives me at least 6 hours
instruction a day, which I badly need particularly for composition and
clavier, but also for other instruments. The remaining time I spend doing
my own practice and copying, since he lets me have all the music I want.6

Of his father's teaching program, C.P.E. says that students were made to

begin with some fairly difficult pieces by Bach. However, even more advanced

students were made to go back to basics, at least for a short while.

J. Forkel gives a detailed account in his biography of Bach's teaching

methods for less advanced students. Forkel was a good friend of both

Friedemann and C.P.E., both of whom gave him his information. Bach began by

teaching his students the unique way in which he touched the keyboard. After

depressing the key, Bach would pull his finger towards his body, rather than

lifting straight up. In order for his students to learn this way of playing, he made

them practice for months only “simple exercises for the fingers of both hands, at

the same time emphasizing the need for clearness and distinctness.”7 Even

students who came in as experienced musicians had to go through this training for

at least a few months. After this Bach would give them short pieces, including

the little preludes (in the Clavier-Buchlein) and the two-part Inventions.8

H.N. Gerber outlines his studies with Bach in the biographical Lexicon,

6 Ledbetter, 129.
7 Johann Nikolaus Forkel, Johann Sebastian Bach; His Life, Art, and Work (New York: Da
Capo Press, 1970), 93-4.
8 Ibid.
published by his son. Gerber had studied previously with Johann Friedrich Bach

and admired his playing, but J.F. Was constantly drunk and therefore a difficult

teacher. When Gerber came to Leipzig in 1724, he was an accomplished

instrumentalist and composer. His account offers details on his more advanced

studies with Bach.

Bach wanted to know if Gerber had studied fugues, for he believed fugal

proficiency, specifically the ability to play several voices simultaneously, to be an

important part of good keyboard playing. He made Gerber first study the

Inventions, then gave him the French and English Suites, and finally Book I of

the WTC. Copying these works was an important part of the method. Because of

his high level of proficiency, Gerber's study with Bach was abnormal; usually

Bach made his students practice figured bass in between learning his music.9

Clearly, Bach regarded his WTC as the capstone work in his teaching

regime. It is the most difficult, requires the student to be able to play in every

key, and to play in a variety of musical styles and genres. With respect to genre,

the preludes of the WTC are polymorphic. Bach likely chose to call these pieces

preludes in order to give himself the freedom to insert whatever piece he thought

would give the best instructive intention.

Historically, the prelude as a genre has been constantly changing, sculpted

by the desires and goals of each composer who wrote them. Because of this,

pinning down a specific definition of the prelude is difficult. The Grove article

traces the prelude's roots to improvisation, and says that this led to the large scope

9 Ledbetter, 130.
of the prelude: “Because improvisation may embrace a wide range of manners,

styles and techniques, the term was later applied to a variety of formal prototypes

and to pieces of otherwise indeterminate genre.”10

The preludes in the WTC represent well this wide variety of “manners,

styles and techniques” of the prelude. Scholars have debated how best, and

whether, to categorize the preludes in Bach's famous work. Cecil Gray, Hermann

Keller, and David Ledbetter all provide different approaches to organizing the

preludes in their books on the WTC.

In his early book on the WTC, Cecil Gray states that “So far as the

preludes are concerned there is little that can be profitably said about them

collectively.”11 However, he goes on to say that the preludes can be divided into

three types; those that elaborate on harmonic progressions in an improvisatory

way, those that incorporate polyphony and fugal styles, and those based on

cantabile melody with accompaniment.12

Hermann Keller discusses the preludes in terms of their historical

predecessors. Keller says that after 1600, preludes were first given musical

significance and were developed into different categories of music. He identifies

several such kinds of preludes:

the organ prelude for the sacred service; oratorios and cantatas required
instrumental introductions; in the opera two chief types of prelude were
quickly distinguished: the French overture and the Italian sinfonia. The
chamber sonatas of the end of the seventeenth century preceded their
10 David Ledbetter, “Prelude” Grove Music Online,
11 Gray, Cecil. The forty-eight preludes and fugues of J.S. Bach. London, New York; Oxford
University Press, 1938.
12 Ibid.
fugued allegro movements with a slow introduction, a form which was
also carried over to the suite.13

He goes on to identify the prelude and fugue as it exists in the WTC as Bach's

contribution to the prelude tradition. However, Bach's masterpiece is not the first

work to exemplify this form. Keller points to Johann Kaspar Ferdinand Fischer's

earlier work Ariadne musica as a probable model for the WTC. In it, Fischer

writes sets of preludes and fugues in chromatic ascent from C major to b minor,

but different from the WTC in that the majority of the preludes are in an arioso


David Ledbetter refers to an instructional handbook, the Musicalische

Handleitung by Friedrich Erhard Niedt, as a probable indicator of the instruction

that Bach received as a youth. Niedt was a musician who studied with one of

Bach's cousins, Johann Nicolaus Bach, and J.S. himself used the Handleitung to

teach. Ledbetter convincingly argues that Niedt's handbook can be used to help

categorize some of the preludes. Book I of the WTC, according to Ledbetter,

involves four major types of preludes, the first two of which can be linked to

Niedt's handbook, and all of which add up to a survey of historical styles:

sectional preludes, figuration preludes, preludes influenced by the Inventions, and

those incorporating dance, sonata, and ritornello principles.15

Bach's sectional prelude comes out of the most prevalent type of prelude

in 17th-century Germany. It consists of an instrumental improvisation followed by

a more composed-out piece, often performed by a combination of instruments and

13 Keller, Hermann. The well-tempered clavier by Johann Sebastian Bach. New York; W.W.
Norton, 1976, 26.
14 Ibid, 27.
15 Ledbetter Bach's Well-tempered clavier: the 48 preludes and fugues, 53-64.
voices. In 1619, Praetorius used the terms Toccata, Praeambulum and Praeludium

to describe just this type of piece. The prelude in this definition served a dual

function; for singers to find their pitch, and for instrumentalists to warm up and

check the tuning of their instruments. Bach loosens this conception of the prelude

with the WTC in two important ways. His preludes are rarely completely

improvisational; instead, they generally take on a more preconceived form, at

least for part of the piece. Additionally, his sets of preludes and fugues can each

be seen as an expanded notion of this “sectional” prelude, as I mention above. In

the WTC, the e flat major prelude of Book I perfectly fits the definition of the

antique sectional prelude, while the b flat major contains contrasting sections but

knits them together more than a typical sectional prelude.16

Figuration preludes are simply preludes structured around a given figured

bass. Niedt's handbook outlines the figuration prelude, listing improvisation

around the figures as fundamental to its definition. Ledbetter traces the history of

this type of prelude back to Kuhnau and Fischer and labels it as the second of the

traditional types of prelude found in the WTC. He further divides figuration

preludes into two types, both of which “cultivate the relation of hand to

keyboard”: those that use a consistent broken-chord pattern to practice chord

shapes, and those based on a motive whose purpose lies in equalizing the strength

of the little finger and thumb in relation to the other fingers. He names the C

major and the D minor preludes as the first type, and the c minor, D major, and e

minor as the second type.17

16 Ibid, 54-5.
17 Ibid, 57-9.
Preludes influenced by Invention principles are fairly common in the

WTC. Bach's Inventions are generally built on late-Baroque harmonic

progressions, and some of his preludes can be grouped in these terms. Ledbetter

lists some of the more common progressions, including I-II-V-I in its various

forms and the circle of fifths as the two most common examples. He notes that

Bach's Inventions themselves often carry the title of 'praeambulum.' However, he

also says that only the a major prelude could be considered an Invention.

Preludes incorporating dance, sonata, and ritornello principles as discussed

by Ledbetter are not actually found in Book I. It is unclear why these principles

are discussed at this point, and Ledbetter uses examples from Bach's other works

to demonstrate dance, sonata, and ritornello. In his defense, he does mention the e

major prelude from Book I, which shares a harmonic structure (tonic—dominant--

subdominant--tonic) with many aria ritornellos. However, a shared harmonic

outline, especially one as simple as this, is hardly evidence of influence.

Clearly, categorizing the preludes in the WTC is not a simple task. This is

partially because Bach's own thoughts on his preludes are unknown; all of the

above analysis is conjecture. It seems most likely, however, that Bach chose to

the preludes as such in order to remove any restrictions inherent in more clearly

defined genres. In my view, Bach chose to include these pieces more for their

instructive benefits than for any other reason. In light of this view, an attempt to

analyze, such as the one given above, the forms, styles, and historical precedents

of these pieces is only useful as an exercise in research and pedagogy. In order to

get to the heart of these pieces, an instructive intent should be taken as the main

tenet of the preludes, and discussion then centers on the question: what do these

pieces teach? One answer lies in the instruments themselves. In the next chapter

I will explore the instrumental implications of the WTC.

Bach and Clementi: The Importance of Instrument

For a century, a scholarly debate has raged over the meaning of “clavier”

in the “Well-Tempered Clavier.” The word itself has no specific meaning; it

merely indicates any keyboard instrument. Bach himself often left the instrument

designation open for interpretation. The Partitas, the English and French Suites

and the Inventions, like the WTC, leave out an instrument marking. Many

scholars, especially early in the debate, preferred one instrument over another,

using claims of authenticity as justification. More recently, the debate has died

down, but the idea of a correct instrument lives on in scholarship. In this chapter I

will summarize the sides of the debate and present my view, then show how

Clementi’s Gradus relates to this idea of the importance of instrument.

Bach's available instruments were the organ, harpsichord, clavichord,

lautenwerk (similar to a harpsichord), and towards the end of his life, the

pianoforte. Bach himself generally used the harpsichord and clavichord to teach

and to play in private, making them the obvious choices for the didactic WTC. As

we will see later, the preludes strongly suggest these two instruments as well.

In the early twentieth century, the instrument debate polarized into the

harpsichordists and the clavichordists. The Swiss musicologist Karl Nef

championed the harpsichord in his two articles on the subject in 1903 and 1909,

while Richard Buchmayer preferred the WTC on the clavichord, a subject about

which he wrote in 1908. The famed harpsichordist Wanda Landowska also wrote

several articles on the issue around the same time.18 Later on, Ralph Kirkpatrick

18 Ledbetter Bach's Well-tempered clavier: the 48 preludes and fugues, 13-4.

recorded the WTC on the clavichord, and much later published a book on the

subject of the WTC.

In his book from 1984, Kirkpatrick outlines the different arguments for

choosing an instrument for the WTC. He notes that we know very little about

Bach's harpsichord, and that many contemporary harpsichords used to play Bach's

works are of dubious authenticity. Regarding the organ, he says that finding one

of “suitable characteristics” is an “unrealizable ambition.” Rather than make a

strong case for the clavichord, as he may have done earlier in his career, he says

very little about it, none of which amounts to an argument for or against using it.

Instead, Kirkpatrick concludes that there is no right answer: “Historical and

stylistic evidence lends itself to arguments in several directions, none of them

conclusive. The preludes and fugues are works that take on different aspects

according to the medium in which they are executed.”19 In this way, Kirkpatrick

dismisses the notion of a “correct” instrument.

Peter Williams' Early Music article from 1983 addresses the instrument

issue from a self-described objectivist view. He says that he aspires to a proper

performance, writing that “By 'proper' I mean something objective, namely

'according to the expectations of the composer as to instrument, tempo, phrasing,

articulation and all that is involved in idiomatic performance.'”20 Although

Williams does mention that the assumption of a correct instrument for the WTC is

something to be questioned, he then goes on to discuss at length what the correct

19 Ralph Kirkpatrick, Interpreting Bach's Well-tempered clavier : a performer's discourse of

method. New Haven; Yale University Press, 1984, 11.
20 Peter Williams, “J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier: a new approach.” Early Music, 11(1),
Jan. 1983, 48.
instrument actually is. He finally concludes that only the harpsichord can play all

of the WTC.21

David Ledbetter renews the question of instrument in his much more

recent book. He writes that knowledge of Bach's instruments since the time of the

harpsichord/clavichord debate has “increased immeasurably,” and he summarizes

the instruments that Bach had at his disposal when writing the WTC.

Like Williams, Ledbetter concludes that the harpsichord is the only

instrument that can play the entire work. He writes that “But to think of the 48 as

essentially for one optimum instrument need not necessarily be an

impoverishment. Part of the richness of these collections is their range of stylistic

and instrumental reference, and that richness may be concentrated by being seen

in the spectrum of a single instrument.”22

Ledbetter, like many scholars, attempts to pigeonhole the WTC, justifying

his rationale by saying that a single instrument may best amplify the richness of

the WTC. However, this pair of ideas, that the WTC was written entirely for a

single instrument, and that the entirety of the work should be played on a single

instrument, is not supported by the little available historical evidence. We can

recall that Bach used the WTC primarily to teach students technique and

composition. The idea of performing the work in public was nonexistent at the

time, and the notion of performing a work in its entirety is a contemporary one,

brought about by modern performance practices. The music itself is a

compilation of recomposed and previously written pieces, indicating that a sense

21 Ibid, 51.
22 Ledbetter Bach's Well-tempered clavier: the 48 preludes and fugues, 34.
of unity through a single instrument was probably a secondary consideration for


On the other hand, though it is true, as Kirkpatrick writes, that it is

“impossible to claim that any part of the WTC belongs irrefutably to any one

keyboard instrument,” it also remains true that many pieces in the WTC are more

well-suited to certain instruments, particularly among the preludes.23 As we have

seen in the previous chapter, the prelude has historically been very closely tied to

its instrument, and Bach's preludes are no exception. While the fugues are

generally equally playable on different kinds of keyboards, the preludes clearly

connect to specific instruments. So rather than opt for a single instrument to

encompass the entire work, it seems more prudent to look at each prelude on its

own terms and match it to its best-suited instrument. These instruments are the

harpsichord and the clavichord, and a working knowledge of their strengths,

weaknesses, and the differences between them will be crucial to our discussion in

the fourth chapter of this thesis.

The harpsichord is a keyboard instrument whose strings, are plucked upon

depression of the key. While the resulting sound has a very clear articulation, it

decays very quickly. In addition, the sound is also not changeable by the force

exerted while depressing the key, meaning that a change in tone color or dynamics

must be accomplished through other means such as stops and multiple manuals

(keyboards). In Bach's time, the harpsichord was the instrument of choice for

public performances because of its relatively loud sound production.

23 Kirkpatrick, 11.
By comparison, the clavichord is a keyboard instrument whose strings are

struck by a metal tangent, which remains in direct contact with the string after it

has been struck. Unlike the harpsichord, the loudness of the tone is directly

impacted by the force with which the tangent strikes the string. In addition, by

manipulating the key after the string has been struck, the player is able to change

the quality and even loudness of the tone. For this reason, the clavichord is often

considered to be the most expressive of all the keyboard instruments. However,

in comparison to the harpsichord its dynamic level is rather soft, and thus was

reserved for private use. In his biography, Forkel claims that Bach's favorite

instrument was the clavichord.24

Like Bach's preludes, Clementi's exercises in the Gradus often display

characteristics which tie them to a specific instrument. In Clementi's case,

however, there is no debate; he wrote the Gradus for the piano. Clementi's piano,

by the time of the publication of the Gradus, was much like today's piano. Earlier

in his life, however, the piano went through many changes. Clementi himself

learned to play on a harpsichord and did not convert to the piano until later in his

career. In order to better understand the piano as Clementi knew it, I will now

focus on the piano's evolution during his lifetime. I will also discuss the sound of

the English and German pianos since there were substantial differences between

the two.

The piano, invented by Bartolomeo Christofori in Italy around 1700, was

a relatively obscure instrument during the first half of the eighteenth century.

24 Forkel, 52.
Production of upright fortepianos first began in England in the 1760s, when a few

German immigrants launched their piano-making businesses. Johannes Zumpe

set up his shop in 1761, and by the 1780s he became the maker for the Queen and

the Royal Family. He only produced square pianos, which became even more

fashionable because of the Queen's Music Master J.C. Bach's preference for them.

John Broadwood of Scotland became another of England's premier piano builders

when he took over his father-in-law's harpsichord business in 1771, eventually

replacing harpsichords with square pianos. Unlike the four-octave range of

pianos built by Zumpe, Broadwood pianos had five octaves, FF-f’’’.25

The early history of the grand piano involves a different piano maker in

London. Americus Backers was the major innovator of the grand piano in

England during Clementi's lifetime. He created the English grand pianoforte

along with the ‘English grand action.’ Details of his life remain a mystery; his

birthplace and date, and even his nationality remain unknown. Broadwood

thought he was Dutch while Burney declared he was German. He was active in

London from 1763 until his death in 1778. Backers was known as the best

English manufacturer, and Burney recommended his pianos in a 1774 letter to a

friend.26 Backers experimented with the action on the piano and invented a form

of escapement. Significantly, Backers added the first una corda pedal as well as

the first sustain pedal. The sustain pedal would become an indispensable part of

the piano's sound, and would be much used by Clementi.

After Backers, John Broadwood began experimenting with grand piano

25 Katalin Komlós, Fortepianos and their music : Germany, Austria, and England, 1760-1800.
New York; Oxford University Press, 1995, 6-7.
26 Ibid, 9.
designs. He built his first in 1781 or 1782, and up to 1788 had only constructed a

total of forty grand pianos compared to over 900 squares. After 1788, however,

production of grand pianos skyrocketed, and beginning in 1792 Broadwood built

an average of 140 grand pianos per year. Compared with other European

countries, England built many more pianos. Sebastian Erard, the most important

French piano maker, built his first square piano in 1777 and his first grand piano

in 1796. Most of the instruments used in France were imported from England.

The first documented public performances of the piano in England came

in 1767 and a year later at Covent Garden, a venue which Clementi frequented

often. During the next few decades, use of the piano and harpsichord for continuo

parts was mixed. In Dublin in 1779, both Italian and Irish opera companies were

conducted “at the pianoforte,” and a similar practice had become standard in

Rome. At the royal theatre in Vienna and the King’s Theatre in London, however,

the harpsichord remained the continuo instrument until at least 1781.

Clementi played the harpsichord during his solo appearances in the late

1770s, which included 1775, 1778, and early 1779, only publicly performing on

the piano for the first time in 1779. For that performance on April 23, he played a

“Duet upon the Piano Forte” with Mr. Dance.27

Related to Bach's use of the term clavier, references to the piano are

difficult to trace because of the lack of a commonly accepted name for the

instrument. The names pianoforte and fortepiano were not consistently used in

north Germany until the end of the century, in south Germany and Austria until

27 Sandra P. Rosenblum, Performance practices in classic piano music : their principles and
applications. Bloomington; Indiana University Press, 1988, 7.
the third quarter of the century, and in Italy until the 1790s. Instead, the names

cimbalo di piano e forte, cembalo di martellati, cembalo, clavicembalo, clavecin,

instrument, Flugel, Clavier, Hammerclavier, Hammerflugel, or hammer

harpsichord were all used interchangeably to describe the same instrument.

Because of this, printed works from the period are often vague as to which

keyboard instrument(s) they were written for. Titlepages often read “pour le

Clavecin ou Piano-Forte,” or something similar. Even publications containing

performance markings indicating that they were written for the piano often

contained wording in their titles that included other instruments, presumably to

boost sales. For example, Beethoven’s Opp. 26 and 27 piano sonatas were titled

“pour le Clavecin ou Forte-Piano” and “per il Clavicembalo o Piano-Forte,”

respectively, even though his earlier Op. 14 was specifically for the piano.28

Aesthetics of Sound

German and English pianos developed very different ideologies of sound.

For German/Viennese piano makers, a clear, ringing, but quickly decaying sound

was paramount. English piano makers looked for the opposite effect by building

sustaining, rich-sounding pianos. Mozart expressed his interest in the damping

power of Stein’s pianos, as cited above. In his Musikalischer Almanach, Forkel

lays out the importance of sufficient damping. German/Viennese pianos were

outfitted with leather dampers, while English pianos were built with much lighter

dampers which did not completely squash the tone when the dampers were resting

on the strings.

28 Ibid.
Around 1788, John Broadwood invented a way to even out tone color

throughout the range of the piano. By dividing the bridge, he equalized the string

tension and striking point, thereby greatly reducing the discrepancy between the

tone of the upper and lower registers.

In 1790-2, an anonymous author wrote an essay entitled ‘Dusultory

Remarks on the Study and Practice of Music, Addressed to a Young Lady while

under the Tuition of an Eminent Master,’ which describes the author’s ideal piano

sound aesthetics. It was not published until 1796-7, when it was revealed that ‘the

master spoken of in them [‘Desultory Remarks’] is the now celebrated Mr


The article focuses on piano performance, and on the subject of tone it


To acquire a rich, a full, and mellifluous TONE is the DESIDERATUM beyond all
other qualities in a Performer;…The mellow, impressive, Organ-like Tone
is superior in significance and effect to that quilly and vapid sound
produced by the Generality of Piano Forte Players.

The rich, full, mellow sound described in this passage is intended for the

performer, but it just as effectively describes the instrument itself. Certainly these

adjectives do not describe the German/Austrian variety of the instrument. The

“organ-like tone” points to an attempt to create a sustained sound with an even

tone throughout the range of the instrument.

The German composer and pianist Friedrich Kalkbrenner wrote this about

English instruments decades later:

English pianos possess rounder sounds and a somewhat heavier touch

29 Komlós, 27.
[than their German counterparts]: they have caused the professors of that
country to adopt a grander style, and the beautiful manner of singing
which distinguishes them; to succeed in this, the use of the loud pedal is
indispensable, in order to conceal the dryness inherent to the pianoforte.30

Clearly, the English aesthetic of a round, sustaining tone became ever more

appealing to musicians as singing became the ideal sound towards which

performers strove.

Musical Rhetoric and a “Singing” Style

The Baroque era was characterized by external affects applied to

movements of works as kinds of universal, unifying emotions. As the Baroque

era came to a close, ideas of pieces of music as united by a single affect began to

break down. The new Galant style with its monophonic texture and quickly

changing themes and moods could not be rhetorically organized in the same way.

Instead, a new idea of music as representing the mood of the composer became

popular. In Germany, the notion of empfindsamkeit, or sensibility, came to the

fore. With empfindsamkeit, the performer's goal was to make his audience feel

specific emotions related to the musical content. These emotions could change

within a piece, and the performer had to find the best way to effectively convey

each of these emotions to the audience.31

This new aesthetic had different implications for Germany and for

England. In Germany, a vocal style which imitated speech, especially the

declamations of an orator, was preferred. C.P.E. Bach was the most widely

30 Friedrich Kalkbrenner, Methode pour apprendre le pianoforte a l'aide de guide-mains, Op.

108 (Paris, 1830); Engl. Trans., anon., Complete Course of Instructions for the Pianoforte
(London, c. 1835), 10. Quoted in David Rowland, 'Early pianoforte pedalling: The evidence of
the earliest printed markings', EM 13 (1985), 10-12. Taken from Komlós, 28.
31 Rosenblum, 10-13.
admired composer in this style. Sandra Rosenblum writes that Bach “often

shaped melodies pitchwise and rhythmically to sound like emotional speech or

recitative... According to Schulz, the keyboard sonatas of Emanuel Bach were 'so

communicative [sprechend] that one believes he is perceiving not tones but an

understandable language that sets and keeps our imagination and feelings in

motion.'”32 In this conception of sensibility, music acts literally as a kind of

spoken language for expressing clear emotions.

Arnold Schering equates the eighteenth-century ideal of instrumental

music imitating vocal music with this idea of music as a spoken language. This

seems particularly relevant in the German-speaking world. Philipp Emanuel

writes a great deal about singing on the keyboard in his versuch:

Lose no opportunity to hear artistic singing. In so doing, the keyboardist

will learn to think in terms of song. Indeed, it is a good practice to sing
instrumental melodies in order to reach an understanding of their correct
performance. This way of learning is of far greater value than the reading
of voluminous tomes or listening to learned discourses.33

Scholars have disagreed as to what Philipp Emanuel meant by singing. Katalin

Komlos believes that Bach “presumably refers to the art of natural phrasing.”34

However, when writing of this issue in general, Sandra Rosenblum says the

opposite; “What was meant was not singing as 'a cantabile, melodious connecting

of melody notes,' but as 'a musical declamation in accordance with rhetorical

principles.'”35 Based on the pianos of the time, it seems that the German ideal of

singing was actually more of a reference to a declamato style of playing rather

32 Ibid, 11.
33 Komlos, 28.
34 Ibid.
35 Rosenblum, 12.
than a cantabile style.

In England, the idea of singing on the piano was heavily influenced by the

piano itself. The strictly English traits of the sustain pedal and the round, full tone

lent themselves well to imitating a more cantabile style of playing. Indeed,

according to Plantinga, Clementi's “later, 'more melodic and noble' style of

performance, he said, resulted mostly from 'the gradual perfection of the grand

pianoforte—particularly the English one—whose faulty construction had

previously almost totally precluded a more cantabile, legato style of playing.”36

From this it is clear that the notion of singing on the piano in England was

completely different from the German idea.

For both Bach and Clementi, their keyboard instruments of choice greatly

affected the music they wrote. In both the WTC and the Gradus, we will later see

how the instrument is closely tied to the preludes and the exercises. In the next

chapter we will explore Clementi's career, including his relationship to the new

piano and his ever-growing obsession with the music of the past.

36 Plantinga, 290-1.
Clementi’s Life, the Piano, and Baroque Influences

Muzio Clementi's life is inextricably tied to the piano. Known as the

“father of the piano” toward the end of his life, the reasons for this are not as

obvious as they might seem. Clementi was certainly not the first to champion the

instrument, nor was he a public performer with a long career. Rather, his

contemporaries used other criteria to establish his role as a father figure in the

popularization of the piano. In this chapter I will explore Clementi’s career

through two avenues: his connection to the piano, and the influence of Baroque


By the time Clementi's nickname first gained popularity in the 1820s and

30s, he was an old man. At this time, virtuoso pianists were flooding Europe and

many saw Clementi as a sort of prototype for their own lives. In his music, his

career path, and his piano specialization, pianists of a new generation saw a

prototype on which to model their own livelihoods.37

Clementi's music, with its virtuosic runs and protracted passages of thirds

and sixths, was stylistically similar to the later pianistic music found on the public

concert stage. In 1828 Ludwig Berger wrote of Clementi's “brilliant feats of

technical proficiency, especially in those passages in double notes that were not

common before his time.” The French music critic Fetis wrote that Clementi’s

music had a major impact on “the direction which pianoforte music has taken

since the year 1770, particularly in France, England, and Italy.”38 Ironically, later

pianists appropriated his early, virtuosic works, which were written for the

37 Plantinga, 292.
38 Ibid, 293.

In addition to his compositions, Clementi’s career as a performer became

something of a model for later virtuosi. Significantly, he was one of the first

public musicians—his only private job came in the late 1770s, when he was

keyboardist for the King’s Theatre. His public actions, similar to later pianists,

came in two flavors: large public performances and smaller amateur events. His

musical output reflected this in the split between his more difficult professional

music and his easier amateur music.39

Like many nineteenth-century virtuosi, Clementi specialized in only one

instrument. Although he wrote full symphonies, this only occurred in two decade-

long periods, and it never brought him much success. The majority of his

published music was written for solo piano, and among his accompanied piano

sonatas, the string and flute parts may not have even been written by him. Most

of his editing work was for piano music, as well, as were the arranging projects he


In addition to his musical output, Clementi was an accomplished

businessman. Like his successor piano virtuosi, such as J.N. Hummel and

Moscheles, he was involved with commercial piano makers, and even became a

pioneer in this respect by starting his own piano manufacturing business in 1798.

He probably played a small role in the actual design and production of his pianos;

his main job, however, was to provide his famous name so that the pianos would

sell better.41
39 Ibid, 294.
40 Ibid.
41 Ibid, 295.
Clementi’s music, his career as public performer and as businessman,

helped label him as “father of the pianoforte.” One of the factors that also helped

foster the growth of his legacy, though, was the extended period of time between

his retirement from public performance in 1790 and the birth of his nickname.

His performance career before his retirement, especially concerning the piano,

and his activities as a teacher afterward, are the subjects of the following sections.

Clementi learned to play on the harpsichord. He moved to England from

Italy in 1766 or 1767, when an Englishman Peter Beckford bought him from his

father.42 At the Beckford estate, there was likely only a harpsichord on which to

practice, as the Quarterly Musical Magazine says in its biographical sketch of

Clementi in 1820.

In London, where Clementi lived from 1774 to 1780, there are several

recorded instances of the early piano being played in public. J.C. Bach performed

several times a year on the new instrument, as did several German and English

pianists. Clementi himself, however, rarely played on the piano during this time.

For all his concerts during these years, he only performed on the harpsichord.43

Clementi undertook a trip to the Continent in 1780 in order to pursue his

performance ambitions. It was during this tour that Clementi met Mozart and

performed in a famous duel that occurred between the two keyboardists.

Clementi arrived in Vienna at the end of December 1781, after a change of plans

that diverted him away from a trip to Bordeaux. He instead hurried to Vienna in

hopes of getting noticed by the Grand Duke of Russia. He got more than he
42 Beckford 'buying' Clementi was unusual. However, there was a trend in England towards an
appreciation of foreign-born and child musicians.
43 Plantinga, 288. The only exception is in 1779 when he played a piano duet.
bargained for when he became Mozart's opponent in a contest arranged by

Emperor Joseph II. Mozart wrote his initial impressions of Clementi's playing the

following January; “Clementi plays well, so far as execution with the right hand

goes. His greatest strength lies in his passages in thirds. Apart from this, he has

not a kreuzer's worth of taste or feeling—in short he is simply a mechanicus.” A

year and a half later, Mozart's opinion of Clementi's playing had worsened:

Supposing that you do play sixths and octaves with the utmost velocity
(which no one can accomplish, not even Clementi) you only produce an
atrocious chopping effect and nothing else whatever. Clementi is a
ciarlatano, like all Italians. He writes Presto over a sonata or even
Prestissimo and Alla breve, and plays it himself Allegro in 4/4 time. I
known this is the case, for I have heard him do so. What he really does
well are his passages in thirds; but he sweated over them day and night in
London. Apart from this, he can do nothing, absolutely nothing, for he has
not the slightest expression or taste, still less, feeling.44

Clementi's own account of the competition follows a similar line. His portrayal of

his own playing, as recorded by his student Ludwig Berger, is likewise negative:

When I asked him if at that time he treated the instrument in his present
style (this was the year 1806), he said 'no', adding that in that earlier
period he had taken particular delight in brilliant feats of technical
proficiency, especially in those passages in double notes that were not
common before his time, and in improvised cadenzas. It was only later
that he adopted a more melodic and noble style of performance.45

On the other hand, his description of Mozart's playing is generous,

especially compared to Mozart's words about Clementi. As Berger recounts

Clementi saying:

Until then I had never heard anyone perform with such spirit and grace. I
was particularly astonished by an Adagio and some of his extemporized
44 Emily Anderson, ed., The Letters of Mozart and his Family. New York; Norton, 1966, pp. 789-
90. Taken from Plantinga, 62.
45 Caecilia x (1829), 238-9. Taken from Plantinga, 65.
variations—the Emperor chose the theme for these, and we had to
improvise variations on them, each alternately accompanying the other.46

Where did Clementi's mechanical style of playing come from, and how

did it change to become 'more melodic and noble' in later years? We can point to

the influence of past composers, two of whom had a particularly powerful

influence on Clementi's music. Domenico Scarlatti, whose music, with its quick

leaps and involved passagework, served as a model for much of Clementi's

famous technique. And later on in his career, the English composer became more

interested in the fugal technique of J S Bach. Along with the development of the

modern piano, this probably helped shape the evolution of Clementi's “more

melodic and noble” playing style. After his retirement from the public concert

stage around 1790, Clementi focused on his business as well as his teaching

career. His growing preoccupation with music of the past, especially Bach's

music, is documented through his teaching.

Clementi combined his love of music by older composers with his

teaching. Though there are few sources, it becomes clear through the few that

exist that “ancient” music, especially the keyboard works of J.S. Bach, claimed a

central role in Clementi's teaching regimen. John Field, one of Clementi's most

famous pupils, is recorded to have performed Bach on more than one occasion. In

1802, Clementi and Field embarked on a tour of the Continent. It was an eight-

year endeavor, in which he traveled to Paris, Vienna, St. Petersburg, Berlin, and

over ten additional stops throughout Europe. His main roles on this trip were to

serve as a salesman for his pianos, to negotiate with composers and publishers for

46 Ibid.
rights to new music, and to publish his own music. But he also did a fair amount

of teaching. Field's later necrology in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung

speaks about the tour in a way that suggests a tumultuous relationship with

Clementi. In contrast, Clementi himself recalled teaching and traveling with Field

in a positive way, as evidenced by this excerpt from the Quarterly Musical

Magazine in 1820:

The extraordinary and admirable talents of John Field must be still fresh in
the memory of a great number of our readers. These talents Clementi had
cultivated with unceasing delight; and he has often been heard to say, that
such was the quickness of conception, retentiveness of memory, and
facility of execution which this highly-gifted boy possessed, that he
seldom had occasion to make the same remark to him a second time. With
this favourite pupil, in the autumn of 1802, he paid his third visit to Paris,
where he was received with unabated esteem and admiration. This pupil
delighted every one who heard him; and what is still more worthy of
remark, he played some of the great fugues of Sebastian Bach with such
precision and inimitable taste as to call forth, from a Parisian audience, the
most enthusiastic applause.47

The special reference to Bach's fugues here is not exceptional in accounts of

playing by Clementi's students. In a report by J.F. Reichardt in the Berlinische

musikalische Zeitung from 1805, Ludwig Berger, another of Clementi's students

received praise particularly for his playing of Bach:

Accompanying (Clementi) is the excellent young pianist Berger, who has

won for himself friends and the approbation of artists and public alike for
his pure and expressive playing of Sebastian Bach and Clementi, and for
his sound method of teaching; surely he will develop into a finished
virtuoso from his association with Clementi. It is a real advantage for the
art that such a great and profound musician as Clementi should establish a
school for performance, and plant the seeds of his splendid and unique art
in foreign soil as well.48

47 QMM ii (1820), 312-13. Taken from Plantinga, 154.

48 Berlinische musikalische Zeitung i (1805), 366. Taken from Plantinga, 202.
Of all his students, Field was Clementi's prized protegé. Indeed, the only piano

studies that the Irish pianist and composer had were with Clementi. An account

of a concert at Clementi's house before he and Field left for their Continental trip

in 1802 provides further details on Field's playing; “While we were at table a

young gentleman named Field, an élève of Mr. Clementi, sat down to the

pianoforte, and gratified the company by playing one of Bach's Fugues, in which,

by his force of touch, he maintained a clear distinction in the four different

parts.”49 Clearly, Bach's music played a key role in the performance repertoire of

the early piano, in part thanks to the fact that Clementi taught it to his students.

In addition to influencing his activities as a teacher, several Baroque

composers had an impact on Clementi as a music publisher and composer. In the

1790s the English composer began to publish his own collections of music by

older composers. In 1791 he issued “Scarlatti's Chef-d'oevres...selected from an

elegant collection of manuscripts, in the possession of Muzio Clementi”, and in

1800 he brought out a set of Corelli pieces. In addition to these single-composer

editions, Clementi also published a four-volume anthology entitled Practical

Harmony. The first two volumes, which appeared in 1801 and 1802 respectively,

contain a considerable number of works from the past. Inside these volumes

appear representative works by composers spanning nearly two centuries. They

range from the early seventeenth-century composers Agostini and Perti, to

Handel, Telemann, and the Bachs. The anthology also included the works of such

contemporaries as Haydn and Albrechtsberger. Many of the pieces in these

49 Atlas vii (1832), 220. Taken from Plantinga, 207.

volumes were relatively unknown at this time: The works by J.S. Bach, in

particular, seem to be first editions. Clementi fostered a profound interest in

these publications, as attested by William Gardiner who explains Clementi's

Continental trip in 1802 as “avowedly to collect MSS. For his work on practical


Turning to Clementi as a composer, his early Op. 5 and 6 fugues show a

striking stylistic similarity to the b flat minor prelude and fugue from Book I of

Bach’s WTC.51 Plantinga points to Clementi’s “deceptive cadences (bars 44-45

and 45-46), the double suspension producing a dominant ninth (bar 49), and the

movement to diminished seventh chords and ninth chords on the first beats of bars

50, 51, and 53” as particularly evocative of Bach’s learned style(see figure 1). In

a direct comparison with Bach, the b flat minor fugue from the WTC closely

resembles Clementi’s piece.

Figure 1: Clementi, Op. 5 fugue52

50 For a more complete discussion of Clementi's antiquarian and other compositional tendencies,
see Plantinga 156-9.
51 Plantinga, 80-1.
52 Images taken from Plantinga, 80-1.
Figure 2: Bach, fugue in b flat minor, Book I

Similarities between Bach and Clementi carry beyond Clementi’s fugues

into his sonatas. The introduction to Clementi’s piano sonata Op. 34, No. 2

borrows its fugato theme from the D major fugue from Book II(see figure 3).

Figure 3: Clementi, Sonata Op. 34, No.2 Introduction

As we have seen, Clementi’s career brought him to the new piano while

serving as a prototype for the next generation of young pianists. At the same

time, he maintained a very strong interest in the music of the Baroque,

particularly the works of Bach. Clementi’s transition from virtuosic to melodic

playing was brought about primarily because of the newfound possibilities of the

piano, which in turn opened him up to Bach’s expressive, melodic music. By the

time he completed the Gradus at the end of his life, Clementi had studied and

emulated Bach’s music, both in its composition and its execution, and he was

prepared to publish a culminating work in the same vein as the WTC. In the next

chapter we will compare these two monumental works and see exactly how

Bach’s tradition is upheld and expanded upon in the Gradus.

Gradus ad Parnassum and Well-Tempered Clavier: an Evolution of the Didactic

Clementi’s Gradus ad Parnassum is the culmination of the composer’s

acquired understanding and knowledge of piano technique and musicianship. The

Gradus was composed, revised and compiled over a period of about forty-five

years and was published in three volumes in the years 1817-26. It was finally

completed near the end of Clementi’s life, long after he had given up performing

to become a full-time teacher.

The Gradus contained one hundred exercises written in various forms,

styles, and genres taken from throughout Clementi's career [the earliest being his

Oeuvre 1 which was first published in 1780-1]. The title page suggests the raison

d'être for the work: “Gradus ad Parnassum, or the Art of Playing on the Piano-

forte, exemplified in a series of Exercises composed in the Strict and in the Free

Styles.” Yet beyond this general description, the pieces do not appear to be

arranged in any discernible order, and few hints are given as to the purpose of

many of the studies.

The idea of “exercises composed in the Strict and in the Free styles”

brings to mind Bach’s WTC. Indeed, comparisons between Clementi’s Gradus ad

Parnassum and Bach's WTC have been made since the first publication of the

Gradus. In 1827, the Repository of the Arts wrote about the Gradus that “like

Bach's works it will stand as a record of the attainments in pianoforte playing,

and, indeed, of the harmonic knowledge possessed by the living generation.”53

The similarity between the two works does not stop here. The Gradus, like the

53 Plantinga, 270.
WTC, was intended as an instructive text for students of keyboard instruments, in

this case the piano. Also like the WTC, the Gradus was published near the end of

the composer's life and stands as a testament to the pedagogical and

compositional accomplishments of the composer. Of more significance, as we

have seen, was Clementi's lifelong interest in older composers, especially Bach,

and many aspects of the Gradus seem to have been influenced by Bach’s

monumental keyboard work.

In light of the elusive structure of Gradus, scholars have attempted to

provide their own conception of the work. Plantinga offers a general description

of each kind of exercise, citing sonata movements, canons and fugues, and etudes

both technical and expressive as the types of pieces that make up the Gradus.

Nicholas Temperley goes further in his introduction to the reprint of the

original edition, where he divides the exercises into five distinct categories: (1)

Examples of contrapuntal learning (fugues and canons); (2) Movements of sonata

type; (3) Introductory movements; (4) Studies for technical development; (5)

Character pieces or studies of pianoforte expression. Aside from the fugues and

canons, he allows that hard lines between the categories are difficult to draw, with

many of the pieces fitting into two or more of the groupings.54

In comparison with the Gradus, Bach's WTC divides more clearly into sets

of preludes and fugues. This obvious bifurcated structure suggests that the

preludes of the WTC serve as some sort of preamble to the more learned fugues.

Separating the preludes from their companion fugues, we see that the WTC defies

54 Muzio Clementi, Nicholas Temperley, ed., Works for Pianoforte Solo, Volume 5: Gradus ad
Parnassum (New York: Garland, 1987), introduction.
categorization nearly as much as the various exercises in the Gradus. The prelude

was, and still is, vaguely defined, and it is the freedom of this genre that allowed

Bach, as we have seen, to sculpt a variety of kinds of preludes as he chose.

Clementi's general indebtedness to Baroque composers and particularly to Bach

has already been observed. I would further argue that he used not just the fugues

but the preludes from Bach’s WTC as his model for the Gradus. In fact, by

conceiving of many exercises within the Gradus as an expanded notion of the

prelude, we can make greater sense of Clementi’s organizational structure while

also placing the Gradus within the same lineage as the WTC. For whatever

Clementi himself may have thought, many of his exercises represent a clear

evolution of the prelude genre.

While I have discussed others' interpretations of the preludes of the WTC

in an earlier chapter, in this chapter I will explore an original interpretation of the

preludes. The Grove describes the early prelude as an improvised instrumental

piece intended to introduce a particular mode or key in order to prepare an

audience for a subsequent piece of music. It goes on to say:

The earliest notated preludes are for organ, and were used to introduce
vocal music in church. Slightly later ones, for other chordal instruments
such as the lute, grew out of improvisation and were a means of checking
the tuning of the instrument and the quality of its tone, and of loosening
the player’s fingers. The purpose of notating improvisation was generally
to provide models for students, so an instructive intention, often concerned
with a particular aspect of instrumental technique, remained an important
part of the prelude. Because improvisation may embrace a wide range of
manners, styles and techniques, the term was later applied to a variety of
formal prototypes and to pieces of otherwise indeterminate genre.55

Several aspects of this definition are worth noting. Permeating every aspect of the

55 David Ledbetter, “Prelude”.

definition is the idea that historically, the prelude has been composed for

instructional use by students. Secondly, the prelude came out of an improvisatory

practice, something which is evident in many preludes of Bach's WTC and also in

many exercises of the Gradus. Next, the prelude has always been closely tied to

the instrument on which it was being played. Finally, a technical aim has

traditionally been a large part of a prelude’s purpose. These four aspects

accurately describe many of the preludes in Bach’s WTC, but they can also be

used to help define and organize many of the otherwise formless exercises of the


A didactic intent is clearly present in all aspects of both the WTC and the

Gradus. For Bach, the WTC was primarily a teaching resource, part of his

instructional regimen. Improvisation, knowledge of the instrument, and finger

and hand technique are all built into the fabric of the WTC. The preludes were a

means to explore all possibilities of these three aspects of musicianship.

Clementi’s Gradus operates on a similar level. While fugues are a part of the

Gradus, as they are in the WTC, it is the other prelude-like pieces in which one

can find these same three essential tools for developing musicians.

Improvisatory Style

Improvisation was an essential part of keyboard playing for both Bach and

Clementi. They were both famous for their improvisatory prowess, but their

methods for improvising were very different. Bach’s improvisatory-type

compositions in the preludes of the WTC consist of three different kinds, and

generally display a free formal structure. First, there is the virtuosic

improvisation or flourish, specifically designed to show off the harpsichord.

Next, melodic improvisation often comes over block chords and is of a more

expressive type. Finally, harmonic improvisation can be heard in preludes whose

figurations stay consistent throughout the piece.

Virtuosic improvisation is best seen in the C-minor, D-major, B-flat-major,

and E-flat-major preludes of Book I. It generally consists of fast right hand

passagework, lacks a left hand accompaniment, and is usually scalar but can also

be composed of arpeggiated chords.

With three tempo changes and four stylistic variations, the C-minor

prelude at times seems like a free improvisation and rarely feels like a

preconceived composition. The first 24 measures work together as variations of

the same motif, but measure 25 introduces a series of broken arpeggios. After

three measures of this, the Presto tempo marking signifies not only a new tempo,

but also a new mood. Six measures later, a free-style right hand improvisation on

a scale is accompanied by an Adagio tempo (see Figure 1).56 The piece ends with

a short, wandering figuration in Allegro. The piece as a whole exhibits a quickly

changing, improvisatory free form, but the Adagio section represents the virtuosic

scalar-type improvisation.

Figure 1: C-minor Prelude, Book I

56 All Well-Tempered Clavier examples come from: Johann Sebastian Bach, The Well-Tempered
Clavier: Books I and II, Complete (New York; Dover, 1984).
The D-major prelude from Book I contains a similar passage (see figure

2). For a single measure at m. 33, a rolled chord is followed by a rapid scalar

passage in just the right hand. The chromatically ascending rolled chords in m. 34

also appear improvisational, and these are followed by a simple cadential

progression which marks the end of the piece.

Figure 2: D-major Prelude, Book I

The D-minor prelude in Book I has a similar structure to the D-major.

While the majority of the piece is composed out with clear harmonic and voice

leading patterns, the last few measures leave out the left hand and feature a

chromatic descent in the right hand (see figure 3). In this prelude, as well as in

the D-major and the C-minor, discussed above, Bach includes these virtuosic

passages just before the end of the piece. Evidently, it was used as a cadenza-type

passage, improvised but quick, to end the prelude with a flourish.

Figure 3: D-minor Prelude, Book I

In contrast to these three preludes, the E-flat-major Prelude from Book I

contains an improvised scalar passage near the beginning of the piece (see figure

4). Just eight measures in, Bach holds a pedal tone while writing in thirty-second

note flourishes for two measures. This is followed by a chorale-like fugato,

which is subsequently embellished for almost sixty measures, until the end of the

piece. The structure of this prelude is more regimented; the first ten measures

serves as an introduction to the fugato, which then repeats with embellishment

until the end of the piece. Because of this, it seems that the flourish is intended to

introduce the fugato section, and it almost seems as if it is a prelude within a


Figure 4: E-flat Major Prelude, Book I

The B-flat-major prelude in Book I is unusual in terms of improvisation.

It is extremely short at only twenty measures, and formally very free (see figure

5). Virtuosic improvisatory passages abound; in fact, nearly the entire piece

consists of scalar and arpeggiated virtuosic writing. Fast scales intersperse with

arpeggios in both hands.

Figure 5: b-flat major, Book I

Melodic improvisation differs from virtuosic improvisation primarily in its

slower tempo. The E-flat-minor and E-minor preludes contain examples of

melodic improvisation. This kind of improvisation is usually in the right hand

and is often accompanied by block or broken chords as well as repeated

figurations. The melodic content in these types of preludes is generally

wandering, lacks a clear theme or motive, and contains little development.

The E-flat-minor Prelude from Book I consists primarily of block and

broken chords in the left hand and a slowly moving melody in the right (see figure

6). The melody serves as an embellishment of the moving harmonies and has no

thematic content of its own. The melody moves from right to left hand at several

points in the piece, but the majority remains in the right hand.

Figure 6: E-flat-minor Prelude, Book I

The E-minor Prelude from Book I uses a repeated harmonic figuration in

the left hand and builds a melody on top (see figure 7). In many ways it is similar

to the E-flat-minor Prelude; the melody contains no clear theme and does not

develop. At measure 23, however, a new tempo indicates Presto and the piece

suddenly changes character. At this point, the right hand takes on the left hand’s

figuration and the piece loses its improvisatory feel.

Figure 7: E-minor Prelude, Book I

The third type, harmonic improvisation, is present in the C-major prelude

from Book I and in the C-sharp-major prelude from Book II. Repeated

figurations and regularly moving harmonies are characteristic of this type of


The C-major prelude from Book I consists of a repeated figuration which

is shared by both hands (see figure 8). The figuration is repeated twice each

measure, while the harmony changes every measure. Because the figuration

continues throughout the piece, the only changes come in the harmonies.

Figure 8: C-major Prelude, Book I

The C-sharp-major prelude from Book II also falls into this category (see

figure 9). Here, the figuration remains the same, twice per measure, while the

harmony changes at the same rate. This pattern is interrupted at measure 25,

when a Presto tempo is introduced and an imitative section begins.

Figure 9: c-sharp major, Book II

In comparison to Bach's WTC, Clementi’s improvisatory-type writing style

in the Gradus is less clear-cut. There is a gray area between flourishes, melodic

improvisation, and harmonic improvisation, and even between written-out

improvisation and pre-planned composition. In general, though, Clementi’s

improvised-style exercises consist of two types; those which are short

introductions to fugues, and those as part of a larger exercise.

Brief improvisatory introductions appear in several Gradus exercises.

Exercise 18, for example, begins with a melodic improvisation on a dotted rhythm

and ends with a flourish before the fugato begins (see figure 10).57 The melody of

the improvisation happens to match in pitch content the fugato subject. The entire

introduction is five measures long, significantly shorter than any of Bach’s

preludes, and its function seems entirely instrumental in nature. A part of the

Grove article’s definition of the prelude rings particularly true in this case:

“[Notated preludes] grew out of improvisation and were a means…of loosening

the player’s fingers.” The slow start and fast finish of this introduction make it

57 All Gradus figures come from: Muzio Clementi, Works for Pianoforte Solo, Volume 5:
Gradus ad Parnassum, ed. Nicholas Temperley (New York; Garland, 1987).
good as a gradual warmup for loosening the fingers. Combined with its

improvised-like content, these features mark it as a prelude in function if not in


Figure 10: Exercise 18

Exercise 25 contains a similarly short introduction (see figure 11). Only

nine measures long, it also serves as a forward to a fugue. Its material is unrelated

to the fugue which follows, but it is slightly developed on its own. Instead of a

flourish at the end, this introduction has a more wandering melody with an

intermittent flourish or two.

Figure 11: Exercise 25

Exercise 62, while similar to exercises 18 and 25 in its introductory role,

is unique in the fact that it prefaces an Allegro movement rather than a fugue (see

figure 12). This short introduction consists almost entirely of virtuosic runs, with

very little melodic material. Again, it is very short at only six measures, and the

subsequent Allegro is more composed out.

Figure 12: Exercise 62

Exercises 38 and 39 are examples of Clementi’s non-introduction

improvisatory-like keyboard writing within a larger exercise. As is typical of this

structure in Clementi’s exercises, he flits in and out of his improvisatory style,

combining it with more composed-out passages.

Exercise 38 begins with a rapid upward-motion scale figuration followed

by a fermata (see figure 13). The constantly varying melodic material, virtuosic

solo right hand passages, and static harmonies create a sense of improvisation for

the first two pages of this extended exercise. The musical content following this

feels more composed out, but it returns to improvisatory writing on the fourth,

sixth, and eighth pages.

Figure 13: Exercise 38

Exercise 39 features smaller sections of improvised material within larger

sections of composed-out material (see figure 15). This is typical shifting back

and forth of Clementi's compositional style where it becomes difficult to draw the

line between improvisation and composition. Here, virtuosic improvisational runs

sometimes reappear and transform into the melodic material.

Figure 14: Exercise 39

Idiomatic Writing for the Instrument

The type of instrument intended for the specific prelude or exercise played

an essential role in the identity of the musical work. The Grove includes in its

definition that preludes “were a means of checking the tuning of the instrument

and the quality of its tone, and of loosening the player’s fingers.” This instrument

specificity is apparent in both Bach and Clementi’s writing. Some of Bach’s

preludes are clearly intended for the harpsichord; others are more suited to the

clavichord. Clementi’s exercises in turn frequently make full use of the piano’s

possibilities. The improvisatory sections are ones that also show off the

capabilities of all these instruments, but there are other preludes and exercises that

were written with a particular keyboard instrument in mind.

Certain qualities of the D-major and D-minor preludes in Book I, for

example, suggest harpsichord writing (see figures 15 and 16). These two pieces

match in texture, with running sixteenths in the right hand accompanied by

straight eighths in the left. The sharp timbre and textural clarity of the

harpsichord works especially well with this kind of writing. In both of these

pieces, few notes are held for long, certainly short enough so that the line is still in

the listener's ear by the time the next note is played. Dynamic changes and

expressive intent are secondary to razor-sharp articulation in these pieces,

skewing the instrument of choice toward the harpsichord as well.

Figure 15: D-major Prelude, Book I

Figure 16: D-minor Prelude, Book I

In contrast, Bach's prelude in c-sharp minor, Book I, is an example of a

prelude more suited to the clavichord (see figure 17). From the start, long held

notes and a slow tempo require an instrument with more sustaining power than a

harpsichord. The variety of voices, including inner voices and ones containing

long notes, necessitate an instrument that can play with dynamic nuances and

different note lengths. The clavichord is the obvious choice.

Figure 17: C-sharp-minor Prelude, Book I

Turning to the Gradus, many of the exercises are highly idiomatic to the

piano, and Clementi's writing in general makes full use of the piano's capabilities.

In comparison to Clementi's fugues, which could be played on any keyboard

instrument, many of the non-fugal pieces in the Gradus can only be played on a

piano. Exercise 39, in particular, highlights the kind of writing that marks these

pieces as only for the piano. This exercise can be contrasted with the very next

exercise, a fugue, so as to see how Clementi differentiated between his fugues and

the more pianistic exercises.

Exercise 39 is marked “Adagio con grand Espressione,” a marking which

immediately indicates a sense of temporal give-and-take (see figure 14).

Performance markings in this piece are extensive, including a crescendo or

decrescendo, along with a dynamic marking, nearly every measure (see figure

14). The dynamics change quickly and in great contrast, with ff or f markings

often following p markings. However, there are also instances of more subtle

dynamic changes, such as a p which crescendos to an mp or a p going to a pp.

Clementi often writes sempre legato and ten., and pedal markings are fairly

common. All of these markings are specifically for the piano of the time,

especially the sempre legato and tenuto, which would have been impossible on
English pianos of only a few decades earlier.

Exercise 40 stands in contrast to the preceding exercise. It is a fugue, and

contains few performance markings(see figure 18). Nearly the only dynamic

marking in the piece is f, which is written once at the beginning and once at

measure 22. The only crescendo comes just before this second f and just after the

only p, and the exercise has few markings besides this.

Figure 18: Exercise 40

The dramatic difference in performance markings between the two

exercises underscores the idea that exercise 39 was meant as an exercise in

pianistic textures, as something which could be played not only on a piano, but on

a new contemporary piano. The subsequent exercise, with its sparse performance

markings, could be performed on a variety of keyboard instruments.

The idea of idiomatic writing for specific keyboard instruments in

preludes ties closely to improvisation. Exercise 62, discussed above, is a short

introductory improvisation which contains extensive performance markings, some

legato playing and several virtuosic passages(refer to figure 12). This is because

the purpose of these improvisatory introductions is to test the limits of the

instrument. As we can see in exercise 62, for Clementi this means that

introductory improvisations usually contain different types of hand techniques

and test out aspects of the instrument such as dynamic range, sustain ability, and


Both Bach and Clementi use these works to bring the player closer in

touch with the possibilities of his instrument. For Bach, his instruments of choice

were the harpsichord and the clavichord. Clementi wrote for the piano. Because

of this, the resulting works appear very different, but the intent, coming out of a

common idea of the prelude, remains the same for both.

Didactic and Technical Studies

In addition to instrument specificity, keyboard technique is an integral part

of the prelude. As the Grove Online states, “a particular aspect of instrumental

technique...remained an important part of the prelude.” The article goes on to say

specifically of Bach’s WTC that “his collection is also didactic, using preludes to

demonstrate techniques of fingering and composition, and including examples of

many formal prototypes which the unspecific title ‘praeludium’ allowed him to

treat with some freedom.”58 Importantly, these preludes do not deal with

technique in its entirety; instead, a particular aspect of technique is addressed in

each piece.

Bach’s preludes isolate several kinds of techniques, the major ones being

chord shapes, finger extensions, and melodic projection. While multiple preludes

58 Ledbetter, “Prelude”.
work on each of these techniques, they all implement them in different ways.

The C major prelude from Book I is the most elementary prelude that

teaches chord shapes(see figure 8). The figuration it uses requires little hand

movement, and the shapes it teaches form the most common chords in Bach’s

tonal language. The pattern remains the same throughout the piece, and only the

last two measures stray the smallest margin from the established motif.

The D-minor prelude from Book I shares a common technical goal with

the C-major prelude (see figure 16). Learning chord shapes is the goal in this

exercise. The difficulty is higher than the C major; the player must learn to jump

with the right hand and find the new chord at the same time. Each chord shape is

only three notes in a single hand with a one-note left hand accompaniment, rather

than the fully fleshed-out five note chords found in the C-major prelude.

The C-sharp-major prelude from Book I helps practice chord shapes as

well. In this prelude, the chord shapes do not arrive until about halfway through

the piece (see figure 18). At this point, the chords are given primarily to the left

hand, an inversion of the technique introduced in the C-major prelude.

Figure 18: C-sharp-major Prelude, Book I

The F-major prelude from Book I practices chord shapes in a more hidden

way. Both the left and the right hands play broken chords, but the right hand

mixes chords among scalar passages (see figure 19). These scalar and chordal

patterns are passed from hand to hand. This prelude also practices trills at the

same time.

Figure 19: F- major Prelude, Book I

Preludes that work on little finger and thumb extension are also prevalent

in the WTC. The C-minor prelude in Book I works on both of these aspects of

technique, in both hands at the same time (see figure 20). It works mainly the

little finger of each hand, at each interval from a third to a sixth. The unchanging

figuration allows the student to repetitively practice finger extension, but the

changing harmonies and intervals keeps it continually fresh.

Figure 20: C-minor Prelude, Book I

The D-major prelude allows continued practice of the extension technique

introduced by the c minor prelude, but in a different way. This prelude practices

the right hand only, but it helps both thumb and little finger of the right hand (see

figure 15). The jumps are more difficult than in the c minor prelude, and it

requires the entire hand to move from one position to the next instead of just the


The E-minor prelude takes the hand jumping idea of the D-major prelude

and applies it to both hands at once (see figure 21). The first half of the piece, as I

have discussed above, amounts to a melodic improvisation, but at the Presto

tempo marking, the hands play in rhythmic unison. At this point, thumb and little

finger jumps occur simultaneously in both hands.

Figure 21: E-minor Prelude, Book I

While chord shapes and finger extension apply equally to any keyboard

instrument, projecting a melody was mostly important, in Bach’s time, for playing

on the clavichord. The clavichord was the only keyboard instrument which gave

the player the ability to change dynamics and timbre at will, and practicing a

melodic line would make the most of these capabilities. Rhythmic contour of a

melody is possible on any keyboard instrument, which makes these pieces

somewhat useful to practice on the harpsichord as well.

The E-flat-minor prelude practices a slow, expressive melodic line (see

figure 6). Its slow tempo forces the player to account for space between melody

notes, which when filled become a legato line. Because of the block and broken

chords that constitute the majority of the accompaniment, the melody is relatively

easy to project. When it passes to the left hand, an adjustment must be made and

the right hand should become quieter.

The C-sharp-minor prelude, like the E-flat minor prelude, is in a slow

tempo. The melody here is fairly simple, and is passed between the hands at

certain points in the piece which practices both hands equally (see figure 17). A

large part of the difficulty in this piece is accounting for the large melodic jumps

in either hand, as in the first four measures. Connecting the melodic notes in

octave leaps, and shaping the melody in a way that makes musical sense are


The E-major prelude is typically played at a faster tempo than the other

two melodic preludes. The difficulty in this one is bringing out the melody over

the other parts (see figure 22). The busyness of the hands makes this task

particularly difficult. As I discussed above, the clavichord was the melodic

keyboard instrument of Bach’s time, so an expressive melodic technique would

likely have been practiced on that instrument.

Figure 22: E-major Prelude, Book I

This technique-oriented conception of the prelude was perhaps the most

important for Clementi. As first and foremost a virtuoso technician of the

keyboard, he was surely an astute observer of this aspect of Bach’s preludes and

many of the exercises of the Gradus have a primarily technical function.

However, the exercises do not practice the same specific techniques as Bach's

preludes. Through a combination of factors, including the new piano and shifting

musical styles, keyboard technique changed dramatically in the century between

the publication of the WTC and the Gradus. Rather than chord shapes, finger

extension and melodic projection, Clementi's exercises work different types of

techniques. In the Gradus, finger independence and playing with hands together

form the first grouping; octaves, thirds, and sixths, the next; scales and arpeggios

round out the three most common types of technical exercises. The following

examples are only a sampling of Clementi’s exhaustive technical exercises in the

Gradus. For a complete list, see Appendix A.

Twenty-four of the forty-four exercises devoted to hand technique in the

Gradus are intended for finger independence and playing with hands together,

marking this broad category as the most important for Clementi. The very first

exercise in the Gradus is meant to practice finger strength and independence (see

figure 23).

Figure 23: Exercise 1

Exercise 2 is the first to practice hands together. To be clear, when I say

hands together I am referring to pieces or sections of pieces in which both hands

simultaneously play the same rhythmic configuration. As is common in

Clementi’s exercises, exercise 2 begins with the hands separated, then eventually

adds the parts together so that the hands are playing simultaneously (see figure

24). Many of the exercises that work on other aspects of technique can also be

put into the hands together category, since Clementi realized the importance of

being able to play every technique in both hands.

Figure 24: Exercise 2

While Clementi implemented playing with hands together into many of his

exercises, exercise 36 is one of the few which concentrates entirely on this aspect

of technique (see figure 25). In this one, the two hands play the same melodic

figuration as well as the same rhythmic figuration, the purpose of which is to

build hand strength equally between the two hands.

Figure 25: Exercise 36

Exx. 16 and 17 form the first pair of exercises devoted to improving scales

(see figures 26 and 27). Exercise 16 concentrates on the right hand only, and

avoids most thumb crossings by including only five consecutive notes at a time.

Exercise 17 continues the work of the previous exercise, this time in the left hand.

Neither of these exercises constitutes a complete scale workout, however.

Because there is so little thumb crossing, other exercises must supplement the

technique acquired by playing these pieces. Clementi included them with this

idea in mind, which is indicated by the heading over exercise 16: “To equalize the

power of the fingers.” These act as preparatory studies to achieve equal finger

strength before moving on to full-octave scales.

Figure 26: Exercise 16

Figure 27: Exercise 17

Exercises 31 and 35 also work on improving scales, but in different ways

from the previous exercises. Exercise 31 (see figure 28) implements this

indirectly, by providing repetitive thumb crossing patterns. At times, the hands

play together and both work on thumb crossing, but most of the piece is devoted

to improving the right hand. Exercise 35 (see figure 29) also works on thumb

crossing in both hands for most of the piece.

Figure 28: Exercise 31

Figure 29: Exercise 35

Exercise 64 demands extreme rapidity when trading short scale segments

between the two hands (see figure 30). There is a sort of progression here; this

exercise is much easier after diligently practicing exercises16 and 17.

Figure 30: Exercise 64

Exercises 9 and 12 are written to help with swiftness and dexterity in

arpeggio playing. As the first in the three volumes to work on this technique,

exercise 9 is relatively straightforward (see figure 31). The right and left hands

exchange the arpeggiations, and scales are worked into the second half of many

measures. Upward-moving arpeggios in the first half of the piece give way to

descending arpeggios in the latter portion. Exercise 12 works on hand shapes

when playing arpeggios (see figure 32). Similar in conception to Bach’s D major

prelude, this exercise uses a repeating figuration and forces the player to jump

hand positions, rather than use thumbs-under or finger positions.

Figure 31: Exercise 9

Figure 32: Exercise 12

Perhaps the techniques for which Clementi was most famous, octaves,

thirds, and sixths make up a large chunk of the Gradus’ technical exercises.

Exercise 15 is the first to include thirds, first in the right hand and then between

the hands (see figure 33). This exercise includes sixths as well, mostly in the right

hand. Like the first exercise to work on scales, this one requires little thumb

crossing, in order to strengthen the basic hand position used to play thirds.

However, this exercise is more varied in its many different approaches to playing

thirds and sixths. In itself, it represents a progression of third and sixth technique,

becoming more difficult as the piece goes on.

Figure 33: Exercise 15

Exercise 21 practices broken octaves (see figure 34). Broken octaves are

closely related to solid octaves in terms of the hand resources they require, but

they are different enough that separate pieces produce a better result. This

exercise contains only broken octaves, as does exercise 30, while exercise 65 has

only solid octaves. Octaves are less common than thirds and sixths in Clementi’s

repertoire; only three exercises are devoted to them, as opposed to six for thirds

and sixths.

Figure 34: Exercise 21

The examples I have used are only a smattering of the extensive number

of Bach’s preludes and Clementi’s exercises that exhibit the qualities I discussed

at the outset. Improvisation, instrument-specificity, and technique are clearly

present in great abundance, and are certainly three of the most important didactic

aspects for both Bach and Clementi. I do not mean to suggest that Clementi’s

exercises ARE preludes, for if he meant them to be then he probably would have

labeled them as such. Rather, I have shown how the exercises he wrote fall into a

clear tradition of the prelude, specifically the prelude as a teaching tool, and that

his Gradus is closely connected to the WTC on a conceptual level. This is an

observation that scholars and musicians have made since the first publication of

the Gradus, but it has never been fully explored until now.


In the four chapters of this thesis, I have shown how Clementi’s Gradus

and Bach’s WTC are two works closely connected, not in formal design or

musical content, but rather in conception and function. The two works are in fact

very different in design; the WTC consists of highly ordered pairs of pieces, while

the Gradus is a haphazard arrangement of suites and individual pieces. However,

each chapter reveals different ways of approaching these two works to discover

their similarity.

In chapter 1 we saw how the WTC was first compiled and used by Bach.

The history of scholarship on the preludes of the WTC revealed the extent to

which the preludes defy stylistic categorization, and I propose that the best way to

think about them is in terms of their function.

Chapter 2 argues that the Bach preludes and Clementi exercises are

fundamentally tied to their intended instrument. While we will probably never

know for sure what Bach had in mind when compiling the WTC, our knowledge

of his available instruments combined with the music itself can tell us a great deal

about instrumental intentions. Clementi's Gradus is similarly instrument-specific,

but for the piano rather than the clavichord or harpsichord.

Chapter 3 outlines the influences of Bach and the piano on Clementi’s life.

Clementi was one of the first composers to collect and study music of the past, a

passion which he passed on to his students. Although his shift from the

harpsichord to the piano came later in his life, it had a profound effect on his

music, as evidenced in the Gradus.

Chapter 4 considers the WTC and the Gradus from the perspective of

improvisation and instrumental technique, each of which stem from the prelude

tradition. It also points to how, unlike the fugues, Bach’s preludes and many of

Clementi’s exercises are clearly intended for a specific instrument.

Clearly, the two works are closely related, and Bach had a profound effect

on Clementi’s music. The question that remains is this; what impact did this have

on Clementi’s successors and the wider world of piano music, and does this let us

view aspects of music history in a different way?

In the English Bach Revival, Clementi’s role has been acknowledged

within scholarship, but to a limited extent. Part of this is surely due to the dearth

in source material showing his influence as a teacher of Bach’s music, and the

comparative plethora of sources pointing to the championing of Bach’s music by

figureheads of the movement such as Samuel Wesley. This thesis shows the

strong impact of Bach’s music on Clementi’s life, and suggests that the older

composer’s works were an essential part of Clementi’s successful teaching regime

which introduced Bach’s keyboard works to an entire generation of young


Clementi’s interest in Bach’s preludes also impacted the path of the genre

for future composers. The prelude continued to make a place for itself in the

nineteenth century piano repertoire. Beethoven wrote two preludes, Op. 39, each

one cycling through all major keys. Chopin wrote a set of twenty-four preludes in

all keys. Later on, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, and Debussy all wrote sets of

preludes. As we can see, these publications, with their survey of keys, owe a

great deal to Bach. But did Clementi’s exercises as interpretations of Bach’s

preludes have an influence on later generations? In order to answer this question,

we must look not at the prelude, but instead at a different genre entirely, one

which does not share the prelude’s name but which shares all of the prelude’s

values as outlined in this thesis. That genre is the etude.

The piano etude took on many of the same qualities, such as virtuosic,

improvisatory writing and a didactic intent, shared by the preludes of the WTC

and Clementi's exercises. Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Ignaz Moscheles, and

Henri Bertini were all piano virtuosi of the generation after Clementi who wrote

sets of piano etudes. Hummel studied directly with Clementi in London,59 while

the younger Bertini60 and Moscheles studied Clementi's music through others.61 It

is no coincidence that all three of these pianists wrote etudes in multiples of 12.

Bertini wrote two sets of 24 etudes, Hummel wrote a single set of 24, while

Moscheles composed two sets of 12. Clementi’s music, as evidenced in this study

of the Gradus, is the clear link between the etudes of these virtuoso pianists and

Bach’s WTC.

Future generations continued the etude tradition. Robert Schumann wrote

six etudes, while Chopin wrote two sets of 12. Liszt wrote 12 books of technical

studies, Charles-Valentin Alkan wrote 12 etudes in the major keys and 12 etudes

in the minor keys, Saint-Saens wrote two sets of 6, and the list goes on. The

association between the WTC and the piano etude is clear, with Clementi's

59 Joel Sachs, Hummel, Johann Nepomuk. Grove Music Online, accessed 3/31/09.
60 Hugh Macdonald, Bertini, Henri(-Jérôme). Grove Music Online, accessed 3/31/09
61 Jerome Roche/Henry Roche, Moscheles, Ignaz (Isaac). Grove Music Online, accessed
interpretation of Bach's preludes as evidenced by his Gradus as the linchpin.

To date, Clementi’s significance in influencing this vast repertoire of piano

music has been underappreciated, indeed even completely ignored. His nickname

“Father of the piano” now has new meaning; not only did he provide a career

model for future generations of pianists, but he also discovered and promoted the

basic didactic repertoire for the nineteenth-century piano virtuoso. As such,

through Clementi’s efforts, the Bach legacy in keyboard music was passed down

to future generations of pianists.

Appendix A: Gradus and WTC Keyboard Technique


• Chord shapes: C major, D minor, F major, C-sharp major

• Little finger and thumb extension: C minor, D major, E minor
• Melodic projection: E major, C-sharp minor, E-flat minor
• Sustained notes in broken chords: F minor
• Evolutions: F-sharp minor, G major
• Trills for outside fingers: A minor
• Amalgamation of old and new techniques: B-flat major


 Finger independence: exercises 1,2,3,27,46,99

 Fluidity of scales: exercises 16,17,44,64,86,87
 Repetition of notes: exercises 1,20,27,34,82
 Multiple lines in RH: exercises 15,22,23,32,81
 Multiple lines in LH: exercises 32,100
 Hands together: exercises 7,21,28,31,36,44,72,76,77,78,95
 Arpeggios: exercises 9,12,24,37,44,72
 Octaves (including broken): exercises 21,30,65
 Thirds, sixths, etc.: exercises 15,65,68,78,82,99
 Weak digits: exercises 7,19,28,47
 Thumb crossing: exercises 31,35
 Trills: exercises 32,50,88
 Crossing hands: exercise 79
 Changing fingers on an already-depressed key: exercise 96


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