In 1802, as the peace of Amiens offered a temporary respite from the ravages of the Napoleonic wars, Clementi, together with his tractable young Irish student John Field, set off on an eight-year tour of the European Continent. This time the conquests he sought had to do less with concerts than with commerce, with selling his company’s pianos and procuring new music for publication. But before setting off, Clementi made arrangements for his own firm’s publication of his three sonatas which appeared in September 1802 as ‘Opus 40, Book I’. This is the first of Clementi’s music to appear after 1800, and it seems quite at home in the new century. These sonatas are technically demanding, rather experimental in form, and of large dimensions, intended, it seems, for professional pianists or for advanced students like Field—but apparently not for Clementi’s own performances, for by this time he had essentially ceased playing in public.
The opening Sonata in G major is Clementi’s only sonata with four truly independent movements. But instead of a minuet or scherzo, for the third movement he presents a group of severe two-voice canons, abounding with the austere, often astringent sounds that come with his thin-textured imitative writing. The remaining movements of this first sonata are big-limbed structures with a good deal of leisurely ornament. The first shows the many internal cadences and two-handed figuration that suggest a missing orchestra and a possible origin as a concerto movement. The second is a luxuriantly ornate Adagio, sostenuto e cantabile in the distant key of E major; its irregular, sweeping figurations of as many as twenty notes to the rhythmic unit prefigure the piano sounds heard in Paris salons three decades later, as, for example, in Chopin’s Nocturne in F sharp major, Op 15 No 2.
from notes by Leon Plantinga © 2010