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Piano Sonata in D major, Op 37 No 3

'Clementi: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 5' (CDA67814)
Clementi: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 5
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Movement 1: Allegro
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Movement 2: Allegretto vivace
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Movement 3: Finale: Presto
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Piano Sonata in D major, Op 37 No 3
The Op 37 Sonatas are ambitious and technically demanding, though none of the three rises to the heights of passionate expression of the G minor Sonata of Op 34. The first one, in C major, starts off with a theme of a sort that Clementi often writes: a melody in the treble is supported—or, in some ways, opposed—by an insistent tonic pedal point below, embodied in a broken octave or ‘murky bass’ accompaniment. This typically results in sharp dissonances and an overall impression of the ‘rustic’ or ‘pastoral’. The last bit of melodic material upon which the movement is built comes in similar garb, contributing to a pervasive air of conscious primitivism. The second sonata, too, begins with a theme accompanied by a tonic pedal point or drone, this one in simple repeated notes. But here the pedal point, G, has an inconspicuous F sharp upbeat attached, and Clementi makes that semitone shift a central building block of what turns out to be a strong movement. The second movements here are very dissimilar. That of the first sonata consists of a very simple frame with a great deal of added ornament; the second sonata has an attractive, spare, quasi-polyphonic saraband (‘In the Solemn Style’, says Clementi); the slow movement of the last sonata is mainly an exercise in severe two-part polyphony in even crochets (quarter notes).

The three finales in this set are all good-natured rondos, with the sort of home-spun rhythmically regular themes associated with this form. The reviewer for the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, a leading German musical journal, commented:

The one thing, in our opinion, that could be criticized in these sonatas is the indulgence in a mannerism that has recently become the fashion in England: the imitation of bagpipes—which, as we know, is the favourite and almost the only instrument of the Scots. Haydn too, in one of the most recent of his symphonies composed in London, has taken up this sort of burlesque. But such things should be introduced very cautiously, and (more importantly) very seldom. In this connection we may take note particularly of the third movement of the third sonata; it contrasts peculiarly with the beautiful preceding Allegretto …

This critic was put off by the 32-bar main theme of the rondo of the third sonata, all over an unmovable tonic D in the bass. But here Clementi aimed for a very special effect: he marked those 32 bars ‘open pedal’, such that the tonic chord, together with hugely dissonant sounds, are all enveloped in an atmospheric haze—one of the more successful, surely, of his experiments with this kind of texture. During the following decade Beethoven repeatedly indicated a similar use of the pedal, as in the ‘Moonlight’, ‘Tempest’, and ‘Waldstein’ sonatas, and in the Third Piano Concerto.

from notes by Leon Plantinga © 2010

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