In 1777 Clementi's first London publication appeared: ‘The Black Joke, with 21 Variations … composed by Sigr. M. C.’. It is hard to imagine why Clementi should have wished to remain semi-anonymous, for these variations certainly include some of his most attractive music to date. The ‘Black Joke’ is a jig-like Irish folk tune which Clementi presents with a stark single-line accompaniment featuring bits of a tonic pedal-point suggestive of a drone. The variations that follow amount to a kind of anthology of keyboard figurations, some of which—like the fast runs in octaves in variations 10 and 20—were later to make Clementi famous. Patterns of repetition among the minor-key variations (14–15–14, 16–17–16) lend these groupings a certain autonomy as miniature ternary shapes. The final variation is a virtuoso tour de force, with octave figurations in both hands enlivened with poignant chromatic inflections.
from notes by Leon Plantinga © 2011