Thursday, 19 September 2019

A celebrated composer
is remembered at his
former home in Lichfield

The Hedgehog Vintage Inn in Lichfield in September sunshine this week … as Lyncroft House, it was the home of the composer Muzio Clementi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

During my return visit to Lichfield this week, I was staying again at the Hedgehog Vintage Inn on Stafford Road. It is just a stroll from the centre of Lichfield, yet retains its rural charm and rustic character.

During this week’s visit, I was delighted to see a plaque at the front door that was unveiled last year to honour the 19th century composer Muzio Clementi, who lived here when it was known as Lyncroft House after he moved to England from Italy in 1830.

The plaque was proposed by Lichfield Civic Society, which hosted my lecture in Lichfield earlier this week, and was unveiled by the chair of the Swedish Clementi Society, Bengt Hultman.

Lyncroft House was built in 1797. A few decades later, the house was home to Muzio Clementi (1752-1832), a celebrated composer, piano-maker, conductor and music publisher.

Critics in the 19th century enthusiastically praised Clementi as ‘the father of the pianoforte,’ the ‘father of modern piano technique,’ and the ‘father of Romantic pianistic virtuosity.’ He also wrote four symphonies.

The plaque commemorating Muzio Clementi at the Hedgehog Vintage Inn in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Muzio Clementi was born Muzio Filippo Vincenzo Francesco Saverio Clementi in Rome on 24 January 1752, the son of Nicolo Clementi and Magdalena Kaiser. The child Clementi was a prodigy and was brought to England at the age of 14 by George Pitt’s son-in-law, Peter Beckford (1740-1811), who promised the boy’s father to have the boy provide music at his estate.

But Beckford was more interested in hunting than music, and left the youth to his own ways. Clementi practiced for hours on end each day, building up an unrivalled technique. He was soon touring Europe, and on one of those concert tours, he took part in a piano-playing contest with Mozart – who found Clementi’s playing impressive but devoid of emotion.

It is said he had a notable influence on Beethoven. In pre-revolutionary Paris, he played with great success for Marie Antoinette, and later played for the Habsburg Emperor Joseph II in Vienna. He also wrote four symphonies.

Back in England, Clementi’s celebrity as a performer was not matched by business acumen. He invested in a London company, Longman and Broderip, that soon went bankrupt. Eventually, Clementi & Co prospered as publishers. But Clementi’s large corpus of educational music, including piano-lesson staples such as his Gradus ad Parnassum and Sonatinas, diluted his reputation as a composer, even though they sold handsomely.

Clementi also developed a reputation as a piano manufacturer. He preferred a light, transparent action on his pianos, but his firm’s most noteworthy innovation was a ‘harmonic swell,’ developed by Clementi’s partner, William Frederick Collard.

Clementi’s pianos embody both the era’s musical evolution and the highly developed technique and taste of Clementi himself, squaring a tendency towards bigger, louder instruments with the older Classical virtues of clarity and clean articulation.

Clementi married his first wife Caroline Lehmann in 1804, and his second wife Emma Gisborne in 1811 at the Old Church, St Pancras, London.

When he retired, Clementi moved to Lichfield in 1830, and made his home at Lyncroft House, which was built in 1797. However, he never performed publicly in Lichfield. He died on 10 March 1832 at Evesham in Worcestershire. When he was buried in Westminster Abbey on 29 March 1832, his coffin was carried by three former pupils, Johann Baptist Cramer, Ignaz Moscheles and the Dublin-born pianist and composer John Field (1782-1837). Field died five years later in Moscow.

Many of the trees at the Hedgehog may date back to Muzio Clementi’s time in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Last year, I came across an unusual connection that links Lichfield with Kerry. Iveragh Lodge in Waterville was built as a shooting lodge in 1858 by John Clementi, a son of the composer Muzio Clementi and his second wife Emma.

Iveragh Lodge was bought in 1884 by the original Commercial Cable Company as its Waterville offices and as the superintendent’s residence. The Transatlantic Telegraph Company ran the first undersea cable connecting Europe to America. New office buildings were completed in 1899, but Iveragh Lodge remained the superintendent’s residence until the company sold its Waterville properties in 1964.

John Clementi married Charlotte Grace, daughter of George Grace, on 28 January 1849 at Saint James’s Church in Piccadilly, London, and built his house in Waterville, Co Kerry, in 1858.

I have been unable to trace his life story after he sold Iveragh Lodge, or whether he ever returned to Lichfield after his father’s death. His brother, the Revd Vincent Clementi (1814-1899), was ordained in the Diocese of Canterbury and later lived in Canada. A nephew, Sir Cecil Clementi Smith (1840-1916), was Governor of Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and later generations of the Clementi family included diplomats, bankers, sculptors and Anglican priests.

After Clementi moved out, Lyncroft House became the home of the Revd Henry Gylby Lonsdale (1791-1851) when he became Vicar of Saint Mary’s in Lichfield in 1830 – at the time there was no vicarage for Saint Mary’s. Lonsdale came from a well-known clerical family that had Anglican clergy in at least four successive generations.

While he was Vicar of Saint Mary’s, his brother, John Lonsdale (1788-1867), was Bishop of Lichfield (1843-1867). Bishop Lonsdale was the founder of Lichfield Theological College, a supporter of the abolitionist Wilberforce and a friend of the radical theologian FD Maurice. It was said at the time of his death that he was the best bishop the Diocese of Lichfield had ever had, the ‘perfect model of justice, kindness, humility and shrewd sense.’

While he was living at Lyncroft House, Henry Lonsdale proposed rebuilding Saint Mary’s in a Victorian Gothic style. The new church would serve as his memorial, and when Henry Lonsdale died at Lyncroft House on 31 January 1851, he was buried beneath the west tower of Saint Mary’s.

His nephew, Canon John Gylby Lonsdale (1818-1907), later became Vicar of Saint Mary’s (1866-1878), and oversaw the completion of the building programme. He was the father of Sophia Lonsdale, one of Lichfield’s great Victorian social reformers. In the 1880s, she declared that Lichfield’s slums were worse than anything she had seen in London. She was an active in demands for poor law reforms and her outspoken criticism eventually led to a slum clearance programme in Lichfield from the 1890s on.

When she died in 1936 at the age of 82, Sophia Lonsdale was described in an obituary in The Times as ‘remarkable in her generation … She was absolutely fearless and disinterested.’ It added: ‘Her strong sense of religion was the directing star of all her activities.’

The Lonsdale family is still remembered in the name of Lonsdale, a house on Beacon Street that I have walked by a number of times this week.

Other residents of Lyncroft House included Dr Charles Holland, and the artist Henry Gastineau (1791-1876), who lived there in 1863-1864.

Today, Muzio Clementi’s former home in Lichfield, Lyncroft House, is the Hedgehog Vintage Inn. It has been beautifully restored in recent years. It stands in its own grounds, with large gardens and commanding views across Lichfield and the Staffordshire countryside.

As well as the plaque at the front door, one of the guest rooms is also named Muzio Clementi in honour of the composer.

Muzio Clementi’s time at Lyncroft House is also celebrated in the name of a guest room at the Hedgehog (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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