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The famous composer who worked in a shop

Invoices bearing letterheads can often be found among boxes of ephemera at auctions, but rarely does one come across an invoice on which a letter has been appended, especially one signed by a famous Italian composer. But when that composer is also the part-owner of probably the most famous piano retailers in Georgian London, you’ve got something rather special.

Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) composed around 110 piano sonatas and was greatly admired by Beethoven. In 1798 he became a partner with Collard and Collard in a company that boasted the patronage of both the Royal Family and the East India Company. With a manufactory in Tottenham Court Road and a shop at 26, Cheapside, Clementi, Collard and Collard were for many years the best know musical instrument makers in London and as such were the go-to establishment for well heeled musical amateurs throughout the Empire.

This particular invoice, which was for 'An elegant new Piano Forte of 6 Octaves…with round corners on six legs', is  addressed to 'John F Halahan, MD, Assistant Surgeon, Royal Artillery, Montreal', and is dated August 17th 1824. It reveals that the full cost, with packing case included, came to 42 guineas, but this was reduced to £31 10s for cash. Additional expenses included freight charges of a mere £1 2s 6d and insurance at £1 11s 6d. Dr Halahan had already handed over 30 guineas cash as a down payment, leaving a balance of £14 6s 6d.

The piano was evidently a present for the surgeon’s brother, which is confirmed by a letter on the reverse of the bill dated 2 September, which Signor Clementi probably dictated to an accounts clerk.

It must be assumed that the instrument was duly shipped onto the ‘Harlequin ‘ (Captain J Hall ) and reached its new owner safely in time for Christmas. As for Clementi, later on that same year ‘the father of the pianoforte’ had the honour of having his symphonies featured in 5 of the 6 Concerts of Ancient Music held at the King’s Theatre.

In the end, Clementi retired from his shop and in 1830 moved to Lyncroft House (still there), on the Stafford Road just outside Lichfield. By 1832 he was living in Evesham, where he died aged 80. [R]

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