Beethoven Was Challenged To A Piano Duel. After What He Did, No One Dared Challenge Him Again

March 13, 2017

In the early 1800s, composer Daniel Steibelt challenged Ludwig Van Beethoven, one of the greatest composers and pianists who has ever lived, to a piano duel.

beethoven challenged to piano duel
Ludwig Van Beethoven

A native of Berlin, Daniel Steibelt was one of Europe's most renowned piano virtuosos. In 1800 he went to Vienna with the aim of advancing his musical reputation.

It was quickly agreed among the city's musical patrons that Steibelt should compete against Beethoven in an improvisation contest.

These improvisation contests were a popular form of entertainment among Vienna's aristocracy. The two pianists would compete with each other, each setting the other a tune to improvise on. The playing would go back and forth, increasing in intensity, until a winner was declared.

The contest between Beethoven and Steibelt

As the challenger, Steibelt played first. He walked to the piano, tossing a piece of his own music on the side, and played.

He rose to great applause, and all eyes turned to his opponent.

Beethoven walked up to the piano, picked up the piece of music Steibelt had tossed on the side, showed it the audience ... and turned it upside down!

He sat at the piano and played the four notes in the opening bar of Steibelt's music. He began to vary them, embellish them, and improvise on them for over an hour.

Steibelt, realizing he was not only being comprehensively outplayed but humiliated, walked out of the room well before Beethoven was finished. Steibelt said he would never again set foot in Vienna as long as Beethoven lived there.

Beethoven lived in Vienna for the rest of his life, and Steibelt kept his promise - he never returned.

Beethoven was never again asked to take on any piano virtuoso - his position as Vienna's supreme piano virtuoso was established. And those four notes - the first bar of Steibelt's music? They became, in time, the impetus that drives the Eroica Symphony.

(h/t) ClassicFM. Source: Thayer's Life of Beethoven, Vol 1

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