Daniel Steibelt was considered one of Europe’s most renowned piano virtuosos. That’s why, when he went to Vienna in 1800, it was agreed among the city’s patrons that he could challenge Beethoven, one of the greatest composers and pianists this world has ever known, to an improvisation duel.
At the time, musical improvisation contests were popular among Vienna’s aristocracy. Noblemen would support one pianist each and the two of them would compete, with each one setting a tune for the other to improvise on.
In this duel that took place in Lobkowitz’s palace, Prince Lobkowitz sponsored Steibelt and Prince Lichnowsky sponsored Beethoven. Here’s the story. (the article continues after the ad)
As he was the challenger, Steibelt played first. He walked to the piano, tossing a piece of his own music on the side, and played. He performed perfectly and he rose to a great applause. Now all eyes were turned to Beethoven.
When he got to the piano, Beethoven took the piece that Steibelt had tossed, showed it to the audience and… turned it upside down. He sat at the piano and played it, improvised on it, parodied it and mocked it for an hour.
As he soon realized that he was not just outplayed, but humiliated, Steibelt left the room and made a promise not to return to Vienna as long as Beethoven lived there. A promise he kept: because Beethoven lived in Vienna for the rest of his life, Steibelt never returned!
This was the last time Beethoven was challenged to a duel.
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Sources: The man who challenged Beethoven to a musical duel in Vienna – and what happened