Daniel Steibelt is one of those composers who have been lost sight of in music history. And, until recently, whenever he was mentioned, it was nearly always in order to denigrate him, without the production of any evidence. He has been misrepresented ever since his death by critics who seem to have had only a very limited idea of his music and who ─ whether because they comfortably stuck to tradition or because they lacked curiosity ─ did not seek to understand his contribution to the history of music, or who he really was. His rehabilitation will therefore take some time. The process has, however, begun in the last few years and it will no doubt accelerate during this year, 2015, it being the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth.
I would like first to examine the two anecdotes, persistently repeated, that make up almost the totality of what is known by music lovers about this composer.
Dictionaries and histories of music often refer to the anecdote of the “piano contest” between Steibelt and Beethoven in Vienna in the spring of 1800, during which Steibelt was supposedly humiliated, and after which he is said to have decided to leave the city, so as to avoid the risk of coming face-to-face with the most brilliant composer of the period. The original source of this story, published in 1838, is two paragraphs in the biography of Beethoven by Franz Wegeler and Ferdinand Ries. It was later repeated without being verified by several music historians and lovers of lively anecdotes.There was a time when an appalling video of this anecdote could be seen on the Internet, discrediting both Steibelt and Beethoven ─ and also its author, of course. On the web at present (June 2015) there is a new account, full of fanciful new details without any references, which demonstrates the author’s capacity for invention more than his respect for accuracy. To my knowledge, it has not been possible, so far, to find a single contemporary testimony of this event that would make it possible to check its accuracy. It is certain that a “confrontation” between the two piano players took place and ended to Beethoven’s advantage, since in Beethoven’s conversation notebooks there is an entry on 9 September 1825 which indicates that Schuppanzigh kept telling everyone that Beethoven had “triumphed” over Steibelt.“Schuppanzigh erzählt, welchen/ Triumph du über Steipelt/ gefeyert hast.”: “Schuppanzigh is telling everybody about your triumph over Steipelt (sic).” Neither Wegeler nor Ries were in Vienna at the time of the “contest”, however, and the time referred to must be limited to five weeks at most: from the end of March (Steibelt’s arrival from Prague) or perhaps the beginning of April (Beethoven gave his first “academy” on 2 April) to the beginning of May (Beethoven gave a concert in Ofen, the German name for Buda, in Hungary, on 7 MayThayer’s Life of Beethoven, revised and edited by Elliot Forbes, t.1. p.256, notes a review in the Budapest press at the time and the arrival of Beethoven in Hungary perhaps as early as the end of April.). Moreover, those who were usually guests at the concert evenings at the home of Count Fries, where the “piano contest” took place, do not seem to have mentioned anything about this competition in their notebooks and diaries. We may therefore wonder about how exactly these events transpired. Furthermore, another account of the meeting ─ also a second-hand one, though not necessarily less reliable than that of Ries ─ had been published long before, on 22 August 1829, in an article published in Paris in the review Le Correspondant:
Steibelt, who had come to Vienna to give concerts, played during a reception which Beethoven attended. After receiving a great deal of applause, he expressed his most eager desire to hear the famous composer whose talent as a piano player he had not yet been able to admire. Prince d’Aremberg, who was present, begged Beethoven in vain several times to comply with the audience’s request, but Beethoven kept refusing, saying: “I do not have any suitable music.” However, as the requests became more and more insistent and he realised he could not continue to refuse without being rude, Beethoven suddenly sat down at the piano and improvised such musical wonders for a quarter of an hour that all the listeners trembled with astonishment and admiration. So Steibelt, feeling disheartened, abandoned the project that had brought him to Vienna and left without giving any further public performance in that city.
This is one of the articles Berlioz signed only with an initial “H”. He had probably heard the anecdote directly from his master, Reicha, who was in Beethoven’s circle in Vienna not long after the event took place. Based on this account, it is therefore not certain that, as Ries reported, Steibelt was disrespectful towards his brilliant junior fellow-composer, whose “triumph” he may perfectly well have recognised without feeling ridiculed or humiliated.
The second episode of Steibelt’s life which can still be found in some musical histories is his decisive contribution to the first Parisian interpretation of Joseph Haydn’s oratorio The Creation. After his visit to Vienna, Steibelt returned to Paris, although the two countries ─ the Habsburg Empire and the France of the Consuls ─ were then at war. It is known for certain that Steibelt reached Paris during the summer of 1800. In his luggage, he brought the recently-published music score of Haydn’s oratorio and entrusted “citizen Ségur junior” with the arrangement of the libretto into French. The first Parisian performance of the work, which had been widely announced, took place at the “Théâtre de la République et des Arts” on 3 Nivôse, that is to say at the Opéra on 24 December 1800. The magnificence of the musical performance was overshadowed by a dramatic incident that took place outside the theatre in the minutes just before the concert started. On his way to this important concert, which Joséphine did not want to miss, the First Consul narrowly escaped a terrorist attack. A second performance was given the following week, but the shine had definitely been taken off the first night by this unexpected political circumstance. The ticket prices ─ which had been unusually doubled for the first performance and maintained at this high level for the second night ─ may also have cooled music lovers’ enthusiasm. It is possible, too, that a “plot” led by Ignace Pleyel contributed to Steibelt’s lack of recognition. Pleyel, who was slow off the mark, had lost the opportunity of being the first to perform The Creation and to publish the score with a translation into French. A brilliant article by Michel NoirayMichel Noiray : Die Schöpfung à Paris en 1800 : « von Steibelt castrirt » ? in Musique, Esthétique et Société au XIXe siècle : Liber Amicorum Joël-Marie Fauquet / textes réunis par Damien Colas, Florence Gétreau, Malou Haine, Wavre, Mardaga, 2007. has demonstrated that Steibelt’s interventions in adapting Haydn’s music to Ségur’s French libretto were few, sensible and relevant. For two hundred years, however, Pleyel’s criticisms, together with all the numerous echoes of them in the German press at the time, have established Steibelt’s reputation as that of a man who “falsified” Haydn’s music.
There is a third reason why Steibelt’s name is sometimes mentioned. It concerns one of his works, or rather a melody, which Beethoven is said to have borrowed from him and used as one of the themes of the finale of his 3rd symphony. It has long been believed that this anecdote stems from the biography of Beethoven by Ferdinand Ries. This is certainly not directly the case.For more information on this subject, see William Meredith’s article in The Beethoven Journal, 2012/2, “The Westerby-Meredith Hypothesis: The History of the Eroica Variations and Daniel Steibelt’s Fortepiano Quintet, Opus 28, n°2.” Regarding the symbolism of the theme which was first used in the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus, then in the Eroica variations, and lastly in the 3rd Symphony, the clearest analysis can be found in Elisabeth Brisson, Ludwig van Beethoven, Fayard/Mirare, ch.III, “Un destin d’exception? 1801-1805”, particularly pp.72-74 and 88-92. In an article that appeared on 17 April 1836 in La Revue de Paris, long before the book by Wegeler and Ries was published, Joseph d’Ortigue reported ─ in a very romantic manner ─ the occasion when Beethoven improvised on the musical theme Steibelt had just used, which was to become famous in the finale of Beethoven’s 3rd symphony:
Steibelt had been asked to improvise on the piano and he is said to have played with a great deal of verve. But as he reached the end of his improvisation, he looked around and saw the impressive face of a man among the audience, who was glaring at him with blazing eyes. Either this man’s aspect troubled him or he did not intend to play any longer, but he finished his piece and received well-deserved applause. Beethoven (as this is who the man in the audience was) was asked to play in his turn; several listeners even went as far as to express their wishes to hear him improvise on Steibelt’s theme. After a few polite refusals, Beethoven accepted and sat down at the piano; progressively his face brightened, his imagination flared up and, for over an hour, so many melodies sprang to life under his fingers, with so many sublime chords and unexpected modulations, that frenzied applause interrupted his triumphant performance several times and continued long after its end. When the excitement had calmed down, people noticed that Steibelt was no longer in the room. Apparently, from that moment onwards, Beethoven developed a special fondness for this particular melodic phrase, and is said to have composed an air with variations for the piano, which he later chose as the main subject of the Finale of his Eroica Symphony.
Having addressed the truth or otherwise of all these stories which encumber the memory, however meager, of Steibelt, I should now like to try and provide a more accurate outline of the composer’s life and works.
Steibelt was born in Berlin on 22 October 1765, to a father who was a maker of musical instruments and a mother who was descended from Huguenots who had settled in Prussia at the time of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. It is probably thanks to the Crown Prince of Prussia that he was able to study music with Kirnberger. As a result of some possible youthful “indiscretions” whose nature has remained unknown, he was sent into the army by his father, but he soon deserted ─ which meant that he risked being sentenced to death if he was caught in Prussia. He then travelled for some time, but very little information is available as to the nature of these travels. As early as 8 May 1787, the music score of his three sonatas, opus 1, was announced in Paris, by Boyer, in Annonces, affiches et avis diversAnik Devriès-Lesure, L’Edition musicale dans la presse parisienne au XVIIIe siècle. Catalogue des annonces. CNRS Editions, 2005.. The composer and music historian Fétis noted that there was a publication of Steibelt’s first four compositions in Munich: they are mentioned in a catalogue by the music publisher Goetz dated 1788. At the beginning of 1790, Steibelt was in Paris and Versailles, where he played with success before the Court. From 1791 onwards, he was to be seen in counter-revolutionary circles, particularly at the salon of Duval d’Epremesnil. The Comte de Montlosier, when he met him there, was charmed by his “harmonic piano performances”. Steibelt composed and published numerous works, sonatas as well as characteristic pieces (medleys of popular melodies) and scores of opera overtures transcribed for piano and strings. His success was so great that as early as April 1792 he was imitated in the “6 sonates pour le piano forte, en deux parties, dédiées à MM. Eckard, Hayden (sic), Clementi, Cramer, Steibel (sic) et Mozart, composées dans le style de ces auteurs [« composed in the style of these musicians »], par Amédée Rozetti, 2de partie ". At this point he was only 26 years old.
In the autumn of 1793, his first work for the stage, Roméo et Juliette, was premiered at the Théâtre Feydeau in Paris, with great and long-lasting success. The work was performed again in Paris, and later in Liège, Brussels, Rouen, and other places, and it continued to be performed long after Steibelt’s final departure from Paris. In the 1820s, some critics, still recalling his opera, found Zingarelli’s and Vaccai’s scores on the same theme of little interest in comparison. On 1 Floréal Year II of the Republic (20 April 1794), Steibelt was commissioned “to compose patriotic works for the National Festivities, which must be presented to the Committee for approval.”Archives Nationales AF II 226, quoted in Jérôme Dorival, Hélène de Montgeroult. La Marquise et la Marseillaise. Lyon, Symétrie, 2006, p.373. This task was probably due to his counter-revolutionary sympathies. Indeed, in that same year 1794, he published a Recueil d’airs patriotiques (in July), and a “Military sonata for the Piano-forte”, entitled Défaite des Espagnols par l’Armée Française. This was a new attemptHis Grande bataille de Gemmappes et Hymne des Marseillais avec variations pour le piano-forte was published in December 1793 by Gaveaux. (Joann Elart, « Trois batailles pour la république dans les concerts parisiens (1789-1794) : Ivry, Jemmappes et Fleurus », in Annales historiques de la Révolution française, n°379 ─ janvier-mars 2015, p. 98.) at creating a narrative work ─ albeit a timid one: there are only two “captions”: the first one, at the beginning of the score, is “the stillness of the night” and the other, further down, is “the charge”. At the end of 1794, his first concerto for piano was published by NadermanHervé Audéon, Catalogue of concertos first published in Paris between 1795 and 1815, Cahiers Philidor 01, Editions du Centre de Musique baroque de Versailles. – 2004-41174, and catalogue of the BNF, (French National Library.). This, incidentally, discredits the anecdote reported in the Grand Dictionnaire Universel du XIXe siècle, by Pierre Larousse, which claims that Steibelt was obliged to give compensation for some dishonest dealings with the publisher Boyer by surrendering to Boyer his first two concertos. Steibelt has, alas, been the victim of numerous stories of this kind which have caused considerable harm to his reputation. The years 1795 and 1796 were dedicated to chamber music and to the publication of the full score of Roméo et Juliette, on whose title-page was written (perhaps as a provocation, a political claim, or a joke?) that the opera had first been performed on “10 7bre 1793, vieux stile”.Since September 1792, the Republican calendar had been introduced in France, beginning as “Year 1 of the Republic”. The dates according to the Gregorian calendar were then considered as “old fashioned”. This caused a mistake about the actual date of the premiere of the opera, since this transcription into the Gregorian calendar of a Republican date is erroneous.
In the autumn of 1796, Steibelt left Paris for reasons that are unknown, and went to London where, on 16 OctoberI would like to thank Anna Petrova for having established the exact date of this marriage., he married Catharine Dale, the daughter of a composer and music publisher (following in the footsteps of Dussek who had just done the same thing). Catharine was herself a musician: a virtuoso on the tambourine. During this first period in England, Steibelt had great success with his 3rd concerto, first performed in London on 19 March 1798. An article by Edouard Fétis published in La France Musicale in 1839 states that Steibelt supposedly went back to Paris at the time of General Bonaparte’s return after the peace of Campo Formio and played the famous concerto in the General’s presence as early as 11 December 1797, although well-established facts seem to rebut this assertion. What is true, however, is that the concerto, particularly The Storm following the Pastorale, soon became successful across the Channel also. Two rival publications of the concerto were publicised in Paris at the beginning of 1799. They were followed by several editions of The Storm, published separately, up till late in the 19th century. This was a favourite piece for many pianists over several generations, who composed their own variations on it. For example, the first work published by the very young Charles-Valentin Alkan was a series of Variations sur un thème de Steibelt ─ that is to say, the theme of the famous concerto. It is fortunate that this major work from the turn of the 18th century has become accessible at last.
At the end of 1799, Steibelt started travelling again, accompanied by his wife. He went to Hamburg, where he obtained a pardon for deserting the Prussian army, which permitted him to go and give concerts in Berlin. Continuing his tour, he then went to Dresden, Prague (where his talent and success as a musical “entrepreneur”, greatly helped by his wife and her tambourine, aroused the envy and annoyance of the composer Tomašek), and to Vienna, where the piano contest between him and Beethoven took place. After the battle of Marengo (14 June 1800), Steibelt went back to Paris. This second stay was one of great importance: the Grand sonata dedicated to Madame BonaparteRecorded by Daniel Propper at Forgotten Records in the CD album L’Echo des Batailles. Réf: fr 16/17P http:/forgottenrecords.com/fr/Propper-Steibelt-Jadin-Le-miere-Ruppe-Moscheles--534.html was announced on 4 December 1800 and considered by Gottfried Müller, Steibelt’s first biographer, as the climax of his sonata workGottfried Müller, Daniel Steibelt. Sein Leben und seine Klavierwerke. Mit einem Porträt und 47 Notenbeispielen, Baden-Baden, Verlag Valentin Koerner, 1973 (a reprint of the work, first published in 1933), p.97.. However, the works that followed are also well worth investigation. It was also in this period that he made important contributions to the first French performance of La Création, by Haydn, not only because he brought the full score from Vienna and had the libretto translated into French, but also because he played the keyboard part himself. The agreement he concluded with the Erard brothers on 13 March 1801 (a year’s accommodation in exchange for the scores of six sonatas and six airs with variationsMinutier Central, XVIII, 976, quoted by Anik Devriès and François Lesure, Dictionnaire des éditeurs de musique français. Volume I. Des origines à environ 1820. Genève, Editions Minkoff, 1979. This is the confirmation of the lease between the citizens Erard and Steibelt, in which Steibelt contracted to give, in exchange for free accommodation in an apartment belonging to the Erard brothers , whose yearly rent had been estimated at 2600 francs, “six sonatas and six airs with variations which he will deliver as follows: three sonatas in one month , the other three sonatas within two months and the six airs with variations within a month and a half, starting from this day; these works will belong outright to the said citizens Erard brothers or to their nieces ,who will be entitled to have them engraved, to sell or distribute them…”) shows that he had decided to settle in Paris for a considerable period. He composed six sonatinas there, which were published by the Demoiselles Erard (was this his payment for the rent?) and he played the piano at the great reception given by Talleyrand on 8 June 1801, together with the most famous musicians in Paris at the time: Garat, Rode, Naderman and Madame Branchu. He may have played the sonata dedicated to Joséphine in front of her and her husband, the First Consul. The ballet Le Retour de Zéphir, first given at the Opéra on 3 March 1802, was Steibelt’s last important work before his departure for London on 22 March, as soon as the signing of the Treaty of Amiens had made it easier to travel.
It was probably in England that Steibelt composed his 5th concerto, incorporating a hunting scene and the romance of Mary Stuart. Throughout the composer’s stay in London, his works continued to be performed in Paris, as Johann Friedrich Reichardt punctiliously noted in the account of his time in Paris in 1802-03Johann Friedrich Reichardt, Un hiver à Paris sous le Consulat, Tallandier, 2002.. He was so “fashionable” that the young singer Désirée Pelet performed a scene from Roméo et Juliette as part of the exercises at the music Conservatory. In London, Steibelt devoted himself to the string quartet (of which he published two series in this period), and composed two new sonatas and two ballets: Le Jugement de Pâris, first performed at the King’s Theatre on 24 May 1804 (some scenes of which, adapted for the piano, were published by his father-in-law) and La belle laitière, first played at the same theatre on 26 January 1805.
Soon after this, he returned to the continent and went back to France. He stayed in Brussels (which was then the prefecture of the department of the Dyle), perhaps on the occasion of the revival of Roméo et Juliette, and gave two concerts there on 30 March and 7 April. In the autumn, he was back in Paris to celebrate (in a grand narrative fantasia for piano) La Journée d’Ulm, the Bataille d’Austerlitz, then Le Triomphe de Mars, a ballet choreographed by Gaedel, based on a libretto by Esménard, which was premiered at the Opéra in front of the Emperor Napoléon and Empress Joséphine. This third and last stay in Paris saw the production of several new scores, piano sonatas (including the grand sonata in G, opus 64, in four movements), songs, fantasies, waltzes, various piano pieces (such as the rondo Les Papillons, dedicated to Delia Tudor, a young American woman who was staying in Paris during the summer of 1807), chamber music scores and genre pieces. Steibelt gave concerts at the Malmaison, where Joséphine would often stay in the absence of Napoléon while he was at war in Poland. One of his pupils was the fashionable Laure Junot, and he dedicated Le Bouquet to her, on the occasion of her reception during the summer of 1807, as well as a grand narrative piece to celebrate the peace of Tilsit. At the beginning of 1808, if we can rely on its opus number, which comes just after that of the Etrennes musicales pour le piano, he dedicated three sonatas for piano and violin to the Queen of Westphalia, which leads us to suppose that he already had plans to travel eastwards at that time. Later that year, he dedicated some pieces to H.M. the Empress of all the Russias: a Fantasia on a favourite Russian air and eight Variations on another Russian air for piano. Soon afterwards, he composed the Départ de Paris pour Saint- Pétersbourg, a rondo favourite with an introduction for the piano.
These last two scores were published in Paris by Madame Duhan, who had been Steibelt’s usual Parisian publisher since 1807, so it is difficult to believe that Steibelt left “in a great hurry”, as many music historians have written, eager as they were to repeat the stories about the composer’s supposed shady dealings, in order to account for his numerous journeys.
Three of the four works played by Anna Petrova in this recording date from this last period in Paris. As the works were carefully selected on purely musical criteria, this seems to demonstrate that Steibelt’s third stay in Paris corresponds with the apex of his piano composition, in its diversity, its inventiveness and the maturity of its writing. It was also during this last stay in Paris that he published the Etude pour le piano-forté contenant 50 exercices de differents genres op. 78 en 2 livraisons, a form of artistic legacy that has withstood the test of time.
In setting off for Russia, Steibelt again resumed a nomadic career. He played in Frankfurt (on 2 November 1808), Leipzig, Dresden (on 29 December), Breslau, Warsaw (where he attended the salon of the Wolowski family, whose daughter was soon to become famous under her married name, Maria SzymanowskaI wish to thank Elisabeth Zapolska Chapelle, the President of the Société Maria Szymanowska for having kindly furnished this piece of information.), and Riga (on 6 March 1809). It is evident that he did not travel as an artist “on the run”, trying to escape from the pursuit of “supposed creditors”!
The last part of his career took place entirely in Russia, where he obtained honours and positions: Master of the Imperial Chapel, orchestra conductor at the Théâtre Français, and director of the French Opéra. In St Petersburg, he continued his work as an opera composer with CendrillonIt now seems certain that the ballets and operas Paul et Virginie, Sargines and Phèdre, which have on occasion been attributed to him, are not actually Steibelt’s works. and composed his last two concertos ─ very inventive in form ─ the 7th “with the accompaniment of two orchestras” (1811) and the 8th with a chorus (1820). He gave concerts and played with the pianist and composer John Field, who had also settled in St Petersburg. He also went on composing narrative pieces, evidenced by the monumental score of The Conflagration of MoscowLa Destruction de Moscou. Une grande Fantaisie pour le pianoforte, composée par D. Steibelt et dédiée à la nation russe. (Recorded by Daniel Propper for Forgotten Records in the album L’Echo des Batailles.) written after the defeat of Napoléon’s Grande Armée and dedicated to the Russian nation. Some occasional pieces and variations on popular airs completed his work: he participated in the movement which popularised the young Rossini, with his variations on the cavatina in Tancrède. A late account (whose accuracy is difficult to demonstrate) presents Steibelt in the 1820s giving lessons to young aristocrats and lamenting that he had wasted his genius in teaching the piano to “stiff little fingers”.Dupré de Saint-Maure, L’Hermite en Russie, Paris, Pillet, 1829, t.1, ch.4.
He died on 8 September 1823 (according to the Russian calendar). His scores were published, sold and performed in France until his death, and his opera Roméo et Juliette served as a counterbalance to the Italian operas on the same theme.
As we have seen, throughout his career as a composer, Steibelt worked in a great variety of genres, ranging from piano pieces to the grand opera, as well as chamber music with or without piano, songs, concertos (his remarkable concerto for the harp can be brought alongside the other eight written for the piano), orchestra pieces and ballets. Only the symphonic genre seems not to have appealed to him. Critics have sometimes blamed him for indulging too freely in variations and medleys on popular themes, but he was a forerunner in this respect, and this criticism (which has also been directed at Liszt) has not prevented people from rediscovering the immense reach of the latter.It would be interesting to determine the composer’s share, and that of his publishers, for this proliferation: who was it who included “six airs with variations” in the payment of the rent for 1801? Was it the Erard brothers or Steibelt? No answer can be found in the lease, and because there were then no recordings, there was undoubtedly a growing demand from audiences for all the scores that might provide a memento of these musical evenings. Castil-Blaze, the critic and composer, relentlessly criticised the composers of “narrative” music from 1825 onwards, and Steibelt was one of his victims. Steibelt’s sonatas were successful for many years ─ at least in respect of some of their movements ─ and several of his sonatinas remained in anthologies well into the 20th century. It is difficult to find a reason for his loss of popularity after his death. However, several traits of character were ascribed to him, whether real or purely imaginative (boastfulness, “charlatanism”, dishonesty), and were expanded by anecdotes that were persistently repeated, although their veracity had not always been seriously established. These influenced the critics, as also happened to Paganini or Liszt in the musical field, and to Byron in literature.
This recording by Anna Petrova, who is the first pianist to have recorded a complete CD of works by SteibeltPublished in May 2013 by Gega News under the reference GD 362. (sonata op.6 n°2; three of the studies op.78; the martial sonata op.82 and concerto n°6 “Voyage sur le Mont Saint-Bernard”) offers a range of the composer’s works: a genre piece, a fantasia with variations, a grand sonata and the famous Orage in concerto n°3. This piece, which is the last one on this recording and the first to be composed, is Steibelt’s most famous work. It dates from 1798 and has appeared in numerous editions ─ several dating from Paris as early as the beginning of 1799. The other three pieces date from Steibelt’s third stay in Paris, between mid-1805 and the autumn of 1808, when the composer had reached full artistic maturity.
The rondo Les Papillons (The Butterflies), dedicated to Delia Tudor and published in the summer 1807, unfolds graceful arabesques which enhance the interpreter’s elegance. Although today musically associated to the name of Schumann, the theme of a delicate butterfly fluttering about in a wayward flight had been fashionable since the beginning of the 19th century: Pacini also followed its sprightly flight in a piano fantasia dating from the same period and, in literature, Byron used the butterfly in 1813 as an allegory of a young and frolicksome woman.
The Fantaisie et variations sur deux thèmes russes, dedicated to the Empress of all the Russias, is typical of the period: the variations offer the interpreter the opportunity to excel. With this “Scène”, the opera invades the salon and brings with it passion and brilliance.
The sonata in G major, opus 64, is among Steibelt’s most monumental works. It was published, at the latest, at the beginning of 1806The review of the sonata in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung dates from 12 February 1806, and Melle d’Epremesnil married Jean de Louet de Murat de Nogaret-Calvisson on 15 February., and is dedicated to Clémentine d’Epremesnil, the daughter of the counter-revolutionary man himself whose salon Steibelt attended in 1791.The sequence of its four movements does not conform to any classical pattern. A strongly operatic cantabile, ending in a large cadenza which gives the interpreter the opportunity to fully express his inspiration, is followed by a brief tempo di minuetto, scherzando. Then comes an adagio in E-flat minor subtitled “fantasia”. Its structure is reminiscent of that of the initial cantabile, but here it is treated in many different ways and is ornamented by the tremolos that Steibelt was particularly fond of. This adagio leads, through a new cadenza comparable to a fermata for a singer, to the final pastorale, an allegretto in G, in the form of a rondo, which gracefully terminates the sonata. This strongly-built, ambitious work, written with great freedom, must have bewildered critics at the time, judging by a remark in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, which considers it as “the most French of the sonatas written by a German”. This is perhaps the opinion of some critic who, being used to a “severe”, contrapuntal style, feels suspicious of a more flexible harmonic and rhythmical language that is not exclusively composed of “foresquare” musical phrases and of an almost voluptuous abandon to the beauty of the sounds and their combinations, rather than to an organisation of sound that is rigorous and almost “mathematical”. This is a long way from Kirnberger’s geometry and the disciples of Bach! Steibelt embarks on the sea of romanticism without any qualms. This “Germanic” opposition to the supposed “French” melodic charm may also be seen as some veiled political resistance to the glamour of “Napoleonic” Paris. When reading the German critics who were contemporary with the appearance of Steibelt’s works, one cannot help detecting a note of animosity and biased hostility.
As for The Storm ─ a piece which has already been mentioned several times ─ its recording at last gives us the opportunity to understand why it achieved such constant success over almost an entire century!