Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/712
��Prussia, afterwards Frederick William II. Kirn- berger was then the leading musician of Berlin, and to him the Crown Prince entrusted the in- struction of his prote'ge' in the harpsichord and composition. How long Steibelt was a pupil of Kirnberger it is impossible to say, but not a trace of the learned and somewhat pedantic style of his master is to be found in his method either of playing or writing. Indeed, the musical world of Berlin, then under the despotism of Frederick the Great, 1 does not present any influences to account for the peculiarities which so strongly marked Steibelt's after-life, though it may be fairly conjectured that in his father's workshops he obtained that familiarity with the mechanism of the pianoforte which he was always ready to turn to the best account. Whatever his musical education may have been, it was interrupted by his joining the army for a while, 2 and was finally brought to an end, as far as Berlin was concerned, by his departure from that city, an event which perhaps took place as early as 1784.
In what direction he turned his steps seems wholly unknown, but his career as a composer and virtuoso commences with his arrival in Paris at eome date between 1787 and 1790. He did not take up his residence there permanently till the last-named year, as he was at Munich in 1788, and in 1789 was giving concerts in Saxony and Hanover, whence he journeyed to Paris by way of Mannheim ; but his rivalry with Hermann at court would appear to suggest that he had been in Paris before the year that was signalised by the taking of the Bastille. However this may be, Steibelt appeared at the French capital as a full-fledged performer and composer, and was not long in proving his superiority to his rival. The reasons for his success are obvious. Though Hermann's technique, which was that of the school of C. P. E. Bach, was considered more correct than that of his opponent, he was, never- theless, emphatically a player of the old style. Steibelt, as emphatically, belonged to the new. Their different characteristics are clearly brought out in the very curious Sonata for the Pianoforte called * La Coquette' composed for Marie Antoi- nette by the two rivals, each of whom contributed one movement to it. Hermann's movement, the first, is good, solid, rather old-fashioned, harpsi- chord music; Steibelt's movement, the Eondo, by its variety of phrasing and the minutiae of its marks of expression reveals in every line an acquaintance with the resources offered by the pianoforte. The issue of a contest in which the combatants were so unequally matched could not be doubtful, and Steibelt was soon installed as reigning virtuoso. But no musician who aspires to fame in France can neglect the stage, and Steibelt accordingly resolved to essay dra- matic composition. One of his patrons, the Vicomte de Se'gur, a litterateur of some preten- sions, who had written for the Ope"ra a libretto founded on Shakespeare's 'Borneo and Juliet,'
1 For an interesting account of music in Berlin at this period see John's ' Lite of Mozart,' ch. 30 (vol. ii. p. 374 etc. in Eng. trans.).
2 A. M. Z. ii. p. 622.
entrusted the composition of the music to Stei- belt. The score was finished in 1792, but the work was rejected by the Acaddmie. Its authors, nothing daunted, proceeded to alter the piece. The recitatives were suppressed and replaced by prose dialogue, and in this shape the opera was produced at the Theatre Feydeau on Sept. 10,
- 793 with Madame Scio as Juliet. The 'Moni-
teur' of Sept. 23 describes the music as 'learned, but laboured and ugly' a criticism which, with the music before one, it is impossible to under- stand. Theatre-goers were of a different opinion, and 'Kome'o et Juliette' was a decided success. The merits of the work, perhaps Steibelt's greatest achievement, will be discussed subsequently. It will be enough at present to note that it was performed with success in Stockholm on Jan. 30, 1815 (and again in 1819), and was revived with great applause in Paris at the Theatre Royale de 1'Opera Comique in 1822. It does not appear that it was ever brought forward on the German stage, but the Overture was played in Vienna in 1 84 1 . The concert given after Stei- belt's death for his son's benefit was closed with the Funeral Chorus from the third act.
The success of this operatic venture completely confirmed Steibelt's position in Paris. His music, though considered difficult, was extremely popular, and as a teacher he counted amongst his pupils the most eminent ladies of the time, including the future Queen of Holland. Society made up its mind to overlook his discourteous and overbearing manners in consideration of his artistic merits, and nothing was needed to confirm his fortunes and his fame but that he should be true to himself. Unfortunately, this condition was not fulfilled. He appears to have been a victim, to kleptomania, and in the last century this was regarded as a proof of moral rather than of in- tellectual disease. It must also be admitted that facts seemed to warrant this view in Stei- belt's case. On his first coming to Paris he had been received with great kindness by Boyer the publisher, who had not only procured for him powerful patronage but even took him into his own house. His services were ill rewarded. Stei- belt had already published some Sonatas for the Pianoforte and Violin (ops. I and 2) at Munich. He now added to them a cello ad libitum part, which merely doubled the bass of the pianoforte part, and sold them to Boyer as new works. The fraud seems to have been discovered about 1 796, and though Steibelt made reparation by present- ing to the aggrieved publisher his Pianoforte Concertos, Nos. I and 2, this transaction, com- bined with other irregularities, so injured his reputation that he felt it desirable to leave Paris, at any rate for a time. England attracted his attention, and, journeying by way of Holland, he reached London about the close of 1 796. 3
By this proceeding Steibelt challenged com- parisons quite as dangerous as those which he
��* According to F<tis, Steibelt did not leave Paris till 1798, hut Messrs. Broadwood and Sons have records in their possession which prove that he was established in London by Jan. 2, 1797. This in- formation is due to the kindness of Mr. A. J. Hipkius.