Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 3.djvu/716

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.


704

��STEIBELT.

��ments. Judged by this standard the multitu- dinous pianoforte works of Sfceibelt would be declared wholly wanting. Sonata after sonata has no slow movement at all, consisting merely of an Allegro and a Rondo. When an Adagio or Andante is interpolated, it is either an insig- nificant trifle of some 30 or 40 bars in length, or else consists of a popular melody, such as ' If a body meet a body,' ' 'Twas within a mile of Edinbro' town,' or the like. He does not seem to have ever realised the powers of the pianoforte for an Adagio, and when a violin part is added, as is often the case in his sonatas, he almost invariably assigns the melody to the latter instrument and accompanies it with a tremolo on the pianoforte. His Allegros and Rondos, on the contrary, particularly the former, are often of remarkable merit, and many of his sonatas, such as that dedicated to Madame Bona- parte (in Eb, op. 45), are really fine and original compositions. Yet, even at his best, a want of sustained power makes itself felt. Though the absence of records as to his early life makes it probable that his musical training was not sa- crificed to the profitable speculation of exhibiting a youthful prodigy, his constructive skill was never developed. All his music sounds like a clever improvisation that happens to have been committed to paper. There is little or no attempt at development or design. Whenever a new idea occurs to the writer it is straightway thrust in, and when no fresh idea presents itself one of the old ones is repeated. Hence it is that his music is now totally forgotten, for, whatever the opinion of contemporaries may be, posterity has invariably consigned to oblivion all music, no matter what other qualities it may possess, that is deficient in design. 1 Moreover, Steibelt exhibits a most annoying inequality of style. Again and again the opening movement of a sonata excites the expectation of a really satisfactory work, as if for the very purpose of disappointing it by the deficiencies of the Adagio, if there is one, and the trivialities of a ' brilliant ' Rondo. His contemporaries pro- nounced the 'Etude' his best work, and time has confirmed their opinion. It has been often re- published, and may indeed be said to be the only work of his that still lives. To a modern pianist one of the most striking features of the collection is the fact that several of the pieces (e.g. Nos. 3 and 8) anticipate in a very note- worthy manner the style made popular by Men- delssohn in his 'Songs without Words.' The vast mass of Airs with variations, Fantasias, Descriptive pieces, Pot-pourris, Divertissements, Bacchanals, and the like, that had a great sale in their day, are now deservedly forgotten. The sample of his descriptive pieces already given [PROGRAMME-MUSIC, vol. iii. p. 360] may serve as a type of them all. They are of the worst class of programme-music, with no intrinsic musical merit. In England and France these pieces made their composer popular. In Germany, his

1 Mme. Arabella Goddard, among her numerous revivals, included SteibeU'a Sonata in Eb, ded. Mad. Bonaparte ; and some Studies.

��STEIBELT.

reputation was comparatively nil. His piano- forte works however, good and bad, have all the great merit of feasibleness, and invariably lie well under the hand.

For the orchestra and other instruments Stei- belt wrote comparatively little wisely, in the judgement of one of his biographers. 2 Unfor- tunately, the scores of many of his operatic works, especially those written for St. Peters- burg, are inaccessible and perhaps lost. It cannot, however, be said that an examination of the score of ' Rome'o et Juliette ' quite bears out the sentence just quoted. We are told that an even division of the interest of the music between the various instruments is one great mark of skilful orchestral writing. If this be so, Steibelt's opera is in one respect skilfully written, for almost every instrument in the or- chestra comes to the front in turn. More than this, the composer uses the forces at his command with power and freedom. The trombones are introduced to an extent then unusual, though not excessive. Many of the resources of modern scor- ing are to be found, especially the employment of wood-wind and strings in responsive groups. The main complaint that can be sustained against the work is that the concerted pieces are unduly protracted and impede the action this is certainly the case with the Trio in the first Act. It should moreover be observed that when Steibelt writes for the pianoforte and other instruments, as in his quintets, the pianoforte is not allowed to monopolise the interest. His concertos are formed on the orthodox Mozartean model, and it must be added that they contain, especially in their first movements, most ex- cellent writing. 'The instrumentation of the first movement is quite exceptionally beautiful ' was the opinion of one who listened to the per- formance of his Eighth Concerto in London,* and even when the work as a whole is weak, as in the Sixth Concerto, the instrumentation is not deficient in skill and novelty.

Steibelt's originality as a composer was ques- tioned in his own day. It was said that hia famous 'Storm Rondo' was a feeble copy of a work for the organ by the Abbe" Vogler, a state- ment on which the thoroughly pianoforte cha- racter of Steibelt's music throws considerable doubt. His enemies also averred that ' Romeo et Juliette ' was a mere plagiarism from Georg Benda's opera of the same name an allegation that is certainly unfounded. More serious ob- jection may be taken to his Sixth Pianoforte Concerto, 'Le Voyage au Mont St. Bernard,' in which not only the general idea, but even the most striking details the hymn of the monks, the tolling of the convent bell, and the national music of the Savoyards with accompaniment of triangles are borrowed from Cherubini's opera of ' Elisa ou le Voyage au Mont Bernard.' It is, in fact, as it has been aptly described, ' the work, not of an architect, but of a decorator.' On the other hand, Steibelt must be credited with some contributions to musical progress.

2 A. M. Z. nv. p. 725. 3 Ibid, xxiv. no. 25.

�� �