In 1800, an improvisation contest occured between Beethoven and the pianist Daniel Steibelt.
It was agreed that Prince Lobkowitz would sponsor Steibelt and Prince Lichnowsky sponsor Beethoven, the improvisation contest to take place in Lobkowitz’s palace.
As the challenger, Steibelt was to play first. He walked to the piano, tossing a piece of his own music on the side, and played. Steibelt was renowned for conjuring up a “storm” on the piano, and this he did to great effect, the “thunder” growling in the bass.
He rose to great applause, and all eyes turned to Beethoven, who took a deep breath, slowly exhaled, and reluctantly – to the collective relief of everyone present – trudged to the piano.
When he got there he picked up the piece of music Steibelt had tossed on the side, looked at it, 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 ….. improvise on them.
He played on, imitated a Steibelt “storm”, unpicked Steibelt’s playing and put it together again, parodied it and mocked it.
Steibelt, realising he was not only being comprehensively outplayed but humiliated, strode out of the room. Prince Lobkowitz hurried after him, returning a few moments later to say Steibelt had said he would never again set foot in Vienna as long as Beethoven lived there.