In the early 1800s, composer Daniel Steibelt challenged Ludwig Van Beethoven, one of the greatest composers and pianists who has ever lived, to a piano duel.
A native of Berlin, Daniel Steibelt was one of Europe's most renowned piano virtuosos. In 1800 he went to Vienna with the aim of advancing his musical reputation.
It was quickly agreed among the city's musical patrons that Steibelt should compete against Beethoven in an improvisation contest.
These improvisation contests were a popular form of entertainment among Vienna's aristocracy. The two pianists would compete with each other, each setting the other a tune to improvise on. The playing would go back and forth, increasing in intensity, until a winner was declared.
As was common practice, the duel was supported by two noblemen, Prince Lobkowitz supporting Steibelt and Prince Lichnowky supporting Beethoven. As the challenger, Steibelt played first. He walked to the piano, tossing a piece of his own music on the side, and played. He rose to great applause, and all eyes turned to his opponent. Beethoven walked up to the piano, picked up the piece of music Steibelt had tossed on the side, 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, and improvise on them for over an hour. Steibelt, realizing he was not only being comprehensively outplayed but humiliated, walked out of the room well before Beethoven was finished.
Despite not knowing exactly what Beethoven played in this duel, we can safely conclude that Steibelt felt utterly defeated. He made a promise to never return to Vienna; a promise he stuck to for his whole life.
Beethoven was never again asked to take on any piano virtuoso - his position as Vienna's supreme piano virtuoso was established.