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Musical Feuds

Musical Feuds

Musical feuds were common in the golden age of classical music. There are many instances of immortal musicians being insulted by other famous musicians. Johann Sebastian Bach, like most musicians of the day, worked as a church musician. Bach rankled easily. He was once reproved for playing "strange harmonies" during a church service.

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Bach Was Difficult

Bach's answer was to play even stranger harmonies the next Sunday. He was the greatest composer of religious music the world has ever seen, the composer of the St. Matthew Passion. The elders complained again to Bach.

They added the insult that the music was at some points "too long." The next Sunday, of course, the music was much too short. It consisted of two short chords.

Musicians Were Jealous Of Beethoven

Beethoven also had his feuds, especially in the early years when he was establishing himself as Europe's greatest pianist. A worthless popinjay named Steibelt had made it known that he thought the great Beethoven was a terrible pianist.

Steibelt challenged Beethoven to a musical duel. These "duels" were a common occurrence in those days. Beethoven despised Steibelt as a talentless oaf.

Beethoven's Rival

At a party the next week, Beethoven heard Steibelt playing one of his own puerile compositions, an insipid Trio for piano, violin and cello. It was the type of horrid, elaborately ornamented fluff that Beethoven reviled. Ludwig watched calmly as Steibelt finished the piece and took his bows.

A hush fell over the crowd as the great Beethoven appeared out of the shadows and imperiously walked toward the piano. Everyone was aware of the grudge between Steibelt and Beethoven. The air was thick with apprehension. Steibelt, startled by the angry look on the great master's face, stepped away from the piano.

Beethoven's Revenge

As Beethoven walked past the cello's music stand, he snidely grabbed the cello's sheet music. Carefully showing the astounded crowd the page of sheet music, Beethoven sat at the piano. He put the music, upside down, onto the piano music stand.

As Steibelt and the hushed crowd watched, Beethoven plunked out the notes of the upside down cello part. He forcefully jabbed with his pointed and angry index finger, not taking his eyes off Steibelt. Then Ludwig began to improvise like a madman on Steibelt's upside down cello part theme.

And it was magnificent, one of those legendary Beethoven improvisations that have gone down in history, a passionate outpouring of ideas and bravura, until at last the piece was over with a furious ending and crash. Curiously, Steibelt was never heard from again.


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