Echoes of the Battlefields
pages of Napoleonic history
music composed between 1800
and 1815 does not seem, so far, to have received all the attention it deserves,
considering its diversity. Those fifteen years are indeed far more famous for
the battles between the conservative monarchies and the revolutionary,
republican then imperial France than for the interesting music that flourished
at the time. The role Paris played as one of the great musical centres in Europe
in those days is starting to be reassessed, after a century of oblivion and
disregard. A famous
contemporary teacher, critic and composer, long since forgotten, was still able
to declare in 1887, on Dussek’s return to Paris in 1807, that “during the
tremendous Napoleonic epic, with its highly centralized power, works of art and
artists were attracted to Paris one way or another”.[i]
In 1802, Beethoven even contemplated settling in Paris, judging the new musical
climate there more favourable to artistic innovation.[ii] Despite troubled times, or perhaps because
of them, the first fifteen years of the nineteenth century were to be decisive
in the emergence of a new musical world, in which Paris, at
the time of the Consulate, then the Empire, played a major part. This recording by Daniel Propper
offers a pertinent new approach to piano music of the time.
Music historians have firmly established that it was a key
period, during which Beethoven revolutionized the symphony and the sonata. Modern listeners may well imagine that the
importance of Beethoven’s role has always been recognised, but this is by no
means the case. During the early years
of the nineteenth century, Beethoven was seen as little more than a promising
young musician who still needed to prove himself worthy of a place beside the
established musicians of the day. A critic wrote in the Journal de Paris: “[Beethoven], at present the leading keyboard player in
Germany, can see the palm shine on Steibelt’s head and he is striving to
conquer it for himself, by dint of constant work. He is both erudite and charming. If those who reproach him with his lack of
cantabile tone were to study his music and become proficient at playing it,
they would withdraw their adverse criticism.” [iii]
This is proof enough that the Parisian journalist and writer clearly considered
Steibelt as the greatest composer for the piano at that time. He introduced, or was among those who
introduced, decorative variations fit to impress the listeners in salons, and
wrote many potpourris based on fashionable opera tunes. Steibelt’s name has
still not had the good fortune to emerge from the obscurity to which, unlike
those of several of his contemporary rivals, it has been relegated for almost
two centuries. A Parisian music-lover[iv]
wrote in 1828:
The extent of Steibelt’s
reputation in Europe put him then [around 1810] on an equal footing with
Clementi, Cramer and Dussek. The piano
music of these four great masters was more or less the only repertory played by
genuine music lovers; together with the fine sonatas by Haydn and Mozart, it
represents the sum total of what was fashionable at the time.
Composers were starting to employ new harmonic idioms during
the first fifteen years of the century.
It was a time when newly emerging national schools favoured the use of
popular national tunes instantly recognisable so as to
characterize the antagonists in the battles that took place on pianos in the
salons. It was also an
age when bravura variations played by virtuoso pianists were beginning to
receive triumphant acclaim. This recording illustrates what is still relatively
unfamiliar music. It includes items carefully selected from the many works
which have fallen into oblivion. When
listening to them, one should remember that those whom we now refer to as
precursors had no idea at the time that their music was contributing to future
Daniel Steibelt (1765-1823) may be forgotten today,
but during those troubled times he was a significant pianist and composer. He was born in Berlin on 22 October 1765,
the first child of Johann Gottlieb Steibelt (a non-commissioned officer) and
Maria Couriol, whose French family had emigrated to Prussia after the
revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685).
His parents’ wedding in January that year was celebrated in the French
language[v]. This ancestry was to come to the fore in
Steibelt’s enthusiasm for France in general and for Paris in particular, an
enthusiasm that never waned[vi]. When Johann Gottlieb Steibelt (the
composer’s father) completed military service in 1768, he set himself up as a
manufacturer of pianos and harpsichords, continuing to make them for the rest
of his life. It is not clear how the
Prussian Prince Royal (later King Friedrich Wilhelm II) became aware of
Daniel’s musical gifts and gave him the opportunity of studying with Johann
Philipp Kirnberger, then one of the greatest music teachers in Berlin. While
Kirnberger was not sensitive to melodic charm, Steibelt’s early works proved
him to be a zealous advocate of a new style in which melody played the leading
part. Steibelt recalled[vii]
that because of his youthful errors (he does not go into any detail) his father
‘found a place for him’ as a soldier.
He disliked military life intensely and tried to give it up at the
earliest opportunity. It is clear that
from 1784 onwards Steibelt was considered as a deserter, and banned from
The Romantic writer Ludwig Tieck relates an amusing story,
which cannot be verified, about how Steibelt escaped from Prussia and, in order
to survive, was obliged to accept a job as a drummer for a theatrical company[ix]. This entailed travelling for several years,
maybe as far as Vienna. In Munich, in
1788, he published three sonatas for harpsichord with obbligato violin parts. In 1789, he travelled throughout Saxony,
played in Dresden, then Hanover before reaching Mannheim. On arriving in France no later than the
beginning of 1790, he began to achieve success. He had no hesitation in making money from the sale of his first
two sonatas for violin and keyboard, adding a cello part and passing the
results off as new works. (A trick he repeated whenever the state of his
finances made it necessary.) It was not for political reasons but because of
dubious practices of this kind, and others even more reprehensible, that the
virtuoso was obliged to flee Paris in 1796.
Jacques Marquet de Montbreton de Norvins, the future administrator of
Westphalia, future Minister for the Police in Rome, and future historian of
Napoleon, relates Steibelt’s kleptomania during the years spent in Paris[x]. Norvins began to write an opera libretto
based on Romeo and Juliet for
Steibelt who, after they parted company, turned to the Vicomte Alexandre de
Ségur to complete the libretto. The
opera was finally successfully given in 1793.
Many years later, Berlioz[xi]
was to insist that, of the five operas based on Shakespeare’s tragedy in the
period before 1859,
Steibelt’s Romeo, given for the first time at the Théâtre Feydeau on 10
September 1793, is infinitely superior to all the others... Here is a real work – it does exist ! It has style, sentiment, invention, and quite remarkable harmonic
and instrumental innovations, which probably appeared truly bold at the time.
During his stay in London Steibelt gave the first
performance of his third Piano Concerto, with a rondo finale entitled The Storm[xii],
his best-known work for many years. He
left in the autumn of 1799 for an extended concert tour in continental Europe
which took him to Hamburg where two other keyboard virtuosos, Dussek and Woelfl
were staying at the same time. Berlin was the next port of call, where his
father successfully implored the king to strike his son’s name off the list of
deserters[xiii]. This was followed by visits to Dresden,
Prague and Vienna, where he was decidedly worsted by Beethoven in a piano
improvisation contest in 1800 at the home of Count Fries[xiv]. Steibelt returned to Paris in August, where
he had to win back public favour and restore his reputation with high-ranking
state dignitaries. Armed with the score
of Haydn’s Creation[xv],
he joined forces with the Comte de Ségur, who arranged the libretto in rhyming
French verse to which Steibelt then adapted the music. The composer is placed on record as having
played the keyboard at the performance of the oratorio on 24 December at the
Paris Opéra[xvi]. (On his
way there, the First Consul Bonaparte had a narrow escape from the royalist
‘machine infernale’ plot.) But
performing Haydn’s oratorio in Paris for the first time was not the only
strategy Steibelt had devised to curry favour with influential dignitaries of
the day. He had just published a Grand
Sonata for piano, dedicating it to Madame Bonaparte. It was announced in the Courrier des Spectacles on 4 December 1800. It is not clear whether, during his first
visit to Paris, he had contacts with Joséphine de Beauharnais, who became
Madame Bonaparte after her remarriage[xvii].
Along with the rest of his music, this powerful sonata, with
warlike qualities, pre-romantic impetus and harmonic innovation has fallen into
undeserved oblivion. Steibelt’s biographer Gottfried Müller observes that it is
one of the highlights of his sonatas[xviii]. It is cast in a conventional three-movement
plan. The opening allegro maestoso does not adhere strictly to classical sonata
form. Its martial and grandiose
character reflects the personality of the First Consul, resplendent with a halo
of glory after victory at the Battle of Marengo and on the point of once more
dictating his conditions for peace to Austria.
The sonata opens with a triumphant fanfare which rings out through the
entire exposition. In the development
section, a theme marked con espressione
provides a gentle, peaceful mood enhanced by alluring gruppetti, before the march returns with ever-increasing brio
reinforced by semiquaver figuration played by both hands in unison. The coda includes a recapitulation of the
main theme in left-hand octaves accompanied by a trill lasting several bars,
before an agitato passage and a gradual pianissimo sinking towards the lower
register. The adagio which follows is rich in harmony foreshadowing Schubert and
the later development of piano composition, complete with trills,
hemi-demi-semiquavers weaving a delicate texture, the use of bold harmony and
an overall style suggesting voices.
Considering the date of publication (1800), the sonata is a very
innovative work. It ends with a
cheerfully carefree rondo allegretto. Semiquaver tremolando passages (a Steibelt
speciality – he used the technique quite frequently), a minor-key episode in
octaves for both hands, and many series of trills (which, according to his
listeners, Steibelt was extremely proficient at playing), all of which enabled
the virtuoso pianist to exhibit his technical brilliance.
The dedicatee certainly received a copy of the sonata[xix]. The only trace of a performance by the
composer in the presence of Joséphine is the evidence provided by the Duchesse
d’Abrantès in her Salons de Paris. According to her description, the following
is alleged to have taken place at the home of Madame de Montesson:
[Steibelt] began playing the
sonata to Madame Bonaparte. It is
doubtlessly one of his finest compositions but it is endless. The First Consul
put on a brave face during the introduction and the first part of the sonata;
at the beginning of the second part, however, he could no longer contain
himself. Rising abruptly to his feet,
he took leave […] and went out […] taking Joséphine with him[xx].
It seems that Steibelt was extremely annoyed, and later
described Bonaparte as a ‘vandal’, although this attitude did not serve his
An eye-witness account of the performance of this pianist,
so fashionable at the turn of the century, provides a description of the
characteristics of his playing[xxi]:
I believe one cannot compare his talent
to that of any others. His style
changed as rapidly as his ideas, making it impossible to pin down his
character. All the disorder of this
extraordinary head was also in his fingers: in a moment he managed to transport
his listeners from the gentle mood into which a suave and melancholy tune had
plunged them to the astonishment provoked by the rapidity of his playing. When his listeners regretted that a
particularly expressive phrase did not last any longer, he rewarded them with
an unexpectedly brilliant passage. In a
word, he was his natural self, and I believe one is unlikely to encounter a
greater degree of enthusiasm and expression.
In summer 1802, after the Peace of Amiens, Steibelt returned
to England. He was to come back to
France in 1805, before the continental blockade finally put an end to
travelling. During that time he
achieved a considerable degree of success in Paris and enjoyed an enviable
reputation[xxii]. That his works were often performed during
the Consulate is attested by a privileged witness of musical life at the time,
who mentions four concerts including works by Steibelt during the first three
months of 1803[xxiii]. On 4 April, General Moreau’s wife played
variations by Steibelt before ending the recital with ballet tunes by the same
composer, ‘played by Jadin and accompanied on the tambourine by Madame Moreau’[xxiv].
All these performances of his music show that despite his absence from Paris,
Steibelt was one of the fashionable composers in the capital during the winter
and that a pianist of renown like Louis-Emmanuel Jadin, a piano professor at
the Conservatoire, was quite happy to include Steibelt music in his recitals.
Louis-Emmanuel Jadin (1768-1853) was virtually one of
Steibelt’s contemporaries. He too had made his musical debut before the
Revolution. In 1795, he was appointed
professor of music theory at the newly founded Paris Conservatoire. He taught,
composed operas and had them performed, wrote chamber music and piano works,
and took part in official ceremonies of the Revolution. After a period in Lyon, he returned to Paris
in 1802 and was appointed piano teacher at the Conservatoire in 1804[xxv]. He belonged to the leading soloists who were
invited to play in salons such as that of General Moreau’s wife, to whom he
dedicated his Symphonie concertante pour
deux grands pianos et orchestre[xxvi]. His Grande
Bataille d’Austerlitz is part of the music written in praise of
Napoleon. It is not really a battle
described by eye witnesses, or featuring in the Bulletin de la Grande Armée. It is an inspired fantasia on a grand scale for piano,
well-written for the instrument. The
layout is concise; there are few episodes and the composer chooses not to dwell
on them. The piano writing is
convincingly natural and provides an idea of the composer’s teaching and
performance skills. Louis Jadin depicts
the dawning sun, the appearance of the Emperor with a triumphal theme, and a
battle scene which bears little relation to the combat itself. The scene in which Napoleon does his utmost
to put an end to the slaughter enhances the Emperor’s golden legend. The episode of the Russians taking advantage
of the battle to commit abusive acts in the village of ‘Porlitz’ is not
apparently borne out by any of the descriptions of the battle, but the Emperor
despatched his 27th Bulletin
de la Grande Armée from that same
village[xxvii]. In the bulletin, he alleged that two
thousand Russian prisoners had been taken and that ‘the Moravians show even
more hatred for the Russians and friendship towards us than the inhabitants of
Austria[xxviii]’. This episode in any case exalts the
chivalrous behaviour of the French when dealing with barbaric Russians. Strangely enough, Jadin imagines the
victorious French having some waltzes performed by the prisoners.
Here, as during the Republic and the later restoration of
the Bourbon monarchy, Jadin played the role of a political conformist. His Grande
Bataille d’Austerlitz, written for piano, was so successful that he decided
to arrange it as a symphonie à grand
orchestre in 1806[xxix]. He had no hesitation in composing variations
on Donskaia, a Cossak Air, in 1814,
and in taking sides with the Bourbons when they returned[xxx]. As a result of this, he was appointed Gouverneur des Pages de la Musique du Roi,
a title he held until his retirement in 1830.
Jan Ladislav Dussek (1760-1812) was one of the great
names in piano music of the pre-romantic period. His career was not unlike that of Steibelt, although he received
a far more comprehensive early schooling in music and a decidedly more polished
education. He was born at Čáslav
in Bohemia into a family of musicians, and adopted an itinerant career under
the patronage of an Austrian artillery captain who took him to the Austrian
Netherlands. From there he embarked on
a concert tour in Germany, then Russia, which he left to settle in Lithuania
before going to Paris in 1786, achieving fame just before the Revolution. Dussek fled to England when the storm broke
out, endangering his reputation as a result of a publishing business for which
he was in no way commercially equipped.
He fled to Hamburg late in 1799 (just like Steibelt), reappearing in
Berlin as Kapellmeister to Prince Louis of Prussia, whom he served until the
prince’s death. The sonata entitled Elegie harmonique sur la mort du Prince Louis Ferdinand de Prusse
is one of his most important works.
Unlike the others in this recording, the Elégie has not fallen into oblivion, but it is considered as a
necessary part of this musical project not only for historical reasons, because
it illustrates the 1806 campaign from the Prussian angle, but also for musical
reasons, as it shows how Dussek influenced the development of the sonata. Prince Louis-Ferdinand of Prussia had become
a zealous advocate of the war against France; it is at the head of his troops
that he fought in the advance guard engagements at Saalfeld on 10 October 1806
and was killed by Sergeant Jean-Baptiste Guindey of the 10th
The sonata in F sharp minor is cast in two movements. ‘Bold imagination, in form and virtuosity,
harmony and melody give fullness to a work in which one can see that certain
phrases and chords foreshadow future romantic composers’[xxxi].
The introduction lento patetico cites
(pianissimo) the beginning of the sixth part (“Consumatum est”) of the Seven
Last Words of Christ, by Joseph Haydn, then turns to bold modulations,
unresolved dissonance and sharply defined dynamic contrasts to depict the
suffering of a friend faced with the death of his Prussian protector
prince. It is followed without
interruption by a tempo agitato
which, after a brief exposition of the theme, sounds a solemn call to arms
(with the characteristic indication con
maestà) in dotted rhythms for the right hand accompanied by a furious
cavalcade of semiquaver figuration in the left hand. Perhaps it is an evocation of the ‘chivalrous’ confrontation (sforzando) of an increasingly
threatening destiny. When semiquavers
take over both hands and the melody is heard above the conflict, the listener
has the impression of being present at a furious cavalry combat between the
French and the Prussians. During the recapitulation, the heroic maestoso theme rings out once again, and
the struggle between arpeggiated chords and menacing arpeggios concludes as the
theme fades away until the end of the movement. The finale, tempo vivace e
con fuoco, is a frenzied race with syncopated accompaniment, from which an
astonishingly delicate passage in the tonic major later emerges. The movement
dies away with a pianissimo effect in the lower register of the piano, as if
anticipating the oblivion of the tomb.
After the crushing defeat of Prussia, Dussek did not
hesitate to return to France in September 1807, where he published his
monumental sonatas, including Le Retour à
Paris (1807) and L’Invocation
(1812). His life and work ended at Saint-Germain-en-Laye on 20 March 1812. As a performer, Dussek was ‘gifted with
prodigious virtuosity […] and deep warmth of touch’. As a composer, he was an unfailing inventor of musical ideas, ‘an
adventurous exponent of musical thought, a pioneer in the realm of sonority and
harmony’, as Guy Sacre has very aptly described[xxxii]. This is what comes across in the Elégie harmonique. Dussek’s presence in Paris, according to a
fierce criticism in the Allgemeine
musikalische Zeitung on 21 June 1809, would be ‘beneficial in making it
possible to root out the poor taste shown by the public since the arrival of
another German virtuoso, the Berlin pianist Steibelt[xxxiii].
Under the Empire, army officers represented every
conceivable kind of social origin and standard of training. General Thiébault describes in his memoirs
how, when he was looking for an aide de
camp, the War Office suggested a certain Le Mière, ‘by no means lacking in
ability or character, but a musician with an element of the strolling player rather
than an officer, in fact having more shortcomings than merits, and cut out for
the theatre rather than military headquarters[xxxiv].
Jean Frédéric Auguste Le Mière
(1771-1832)[xxxv] was born
in Rennes on 3 August 1771. He became
known in Paris at the time of the Revolution through his operas, including Les chevaliers errants, first performed
in 1791, La reprise de Toulon (1794),
Les suspects (1795) and La Paix et l’Amour (1798). With a surprising degree of modernity for
the time, he also set to music an article from the Journal du soir, containing the demand to surrender Mainz to
General Custine, and the General’s reply[xxxvi]. At the same time, Le Mière embarked on a
military career, joining as an enlisted volunteer on 1 March 1792. He proudly wrote in 1814: ‘I have served for
twenty-two years, seen twenty campaigns, obtained two promotions on the
battle-field and been wounded three times’.
In point of fact he was not always on active service. His military career was full of triumphs and
failures. Service in Italy was
certainly his most outstanding military period. He distinguished himself in battle at San Giacomo on 30 Germinal
year VIII when he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant on the battle field
and at Millefourches on 10 Prairial where he was made a captain. After spending time in the garrison town of
Besançon and several years ‘on the coasts’ of Holland, he was on leave when the
conflict with Prussia broke out. While
in Paris, he was requested as aide de
camp on 8 November 1806 by General Thiébault, the Governor of the recently
conquered territory of Fulda[xxxvii].
Le Mière published a work which provided him with the
opportunity of playing in the salons of Fulda, where he was then serving[xxxviii]. La
Bataille d’Jéna, gagnée sur les Prussiens le 14 d’octobre 1806, par les Troupes
Françaises Commandées par sa Majesté Impériale et Royale, Napoléon 1er is a
descriptive work of the kind that had already appeared during the Revolution[xxxix]. It was composed by an officer who, despite
not having taken an active part in this battle, was familiar with the business
of being a soldier. The music abounds
in the prescribed military calls, marching infantry, charging cavalry, musket
fire and the groans of the wounded. The
events described are based very closely on those of the battle itself.
Napoleon’s arrival the night before, the digging of a road up to the
Landgrafenberg to permit the artillery access at night, the bivouac, the
Emperor’s visit to the look-out posts, the late arrivals of Maréchal Ney and
Maréchal Soult with their respective corps, and the occupation of the gorge of
Kösen by Davout which prevented the majority of the Prussian army from fleeing
to Berlin are all briefly evoked. Both
stages of the battle are clearly described:
the stubborn resistance of the Prussians and the beginning of their
retreat, orderly at first but later panic-stricken after a decisive charge by
Murat, the Grand Duke of Berg, not to mention the final arrival of prisoners
and capture of the Prussian artillery.
From a technical standpoint, this is the simplest work in
this recording. It consists of
juxtaposed episodes with very few modulations.
The melodic line is straightforward and the rhythms are effective. The strength of the music lies in the
clarity and ‘authentic’ character of the narration. If Le Mière has left as accurate a description as possible it is
probably because he was unwilling to take the risk that eye-witnesses of the
battle might hear him play the work during his stay in Westphalia and contest
the accuracy of his portrayal of events.
On 11 May 1807, Le Mière was promoted to the rank of major.
He left Fulda to return to the army, which was then engaged in campaign in
Poland, but he did not take up his new role until 7 July, the very day when the
peace of Tilsit was signed. While in
charge of a battalion of the 46th line infantry regiment, he was
inspected by Napoleon himself on 12 July at Königsberg[xl]. After the Austrian campaign, during which he
was wounded at the battle of Essling[xli]
(22 May 1809), Le Mière served in Spain until he retired in March 1812. During the Hundred Days (between Napoleon’s
return to France and his second abdication in 1815), he resumed official
service and was posted to the observation corps in the Jura. He was far from the final action of Waterloo
and was dismissed in September while in Belfort. After the second return of Louis XVIII, he attempted to
supplement his meagre pension by the composition and sale of salon songs, many
of which were published in Le Souvenir
des ménestrels. His aversion to the
new regime and its henchmen found a humorous outlet in a scene for piano called
Réception d’un chevalier de l’éteignoir
and more tragically in the ballad Le
dernier cri de la Garde ! In
1823 Le Mière published a theoretical work of his own conception, Des Partisans et des corps irréguliers,
which was perused with interest by readers as far away as the Military Academy
of St Petersburg[xliii]. Baron
Séruzier’s memoirs appeared the same year, written by Le Mière for his
friend. Although his reputation was not
great in musical, military or literary fields, Le Mière de Corvey nevertheless
produced works which show intellectual curiosity and the capacity to
crystallise ideas clearly and precisely.
He died from cholera on 24 April 1832.
On returning to France in 1805, Steibelt tried once more to
get into favour again with the great hero of the day. When Napoleon came back to Paris after a campaign concluding with
the glorious victory of Austerlitz, Steibelt staged an Intermède musical, called La
fête de Mars[xliv]. However, this attempt to win back the
Parisian public did not meet with the degree of success the composer and
performer had hoped for, so that he left Paris in great haste in October 1808
as rehearsals for his opera La Princesse
de Babylone were just beginning. He
decided to try his luck in Russia and arrived there in the spring of 1809 after
giving recitals en route in
Frankfurt, Leipzig and Dresden. After
being appointed ‘chapel-master’ of Tsar Alexander I, he became a supporter of
Russian nationalism. When Napoleon’s
troops left Russia at the end of 1812, he composed a programmatic work in which
he makes fun of the invaders and sings the praises of Russian patriotic
sentiment. After setting an
introductory dramatic climate, the composer uses the tune ‘Marlbrough s’en va-t-en guerre’ (‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’) for the arrival of Napoleon and the
Grande Armée in Moscow[xlv],
just as Beethoven used this theme to represent the French in his battle piece, Wellington’s Victory (1813). After the conflagration, battle and defeat
of the French, Steibelt used the rather moving minor-key strains of the
Marseillaise to voice the laments of the French. To emphasise the English
contribution to the anti-napoleonic war effort, the English national anthem,
complete with tremolo effects, rings out to invoke the salvation of the emperor
Alexander. The whole musical score is highly descriptive, with the flames of
the conflagration rising upwards in waving semiquaver figuration, the Kremlin
exploding with a fortissimo rising scale played by both hands in unison, and
the ensuing general terror depicted with bass tremolo effects. The techniques employed are varied,
appropriate, and efficient. The harmony
is subtle and inventive, emphasising the tension until the final relief. The work ends in an apotheosis of seven
variations, all in the major mode, on a Russian theme.
It is worth remembering that Steibelt was one of the first
musicians to insist on the necessity, during concerts, for doors to be kept
closed, clocks to be stopped and the use of fans forbidden so that performers
would not be disturbed by any unwelcome noise – a thoroughly modern concept and
one we should thank him for! If he
has fallen into oblivion it is perhaps, as Georgette Ducrest has suggested,
because he ‘created for himself a specific genre, full of grace, sometimes
charm and always originality […] To form an opinion of his works, it was
necessary to hear him play them himself; he communicated his own passion and
genial temperament; when listening to them thus performed, one preferred them
to all else[xlvi]’.
The musical career of Christian
Friedrich Ruppe (1753-1826), who was born in Thuringia and settled in the
Netherlands in the 1780s, is quite different.
He was a Saxon who had been living in Holland for some time and who,
because of the wars caused by the French Revolution, carried on his profession
in a region which had fallen under French rule, then in a kingdom dependent on
the French Empire and finally in a town that had been annexed by the First
Empire (1810). The many political
changes between 1794 and 1813 do not seem to have had much influence on Ruppe’s
career, either in a positive sense – he is not known to have been promoted to
an official post when Louis Bonaparte was proclaimed king of Holland, or in a
negative way – there is no trace of any persecution for his political
opinions. He was working in Leiden at
the beginning of this difficult period, and seems to have stayed there until
the Empire collapsed at the end of 1813.
However, on Napoleon’s return in 1815, Ruppe was determined to proclaim
his allegiance to the new power by writing the Grande Bataille de Waterloo ou de la Belle-Alliance, a ‘historic
fact’ which he dedicated to the Prince of Orange, making the prince’s wound a
central feature of his composition. In
what is a fairly close parallel to Le Mière’s battle music, one can hear the
official call to arms of the French and allied armies, the charges and the
musket fire, and the groaning of the wounded. Several well-known incidents are
specifically described, such as the charge of the French armoured cavalry, the
well-timed arrival of the Prussians on the battlefield to attack the French
‘from the flanks’ (this is specifically mentioned in the score) and to determine
the victory, and the attack by the allied cavalry (Ruppe is careful to specify
‘allies’ and not ‘English’). The purpose was to show the active part played by
the Dutch in the victory, as well as the disorder in the French lines and the
ensuing general stampede. The only thing remaining for the composer was to
depict the meeting between Wellington and Blücher and the victorious cries of
their armies. Ruppe later produced a ‘sequel’ to the Battle of Waterloo, a piano work entitled La Paix universelle.
This description of Waterloo produces the same impression as
a popular engraving, with its simple, almost naïve, outlines and very emphatic
moral conclusion. Ruppe was not interested in bold modulations, striking
effects or innovative piano techniques.
His style is nevertheless characterised by great precision in the way
rhythms are committed to paper and he is not averse to expressive dissonance.
Even if the piece was composed for the glory of the Prince of Orange and
intended to instil patriotic feelings in the hearts of wealthy Dutch citizens,
it bears the stamp of a modern approach to the piano at the turn of the
represents a new generation of virtuosi, and was born more than thirty years
after Dussek. Along with the latter, he
is the composer in this selection whose works are most frequently played today.
He was born in Bohemia on 23 May 1794 and first studied at the Conservatoire in
Prague, then in Vienna in 1808. As a subject of the Austrian empire, his
national sense of honour must have suffered during the first twenty years of
his life on account of the many setbacks of the House of Habsburg. Once peace had been conquered in Paris,
Moscheles began his career as a travelling virtuoso. From 1815 until 1825 he
gave recitals in many German towns, as well as in London and Paris, where his
first appearance was in 1821. He
settled in London between 1825 and 1846, and then in Leipzig until his death in
1870. Despite his sympathetic approach
to the music of Chopin and a degree of appreciation of Liszt’s technical
innovations, Moscheles was one of the finest exponents of the classical school.
The fact that his music marked the beginning of a new period, just as Hanslick
had anticipated, is proved by his influence on the next generation.
During festivities at the Vienna Congress in winter 1814-15,
Moscheles was asked by Countess Hardegg to play for a charity concert on Ash
Wednesday. After hesitating somewhat
because he had nothing new to offer his public, the pianist agreed to write a
set of variations on the march played by the regiment bearing the name of the
Emperor Alexander of Russia.
He began writing the variations on
the 29th of January , and finished on the 5th of February. These are the famous Alexander Variations, of which it was said for many years that
Moscheles alone could play them, and which won for him, both at Vienna and
elsewhere on his artistic tours, his high reputation as a bravura player[xlvii].
The piece is characteristic of the new penchant for
brilliant variations intended to display a performing virtuoso’s technical
prowess. The work was first performed in a version for piano and orchestra on 8
February 1815, drawing applause from an audience which included the crowned
heads present in Vienna at the time. This performance marked the start of the
pianist-composer’s international reputation.
There is also a version for piano solo.
The French publisher Richault sold an edition of the work in 1815 with a
different title to accommodate French national pride (Grandes variations sur un thème militaire)[xlviii],
while in England they became popular under the title Grand variations on the Fall of Paris. When Moscheles made his
debut in London on 11 June 1821, the variations were presented with the latter
title. His diary contains the following
June 11th. – Important
day. My first appearance at the last
Philharmonic Concert. I had great
success in my E flat concerto, and the Alexander variations. This piece had
been named in England the ‘Fall of Paris’ (a circumstance which exposed me in
after-years to some unpleasant remarks in the French papers)[xlix].
Six years after Napoleon’s final defeat (just before his
death became known in Europe), such a title led to public acclaim of the
composer and performer, in addition to the inherent quality of the work and his
own performance. Moscheles later revised his variations, composed an
introduction, enriched the harmony in different places, simplified (just
slightly!) the diabolical crossing of hands in the fourth variation, and
published the work in Vienna[l]
and London in a version for piano and orchestra, and another for piano solo.
The twelve-year-old Liszt mastered the tremendous technical difficulties
involved, playing the variations in Strasbourg in December 1823[li]. In 1827 Chopin copied the layout of
Moscheles’ variations in his own opus 2 variations on Là ci darem la mano.
Schumann played the Alexander Variations during his last public
recital on 24 January 1830 in Heidelberg[lii]. It is the second and more musically
convincing version of 1822 which has been used for this recording.
The Russian theme pays a tribute to Alexander I, then
considered to be the ‘saviour of Europe’.
After an introduction marked adagio,
the allegretto theme is used as the
basis of a series of variations, technically very demanding right from the
start and then gradually working up into a frenzied emotional climax: con fuoco (third variation), di bravura (fourth variation) and con brio (fifth variation). Each variation contrives to take technical
obstacles to a greater degree of difficulty than the preceding movement –
always assuming that to be possible!
The succession of an adagio as
the last variation and an allegro finale
was to provide composers for several decades with a model for brilliant
variations (Herz, Liszt, Thalberg, and Charles Valentin Alkan, with his opus 1
on The Storm motif from Steibelt’s famous third concerto[liii]).
The overall result is a spectacular display, complete with original,
challenging ideas, and pyrotechnics which transform the pianist into a
‘keyboard hero’. The Marche d’Alexandre is a virtuoso piece
calculated to solicit applause for the pianist whose ten fingers provide the
requisite technical display and make ever-increasing demands on the
instrument’s resonance and action. It
is no coincidence that Moscheles was soon to include Thalberg (Liszt’s most
serious rival) among his pupils, and provide a transition to the development of
the romantic era.
We may wonder to what extent Napoleon contributed, indirectly
but quite certainly, to the development of the romantic piano through these
brilliant showpieces written to honour him, and those, equally exacting
technically, composed for the glory of his conquerors.
translation: Geoffrey Marshall
Marmontel, Les Pianistes célèbres,
Tours, imprimerie Paul Bousrez 1887. Ch
XI, Dussek, p. 120.
[ii] Elisabeth Brisson, Ludwig van Beethoven, Paris, Fayard /
Mirare, pp. 84-86.
[iii] Journal de Paris
December 1804, Jean Mongrédien, La
musique en France des Lumières au Romantisme, 1789-1830. Harmoniques /
Flammarion, 1986, p. 312.
Ducrest, Mémoires sur l’Impératrice
Joséphine, ses contemporains, la cour de Navarre et la Malmaison, Paris,
Ladvocat, 1828, new edition by Mercure
de France, 2004, introduction and notes by Christophe Pincemaille, p. 349.
Gottfried Müller, Daniel Steibelt, sein
Leben und seine Klavierwerke, Baden-Baden, Verlag Valentin Koerner, 1973,
p. 6, who refers to the marriage certificate of 18 January 1765, at the
Georgenkirche am Alexanderplatz in Berlin. (One should not lose sight of the
fact that the original edition dates from 1933.)
[vi] Most of his
correspondence was written in French.
[vii] In a letter to one of his
brothers, written from St Petersburg, in 1823, the year he died. (G Müller, op. cit., p. 9)
Müller, op. cit., p. 17.
[ix] Recounted by G. Müller, op. cit., pp. 18-20.
[x] Norvins, Mémorial, published with a foreword and
notes by L. Lanzac de Laborie, Paris, Plon, Nourrit et Cie, 1896-1897. 3
volumes, vol. I, ch XIV, in particular pp. 177-179.
[xi] Hector Berlioz,
article from the Journal des Débats
dated 13 September 1859, included in A
travers Chants (Paris, Gründ, Edition du Centenaire, 1971, pp. 352-355) and
mentioned in the Correspondance générale,
vol. 6, p. 16.
[xii] The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley
Sadie, London, Macmillan, 1980, vol. 18, p. 102. It was during this stay in London that Steibelt married an
English woman who played the tambourine well.
It was for her that he wrote pieces for piano and tambourine including,
probably in 1800, a Grande Marche de
Buonaparte [sic] en Italie, composée pour le forte-piano avec accompagnement de
tambourin. One remains somewhat
sceptical at the thought of a Prussian and his English wife playing a work with
this title. And we may wonder where
they performed it?
[xiii] Related by Steibelt himself to one of his brothers in a
letter dated 25 May 1823 (Gottfried Müller, op.
cit., p. 30)
[xiv] This anecdote is related
by Ferdinand Ries in his biography of Beethoven (1838), and reproduced by Fétis
in the Biographie universelle des
musiciens, 2nd edition, 1865, vol. 8, p. 120.
[xv] Published in Vienna by
Artaria on 26 February 1800.
[xvi] The orchestra was
conducted by J.B. Rey (G. Müller, op. cit.
p. 41, and Mongrédien, op. cit. p.
[xvii] Fétis does not specify
his source for asserting that Hortense de Beauharnais (Joséphine’s daughter)
was a pupil of Steibelt (Fétis, op. cit.
p. 120); it is not mentioned in the Mémoires
de la Reine Hortense publiés par le Prince Napoléon avec notes de Jean Hanoteau,
Paris, Librairie Plon, 1927, 3 vols) and seems unlikely in view of her mother’s financial difficulties.
[xviii] Gottfried Müller, op. cit., p. 97. “Einen Höhepunkt erreicht Steibelts Sonatenschaffen
mit der dreisätzigen ‘Grande Sonate’ op 45 in E flat major (dedicated to Madame
[xix] A finely-bound
copy by Pierre Joseph Bisiaux, as described by Anne Lamort, Reliures impériales Bibliothèque
napoléonienne de Gérard Souham. Editions Monelle-Hayot,
2004, page 54. (The collection was disposed of at an auction sale in Paris, 7
d’Abrantès, Salons de Paris, vol. 4,
pp. 56-57, cited by Jérôme Dorival in Hélène
de Montgeroult, La Marquise et la Marseillaise, Lyon, Symétrie, 2006, p.
Junot, future Duchesse d’Abrantès, studied the piano with Steibelt between her
return from Portugal in 1806 and the pianist’s departure in October 1808.
(Joseph Turquan, La Générale Junot,
Duchesse d’Abrantès (1784-1838), after her unpublished correspondence,
papers and ‘private diary’, Paris, Tallandier, 1914, p. 192). Although it is not mentioned in L’itinéraire de Napoléon au jour le jour
(1769-1821) by Jean Tulard and Louis Garros (Tallandier, 1992) that the First
Consul had ever received any invitation to Madame de Montesson’s house between
December 1800 and the summer of 1802, it is quite probable that he attended
some of these evenings at the rue du Mont-Blanc in person, as he encouraged the
widow of Duke Louis-Philippe of Orleans to re-open her salons, making it
available for meetings between the earlier and more recent élites. On 9 Germinal year IX, (30 March 1801),
Bonaparte authorised the payment of the first 30,000 francs of the dowry of
Madame de Montesson. (Madame de
Montesson, douarière d’Orléans, 1738-1806, étude de femmes et de mœurs au
XVIIIe siècle, by Joseph Turquan, Paris, J. Tallandier, 1904, ch. VIII on
pp. 281-294, and the appendix p. 325). Bonaparte was present at
the grand celebration given by Talleyrand at the château of Neuilly for the
King of Etruria on 19 Prairial year IX (8 June 1801) and may well have heard Steibelt play there during a concert
given before the firework display (Abrantès, Salons de Paris, vol. 4, p. 27).
Joséphine certainly heard him again at a concert on 30 April 1807, for
which Steibelt had been paid 1,200 francs.
(Théo Fleischman, op. cit., p.
252, who mentions Maze-Sencier’s work Les
fournisseurs de Napoléon et des deux impératrices, 1893).
[xxi] Georgette Ducrest,
op. cit., Mercure de France, 2004, pp. 350-352, relates a further anecdote
about Steibelt playing for Madame Bonaparte, although she was certainly not
present herself because she stayed with Joséphine during the winter of
1810-1811. Steibelt had already settled in Russia and did not leave until his
death in 1823. She probably heard
ing about what she described.
[xxii] The first performance of
his ballet score Le Retour de Zéphire
was given at the Opera House in Paris on 3 March 1802.
[xxiii] Johann Friedrich
Reichardt, Un hiver à Paris sous le
Consulat, Tallandier, 2002, pp. 288, 476 , 447 and 472 : concerts on 11 January and 26 March 1803 for
Générale Moreau ; on 11 March,
Madame Leval played one of his harp concertos; a sonata for piano and organ was
performed by Mademoiselle Schérer and Madame Laval at the banker Schérer’s
[xxv] Information contained in
the notes written by Nathalie Castinel for a recording of three string quartets
by Hyacinthe and Louis-Emmanuel Jadin, by the Mosaiques Quartet (Valois, 1995,
[xxvi] Published by Erard in
1803 and mentioned by Hervé Audéon in his notes on the recording of the second
and third concertos for piano by Hyacinthe Jadin and Louis-Emmanuel Jadin’s
fourth piano concerto, by Wen-Ying Tseng and I Strumenti, conducted by Gérard
Strelestski (Forlane, 2003, 16840).
[xxvii] Twenty-seventh bulletin
of the Grande Armée, Porlitz, 28 Brumaire year XIV (19 November 1805). Consulted 28 November 2011 on the site: http://www.histoire-empire.org/bga/bga/27.htm#_edn3.
also: Bulletins de la Grande Armée, Campagne d’Austerlitz, 1805, edited
by Thierry Rouillard and Stéphane Le Couëdic, La Vouivre, 1999, page 84.)
[xxviii] Porlitz probably refers
to Pohořelice, south of the battlefield between Brünn (Brno) and
Nikolsburg (Mikulov) where the French captured 2000 Russian prisoners on 17
November, rather than to Pohrlitz, north of the battlefield on the road to
Olmütz (Olomouc), before Wischau (Vyškov) occupied by the Russian general
Bagration on 27 November 1805 but which no longer seems
to have played a role in the battle itself. (Alain Pigeard, in his Dictionnaire des batailles de Napoléon,
mentions 2000 Austrian prisoners, although the 27th Bulletin specifies
that they were Russian).
[xxix] Louis Jadin placed an
announcement in the newspapers for La
Grande Bataille d’Austerlitz, surnommée
la Bataille des trois empereurs, historically verifiable, arranged for full
orchestra and dedicated to His Imperial Highness Prince Joseph, Grand Elector
of the Empire, by L. Jadin, member of the Conservatoire de Musique. Prix: 9
After many requests, the composer has decided to arrange La Bataille d’Austerlitz for full
symphony orchestra; the success it
obtained in the version for piano will guarantee the success we announce today,
which assembles all musical resources to sum up this memorable day, enshrined
in the hearts of the French. (Théo Fleischman
op. cit., pp. 178-179)
[xxx] In 1850 Fétis sardonically pointed out, in the Revue et Gazette musicale de Paris,
that musicians do not hold political views, and that one should not therefore
take Jadin to task for having successively praised les Ennemis des Tyrans, Empress Marie-Louise and the King’s
commemoration (cited by Adelaïde de Place in her notes on Louis-Emmanuel
Jadin’s Nocturnes pour hautbois et piano,
recorded by Jacques Vandeville (oboe), and Jean-Michel Louchart and Christine
Rouault (piano), Arion, 2001. ARN 68533). According to Berlioz in les Soirées de l’Orchestre, Jadin had
been unwittingly associated with an ominous episode: his Air détaché avec
choeurs was alleged to have been performed at one of the imperial concerts
on Monday 9 February 1807 by Madame Barilli and the castrato mezzo-soprano
Crescentini, but the anecdote related by Berlioz about stars in decreasing size
printed on the programme, which is thought to have sparked off the emperor’s
bad temper, is clearly incorrect
because at the time Napoleon was visiting the battlefield of Eylau the day
after the bloody combat.
[xxxi] Guy Sacre, La musique de piano, Robert Laffont,
Bouquins, 1998, p. 1020.
[xxxii] Guy Sacre, op. cit., p. 1008.
Mongrédien, op. cit., p. 299.
Thiébault, Mémoires, Paris, 1897,
vol. 3, p. 557. It is amusing to note that
Fétis pointed out that ‘General Thiébault, himself a well-educated music lover,
had attracted him [Le Mière] because of his talent.’ (Fétis, Biographie universelle des musiciens, 2e
édition, vol. 5, p. 264)
[xxxv] Variants of his
name include Le Mière, Lemière and Lemierre.
[xxxvi] Mentioned in
the article Opéra of the Grand Dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle,
vol 11, p. 1369, column 1.
[xxxvii] All the
information about Le Mière’s military career is taken from his regimental and
retirement records, preserved by the Service
Historique des Armées de Terre. (2Ye2470 and 2Yf 88076)
This piano piece, subtitled Grande pièce
de musique composée pour le Piano-forte, must have been fairly popular because it was
reprinted several times: in Hamburg
(Jean Auguste Böhme), in Copenhagen (Sønnichsen) and in Leipzig (Meysel) and
Frankfurt (Gail &Hedler). The Hamburg edition was used for this recording.
Kaltenecker, La rumeur des batailles. La
musique au tournant des XVIIIe et XIXe siècles, Fayard, 2000, pp. 51-64.
[xl] Napoleon reviewed the 4th
Army Corps, of which the 46th line infantry regiment was a part, on 12 July at
Königsberg (Garros-Tulard, op. cit.,
[xli] Where he ran into
Théodore Jean Joseph Séruzier, whom he had already met in Besançon ‘at the end
of year X’ (September 1801) when he was General Ménard’s aide de camp. He later wrote
up Séruzier’s memoirs: Mémoires militaires du baron Séruzier,
colonel d’artillerie légère, mis en ordre et rédigés par son ami M. Le Mière de
Corvey, Paris, Anselin et Pochard, 1823
[xlii] Article on Lemière de Corvey, by M.-C. Mussat in
the Dictionnaire de la musique en France
au XIXe siècle, edited by Joël-Marie Fauquet, Fayard, 2003, p.685.
[xliii] This work elicited the
following praise from Gérard Chaliand in Guerres
et Civilisations (Paris, Odile Jacob, 2005): ‘The book by Le Mière de Corvey Des partisans et des corps irréguliers is a major contribution to
the theories of guerrilla warfare’ (p. 389).
[xliv] Set to words by Esménard
and with Gardel’s ballet, this Intermède was performed on 4 February 1806. (L’Empire des Muses. Napoléon, les Arts et
les Lettres, edited by Jean-Claude Bonnet, Belin, 2004 – Michel Noiray, Le nouveau visage de la musique française,
p. 226) In 1933 Gottfried Müller could not help observing : Es
liegt eine ironie darin, dass ein geborener ‘Deutscher’ unternahm, des Sieger
von Austerlitz zu feiern (It is quite ironic that a German-born musician
should undertake the celebration of the victory of Austerlitz). Napoleon returned to Paris on 27 January
(Garros-Tulard, Napoléon au jour le jour,
p. 245) and on the evening of 4 February was present with Joséphine at the
Opéra where they saw the Intermède
(Théo Fleischman, Napoléon et la musique,
Brussels, Brepols, 1965, p. 177).
[xlv] Napoleon reputedly
massacred the tune in private, but was Steibelt aware of this? Was it common knowledge? Théo Fleischman, who mentions it, suggests
that historians wanted to deduce not only that Napoleon did not know much about
music but also that he did not like it, and explains why these two matters are
not related. (Théo Fleischman, op. cit.,
[xlvi] G. Ducrest, op. cit., p. 350.
[xlvii] Charlotte Moscheles, Life of Moscheles, with selections from
his diaries and correspondence, volume 1, pp. 17-18.
[xlviii] Grandes variations sur un thème militaire pour le
piano, avec accompagnement de deux Violons, Alto et Violoncelle, composées et
exécutées à son concert de l’Académie Royale de Musique par Ignaz Moscheles, Op. 32, Paris,
[xlix] Charlotte Moscheles, op. cit., p. 57.
[l] La Marche d’Alexandre variée pour le Piano-Forte
(seul) ou avec l’accompagnement de l’Orchestre, par Ignaz Moscheles, opus 32. New edition with an
introduction by the composer, Vienna, Artaria.
[liii] According to a note in
the catalogue of the Bibliothèque
Nationale de France. The
following comment appears on the cover:
‘these Variations have been performed by the composer at several
concerts in Paris’. Editor’s signature on the
title page – 1826, according to the Journal
général d’annonce, 15 March 1826.’