Dussek, Johann Ladislaus (real name, JanLadislav Dusík)

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Dussek, Johann Ladislaus (real name, JanLadislav Dusík)

Dussek, Johann Ladislaus (real name, JanLadislav Dusík), outstanding Bohemian pianist and composer; b. Tschaslau, Feb. 12, 1760; d. St.-Germain-en-Laye, March 20, 1812. He studied piano at age five and organ at age nine, and then became a chorister at the Iglau Minorite church and a pupil at the Jesuit Gymnasium. After further studies at the Kuttenberg Jesuit Gymnasium, he continued his studies at Prague’s New City Gymnasium (1776–77) and at the Univ. of Prague (1778). He found a patron in Count Manner, with whose assistance he was able to go to Malines in 1779, where he became active as a piano teacher. Dussek made his public debut there as a pianist on Dec. 16,1779, and then set out on a highly successful tour, visiting Bergen op Zoom, Amsterdam, and The Hague. He then went to Hamburg, where he gave a concert on July 12, 1782, and also met C. P. E. Bach, with whom he may have studied. In 1783 he played at the St. Petersburg court. After spending about a year in the service of Prince Karl Radziwill as Kapellmeister in Lithuania, he made a major tour of Germany in 1784, winning notable acclaim in Berlin, Mainz, Kassel, and Frankfurt am Main as a piano and glass harmonica virtuoso. In 1786 he went to Paris, where he performed at the court for Marie Antoinette; except for a brief trip to Milan and Bohemia, he remained in Paris until the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 compelled him to flee to London. On June 1, 1789, he made his London debut at the Hanover Square Rooms. He soon became successful as a pianist and teacher in the British capital, appearing regularly at Salomon’s concerts and being an active participant in these concerts during Haydn’s two visits. In 1792 Dussek married the singer, pianist, and harpist Sophia Corri. With his father-in-law, Domenico Corri, he became active as a music publisher. Both men were ill suited for such a venture, however, and Dussek’s love for the good life further contributed to the failure of the business. Dussek fled to Hamburg in 1799, leaving his father-in-law to serve a jail sentence for debt. Dussek apparently never saw his wife or daughter again. He seems to have spent about two years in Hamburg, where he was active as a performer and teacher. In 1802 he played in his birthplace, and then in Prague. From 1804 to 1806 he served as Kapellmeister to Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia. After the latter’s death at the battle of Saalfeld (Oct. 10, 1806), Dussek composed a piano sonata in his memory, the Elegie harmonique sur la mort du Prince Louis Ferdinand de Prusse, op.61. He then was briefly in the service of Prince Isenburg. In 1807 he settled in Paris, where he served Prince Talleyrand, gave concerts, and taught. His health began to fail due to excessive drinking, and he was compelled to abandon his career. Dussek was a remarkable composer for the piano, proving himself a master craftsman capable of producing the most brilliant works for the instrument. In his later works he presaged the development of the Romantic school, anticipating such composers as Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and even Brahms. As a celebrated virtuoso of the keyboard, he shares with Clementi the honor of having introduced the “singing touch.” He publ. Instructions on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte or Harpsichord (London, 1796; numerous later eds.; Fr. tr. as Methode pour le pianoforte, Paris, 1799; Ger. tr. as Pianoforte-Schule, Leipzig, 1802). A complete ed. of his works was publ. by Breitkopf & Hartel (12 vols., Leipzig, 1813–17; reprint, 6 vols., N.Y., 1976). A number of his works have appeared in modern eds. in the Musiqua Antiqua Bohemica series. See alsoH. Craw, ed., J.L. D.: Selected Piano Works (Madison, Wise., 1977).


The Captive of Spilberg, musical drama (London, Nov. 14, 1798); incidental music to Sheridan’s melodrama Pizarro (London, Jan. 19, 1799); Auszug aus einer Oster-Cantate (1786); Mass (1807); 15 piano concertos (1 not extant; 4 arranged for Harp); Concerto for 2 Pianos and Orch.; Harp Concerto (not extant); 34 piano sonatas (several arranged for other instruments); 9 sonatas for Piano, 4-Hands (several arranged for other instruments); 68 sonatas for Piano and Violin (several arranged for Piano and Flute); 16 sonatas for Piano, Violin, and Cello (6 not extant); 2 sonatas for Piano, Violin, and Double Bass; many solo piano pieces, including The Sufferings of the Queen of France (1793); Piano Quartet; Piano Quintet; 3 string quartets; numerous other chamber works, including the Sonata for Piano, Violin, Cello, and Percussion entitled The Naval Battle and Total Defeat of the Dutch by Admiral Duncan (London, Oct. 11, 1797).


E Schiffer, J.L D.: Seine Sonaten und seine Konzerte (Leipzig, 1914); H. Craw, A Biography and Thematic Catalog of the Works of J.L D. (1760–1812) (diss., Univ. of Southern Calif., 1964); O. Grossman, The Piano Sonatas of J.L. D. (1760–1812) (diss., Yale Univ., 1975); L. Richter, An Analytic Study of Selected Piano Concertos of J.L. D. (diss., N.Y.U., 1985); L. Palazzolo, II tocco cantante: J.L. D., compositore e virtuoso tra Mozart e Clementi (Bologna, 1992).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire