Jan Ladislav Dussek

(12 February 1760, Cáslav – 20 March 1812, Saint-Germain-en-Laye)


Baptized Václav Jan Dusík, with surname also written as Duschek or Düssek, Jan was a Czech composer and pianist who is best known for his piano and chamber music. Some argue that he was the first truly important touring piano virtuoso.

He was born in a family of musicians, his father who was a cathedral organist provided his early musical education. Little Jan showed great skill as a pianist and organist at an early age (he studied piano from the age of 5, and began playing the organ at 9), his voice was also found to be good, and so he joined the church choir. In 1778 he attended the University of Prague for one term. The same year he entered the services of Captain Männer, an Austrian military man.

Upon traveling to Belgium in 1779, he received the position of organist at the Saint Rumbold's cathedral in Mechelen. Here he gave his first public recital which consisted of his own compositions. Other public concerts were performed in Amsterdam and at The Hague where he was very well received by the royalty.

In 1782 he gave a concert in Hamburg on the ”new English fortepiano”. It is thought that while in Hamburg he may have studied under C.P.E. Bach. He also published his first works, 3 piano concertos and 3 violin sonatas (C 2-7), all of which were assigned Opus 1. He continued to tour as a pianist, performing in Saint Petersburg, Berlin, Paris and Italy. He made a successful debut in 1789 in London, where he established a music shop and gave many concerts, prompting the visiting Joseph Haydn to write about him in glowing terms.

He returned to Paris, where he stayed until shortly before the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789. During his time in Paris he may have met and played with a violinist by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte. He also published a series of violin sonatas (C 27–29) dedicated to Eugénie de Beaumarchais, daughter of writer Pierre Beaumarchais.

In 1789 Dussek left France for England and settled in London. Shortly after his business failed in 1799, Dussek fled from England to escape his creditors. He subsequently stayed in Hamburg and Berlin (as kapellmeister), appeared in concerts in Cáslav and Prague, and lived in the household of Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand in Paris from about 1807 until his death.
As a pianist Dussek possessed great dexterity and could elicit a singing tone that was much praised by his contemporaries. He is said to have been the first pianist to place his piano sideways on the platform, so that the public could see a profile view of the performer (an innovation often credited to Franz Liszt).

The vast majority of Dussek's music involves the piano or harp in some way. He wrote 35 sonatas for piano and 11 for piano duet, as well as numerous other works for both configurations. His chamber music output includes 65 violin sonatas, 24 piano (or harp) trios, and a variety of works for harp, harp or piano, or harp and piano. Some sonatas had trio parts added by J. B. Cramer. Orchestral works were limited to concertos, including 16 for piano (one of them had lost and two of them are remained dubious attribution), six for harp (three of them lost), and one for two pianos. He wrote a modest number of vocal works, include 12 songs, a cantata, a mass, and one opera, The Captive of Spilberg. His compositions also included arrangements of other works, especially opera overtures, for piano.

Here  you can find a list of Jan Vladislav Dussek's compositions.