1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dussek, Johann Ludwig

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DUSSEK, JOHANN LUDWIG (1761-1812), Bohemian pianist and composer, was born at Czaslau, in Bohemia, on the 9th of February 1761. His father, Johann Joseph Dussek, a musician of high reputation, was organist and choir-master in the collegiate church of Czaslau, and several other members of the family were distinguished as organists. Under the careful instruction of his father he made such rapid progress that he appeared in public as a pianist at the age of six. A year or two later he was placed as a choir boy at the convent of Iglau, and he obtained his first instruction in counterpoint from Spenar, the choir-master. When his voice broke he entered on a course of general study, first at the Jesuits’ college, and then at the university of Prague, where he took his bachelor’s degree in philosophy. During his curriculum of two and a half years he had paid unremitting attention to the practice and study of his art, and had received further instruction in composition from a Benedictine monk. In 1779 he was for a short time organist in the church of St Rombaut at Mechlin. At the close of his engagement he proceeded to Holland, where he attained great distinction as a pianist, and was employed by the stadtholder as musical instructor to his family. While at the Hague he published his first works, several sonatas and concertos for the piano. He had already composed at the age of thirteen a solemn mass and several small oratorios. In 1783 he visited Hamburg, and placed himself under the instruction of Philip Emmanuel Bach. After spending two years in Lithuania in the service of Prince Radziwill, he went in 1786 to Paris, where he remained, with the exception of a short period spent at Milan, until the outbreak of the Revolution, enjoying the special patronage of Marie Antoinette and great popularity with the public. In Milan he appeared not only as a pianist but also as a player of the harmonica, an instrument which was much sought after on account of its novelty in those days. Towards the close of 1789 he removed to London, where on the 2nd of March 1790 he appeared at Salomon’s concerts, and he married a daughter of Dominico Corri, herself a clever harpist and pianist. Unfortunately he was tempted by the large sale of his numerous compositions to open a music-publishing warehouse in partnership with Montague Corri, a relative of his wife. The result was injurious to his fame and disastrous to his fortune. Writing solely for the sake of sale, he composed many pieces that were quite unworthy of his genius; and, as he was entirely destitute of business capacity, bankruptcy was inevitable. In 1800 he was obliged to flee to Hamburg to escape the claims of his creditors. Some years later he was attached in the capacity of musician to the household of Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, with whom he formed an intimate friendship. On the death of his patron in 1806 he passed into the service of the prince of Isenburg as court musician. In 1809 he went to Paris to fill a similar situation in the household of Prince Talleyrand, which he held until his death on the 20th of March 1812.

Dussek had an important influence on the development of pianoforte music. As a performer he was distinguished by the purity of his tone, the combined power and delicacy of his touch, and the facility of his execution. His sonatas, known as The Invocation, The Farewell and The Harmonic Elegy, though not equally sustained throughout, contain movements that have scarcely been surpassed for solemnity and beauty of idea.

See also Alexander W. Thayer’s articles in Dwight’s Journal of Music (Boston, 1861).