Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/486

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474
DUSSEK.
 

the instrument and the performer. From Berlin it was the intention of Dussek to go to St. Petersburg; but here there is no credible account of his doings, except that he is believed to have accepted an advantageous offer from a certain Polish prince, [1]Radziwill, at whose estate in Lithuania he remained more than a year, unheard of. We next meet with him at Paris (towards the end of 1786) playing before, and enchanting with his play, the lovely and unfortunate Marie Antoinette, whose seductive offers, however, could not dissuade Dussek from carrying out a long-considered project of visiting his brother, Franz Benedikt, in Italy. At Milan he earned new laurels as a performer, both on the pianoforte and harmonica; but the volatile Italians showed a preference for the inferior instrument, which was by no means flattering to the gifted Bohemian. Returning to Paris in 1788, the threatening circumstances of the time caused him to quit the French capital almost immediately. His next residence was London, where he remained for a longer period (nearly twelve years) than at any other city he had temporarily chosen as a residence. In London his genius was rapidly appreciated; he became a fashionable teacher, the centre of a circle of eminent musicians, and looked up to by them all. One of the greatest compliments ever paid to Dussek, who could boast of so many, was contained in a letter addressed from London to the elder Dussek (Dussik) at Czaslau, by the celebrated Joseph Haydn, then composing his imperishable symphonies for Salomon.

'Most worthy friend, I thank you from my heart that, in your last letter to your dear son, you have also remembered me. I therefore double my compliments in return, and consider myself fortunate in being able to assure you, that you have one of the most upright, moral, and, in music, most eminent of men, for a son. I love him just as you do, for he fully deserves it. Give him, then, daily, a father's blessing, and thus will he be ever fortunate, which I heartily wish him to be, for his remarkable talents. I am, with all respect, your most sincere friend, Joseph Haydn.

'London, Feb. 26, 1792.'

This from a man like Haydn meant something out of the common way. In 1792 Dussek married the daughter of Domenico Corri. 'This lady,' says Gerber, 'was principal singer at the London professional concerts, he [Dussek] being concerto-player to the same, and playing in a style of incredible perfection.' [See Dussek, Sophia.] The marriage brought about a joint speculation between Dussek and Corri, and the establishment of a music shop, which, in consequence of Dussek's habitual negligence and utter unacquaintance with business habits, ended in failure, the upshot being that, in 1800, in order to elude his uncompromising creditors, he was obliged to leave the country surreptitiously, and once more seek shelter in his favourite Hamburg. The story of the Northern Prince who, at this juncture, became enamoured of our pianist, carrying him off to a retreat near the Denmark frontier, where they lived together in seclusion for nearly two years, may be discarded as a myth. At all events we find in a correspondence to the 'Leipziger Musik-Zeitung' accounts of various concerts given by Dussek at Hamburg, in 1800 and 1801, with references to Steibelt, Himmel, Woelfl, and our own great singer, John Braham, who, with Madame Storace, sang at Ottensen, on the Elbe, in a concert at which Giarnowichi was violinist, and Dussek pianist. In 1802, after appearing at the Concert Hall in Prague, where he played his concerto in G minor, Dussek, accompanied by his sister, Madame Cianchettini, paid a visit at Czaslau to his father, whom he had not seen for more than a quarter of a century, and, after passing some months under the paternal domicile, resumed his professional wanderings, until in 1803, at Magdeburg, he became acquainted with Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, with whom he lived for three years on terms of affectionate intimacy, to whom he gave advice both in pianoforte playing and composition, and whose premature death, on the field of Saalfeld, was the origin of the 'Elégie Harmonique' (op. 61), not only one of the finest works of Dussek, but one of the most pathetic and beautiful in the repertory of the piano. This was another turning-point in the somewhat tortuous life of our composer, and, for better or for worse, materially influenced his character. Much that is interesting with regard to the intercourse between Dussek and the Prince may be read in the 'Leipziger Musik-Zeitung' (1807); in Ludwig Rellstab's 'Reminiscences of Berlin Music,' in the 'Berlin Musik-Zeitung' (1850); and, most characteristic of all, in Spohr's 'Selbst-Biographie.'

In a review of the Elegy the 'Leipzig Musik-Zeitung' (1807, p. 741) says, among other things:—

'During the last few years of his (the Prince's) life, when he turned again to music with all the ardour of enthusiasm .... Dussek arrived at Berlin. The Prince had studied music in his youth, and never wholly neglected it, but his soul was now for the first time open to its hidden worth, to its higher and more spiritual value. He had need of a man who could aid him to express fully and correctly what he wished to convey through musical tones, who could enter into the spirit of what he created, afford him intellectual nourishment in productions suited to his taste and feelings, and lastly, away from their common art-study, prove an amiable and congenial companion. This he found in Dussek, who to the Prince was all in all, just as the Prince, in return, was to Dussek.'

Rellstab, in his 'Reminiscences,' gives an interesting account of the pianoforte 'virtuosos' who flourished at that period in Berlin, according the highest place among them to Himmel, Prince Louis Ferdinand, and Dussek, placing Dussek, however, in the first rank:—

'The favourite player at Berlin, and decidedly first in purity, elegance, and delicacy of style, was Himmel, a man formed by nature to be the central point in musical salons ...; but far greater, and emphatically so. was Dussek, both as "virtuoso" and composer ..... whose eminent technical resources afforded a much wider basis for varied development, and who, having accomplished a vast deal more for the elevation of the pianoforte than most of his contemporaries, occupied a position in the musical art of Berlin, which is vividly felt even now [1850], and obtained

  1. Not Chopin's early patron, but probably his father.