Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/487

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DUSSEK.
475
 

a corresponding European fame, justly claims a place in the history of the most universal of instruments, to which Himmel, despite his exceptional ability and well-earned local eminence, had no legitimate pretensions.'

A lively picture of how the three boon companions clubbed together follows the above:—

'Louis Ferdinand played a great deal with Dussek several compositions for two pianofortes, and others for four hands on one pianoforte, deriving their origin from the relations between the distinguished "virtuoso" and his gifted patron. Himmel was often their companion, and he ana Dussek were the Prince's favourite associates at the wine cup. What influence Dussek may have exerted upon the character of the Prince at these convivialities it is hard to say; but Himmel possessed that lively, joyous, good-natured, amiable view of life which as a rule is most welcome when intellectual brothers in art make the full glasses ring. Thus the Prince, Himmel, and Dussek, formed a musical triad, each exciting, enlivening, and fortifying the others, Dussek, in his artistic capacity, taking the foremost place.'

Spohr (Selbstbiog. i. 85), describing a soirée at the Prince's, in the course of a visit to Berlin early in 1805, remarks:—

'Here I also met an old Hamburg acquaintance, the celebrated pianoforte virtuoso and composer Dussek, now the Prince's teacher and residing with him. The music began with a pianoforte [1]quartet, which was played by Dussek in real artistic perfection.'

In the autumn of the same year, when Prince Louis Ferdinand was at Magdeburg, superintending the military manœuvres, Spohr received, through Dussek, an invitation to be a guest and take part in the projected musical entertainments. His description of the early morning rehearsals is highly diverting—the end being raciest of all (Selbstb. i. 94). When the Prince was about to leave, Spohr was dismissed with hearty thanks, Dussek informing the young violinist that 'Son Altesse Royale' had intended to make him a present, but his finances were at so low an ebb that he was compelled to defer it to some future occasion. 'Such occasion, however,' observes Spohr, 'never arrived, the Prince next year meeting his fate at the battle of Saalfeld.' [See Louis Ferdinand, Prince.]

The death of Prince Louis Ferdinand threw Dussek once more upon his own unaided resources. It says no little for him that before thinking about future prospects he should have devoted time to composing the 'Harmonic Elegy ' already mentioned, a fitting tribute to the memory of that royal friend whose close relations with him fully justified his giving expression to sentiments of deepest regret through the medium of the art they both so dearly loved. Nor could anything be more touching and appropriate than the few words which Dussek inscribed on the title-page of his sonata, 'L'auteur, qui a ou le bonheur de jouir du commerce très intime de S.A.R., ne l'a quitté qu'au moment où il a versé son precieux sang pour sa patrie.' At the same time the fact of the inscription being couched in the language of the enemy to whom the Prince owed his death, appears a little strange.

About the Prince von Ysenburg (or Isenburg), into whose service, after the death of his illustrious patron, Dussek entered, as court and chamber musician, little is on record. A paragraph in the 'Leipzig Musik-Zeitung,' however (Sept. 2, 1807), states that 'Herr Dussek having resigned his situation with the Prince von Isenburg, has entered the service of the Prince of Benevento (Talleyrand), and will remain henceforth in Paris.' More than two years fater (Jan. 3, 1810) the same periodical publishes a letter from Paris in which we read: 'Herr Dussek is in the service of M. Talleyrand, Prince of Benevento. He appears to be treated in a very distinguished manner, and enjoys a respectable salary.' With this renowned diplomatist and highly accomplished gentleman Dussek resided till the last. His leisure was entirely at his own disposal. He would vouchsafe occasional instructions to favoured amateurs, such as Mlle. Charlotte (Talleyrand's adopted daughter), the Duchesse de Courland, Mlle. Betsy Ouvrard (to whom the grand sonata called 'L'Invocation' is dedicated), etc.; also now and then give a concert, at which he produced his latest works, the rest of his time being exclusively devoted to composition. The late M. Fétis, who remembered well Dussek's performances at the Odéon (1808), writes:—

'The extraordinary sensation he produced is not forgotten. Until then the pianoforte had only been heard to disadvantage as a concert-instrument,[2] but under the hands of Dussek it eclipsed all that surrounded it. The broad and noble style of this artist, his method of singing on an instrument which possessed no sustained sounds, the neatness, delicacy, and brilliancy of his play, in short, procured him a triumph of which there had been no previous example.'

With the Prince of Benevento, his latest patron, Dussek continued to reside until his last illness compelled him to seek another retreat, at St. Germain en Laye, where (not in Paris, as Fétis and others have stated) he died on March 20, 1812. A letter from Paris, dated March 21, 1812, and printed in the 'Leipzig Muzik-Zeitung' (xiv. 258), thus refers to the event:—

'I have just heard news which must grieve every friend of music .... Your worthy and celebrated countryman, J. L. Dussek, is no more! Yesterday morning, at six o'clock, in the full vigour of manhood (in his 52nd year), he closed a career which, despite the ever-increasing culture, development, and strength of his great talents, and his astonishing industry, had not yet reached its culminating point. He had been unwell for some months, but was confined to bed only two days. His disease was gout, which suddenly attacked his brain, and in an hour or two carried him off ... It was a blessing to his energetic spirit, his warmly sensitive and affectionate nature, that he could breathe his last in the arms of a faithful friend and countryman like your noble Neukomm.'

In a very interesting series of papers about the Dusseks generally, which Mr. Alexander W. Thayer, to whom the lovers of Beethoven are so deeply indebted for his indefatigable researches into the actual life of that great composer, published simultaneously (1861) in Dwight's 'Journal of Music' (Boston, U.S.) and the 'Musical World' (London), we find quoted a general estimate, of which a mere condensed abstract may suffice to convey some notion of what Dussek's contemporaries thought of him:—

'Dussek, the man of genius, the richly endowed and solidly trained artist was known, honoured, and loved by the entire musical world ... He has done nearly as much as Haydn, and probably not less than Mozart, to make German music known and respected in other [3]lands.

  1. Spohr, in his usually unsatisfying manner, does not say which quartet, or by whom composed. Probably Dussek's own—in E flat.
  2. Fétis must surely mean in Paris?
  3. This, it must be borne in mind, was written in 1812.