Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/488

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476
DUSSEK.
 

His earlier residence in London, and his later in Paris, have in this respect exercised great influence. As a "virtuoso" he is unanimously placed in the very foremost rank. In rapidity and sureness of execution, in a mastery of the greatest difficulties, it would be hard to find a pianist who surpassed him; in neatness and precision possibly one (John Cramer of London); in soul, expression, and delicacy, certainly none. As a man he was good and noble, just, impartial, and kindly, a real friend, sympathising with all that was true and beautiful in those he knew .... His failings, inseparable from an imagination so powerful and a sensitiveness so extreme, may readily be forgiven ..... Moreover, through native strength of mind and frequent intimate relations with the most distinguished persons, he had gained a vast amount of general information, thoroughly polished manners, and such tact, combined with knowledge of the world, as fitted him for the highest circles of society; while his joyous disposition, liberal sentiments, and freedom from prejudice of any kind, endeared him especially to musicians.'

This also came from Paris, and was printed in the same Leipzig periodical.

With regard to Dussek's style of playing, about which we of course can only gather a notion from the works he has left, many contemporaneous opinions could be cited, but perhaps not one more suggestive than that which J. W. Tomaschek, himself a pianist and composer of eminence, gives in his 'Autobiography and Reminiscences'—

'In the year 1804, my countryman, Dussek, came to Prague, and I very soon became acquainted with him. He gave a concert to a very large audience, at which he introduced his own Military Concerto. After the few opening bars of his first solo, the public uttered one general Ah! There was, in fact, something magical about the way in which Dussek with all his charming grace of manner, through his wonderful touch, extorted from the instrument delicious and at the same time emphatic tones. His fingers were like a company of ten singers, endowed with equal executive powers, and able to produce with the utmost perfection whatever their director could require. I never eaw the Prague public so enchanted as they were on this occasion by Dussek's splendid playing. His fine declamatory style, especially in cantabile phrases, stands as the ideal for every artistic performance—something which no other pianist since has reached ... Dussek was the first who placed his instrument sideways upon the platform, in which our pianoforte heroes now all follow him, though they may have no very interesting profile to exhibit.'

That more than any contemporary special writer for the pianoforte, Dussek, through his strong and attractive individuality, impressed the age in which he lived, is unquestionable. Here, be it understood, no reference is intended to many-sided geniuses like Mozart and Beethoven, "but simply to those who, making the pianoforte their particular study, have effected so much towards the influence, so materially aided the progress, and played so important a part in the history of the most universal of instruments—the musician's orchestra when in the solitude of his chamber. In the front rank of these deservedly stands Dussek. It has been urged that to Clementi, Dussek's predecessor and survivor, who has held the title of 'Father of the Pianoforte,' just as Haydn holds that of 'Father of the Symphony,' belongs the legitimate right of stamping with his name the epoch during which he flourished. To this it may be answered that, granting Clementi to have been a musician of more solid acquirement than Dussek, as the 'Gradus ad [1]Parnassum' is enough to prove, he was inferior in invention and ideality, to say nothing about fascination of style. Unhappily for himself and his art, Dussek, whose unquestionable genius should have raised him to the highest eminence, was of a somewhat lax and careless temperament. His facility was so great that he could dispense with more than half the application requisite to form a thoroughly skilled musician; while Clementi, a model student and systematic economiser of time, though less bountifully gifted than his renowned contemporary, possessed habits of industry which served him in excellent stead.

In a conversation with the writer of this article, Mendelssohn once said, 'Dussek was a prodigal.' The meaning of this epigrammatic criticism is not far to seek. Dussek, who failed for want of striving to make the most of the endowments of nature, might have become a musician of the highest acquirements had the case been otherwise. He squandered away melody as a spendthrift would squander away money, not pausing for an instant to consider its value if put out to interest. It is sad to reflect upon the number of genuine melodies that, coming so readily from his pen, were left, as Sancho Panza would say, 'bare as they were born,' though almost every one of them might have been developed into something beautiful and lasting. When, however, he applied himself to his task with earnest devotion, as happened not unfrequently from the earliest to the latest period of his career, Dussek was welcomed like the Prodigal Son. A legitimate child of Art, his mission was that of a true disciple—for which capacity he was eminently fitted, as the many compositions he has left suffice to prove.

Dussek came into the world five years later than Mozart, and nine years earlier than Beethoven, quitting it while the greatest of poet-musicians was at the zenith of his glory, just at the time when the fifth and last pianoforte concerto, the incomparable 'E flat' (written a year previously), was first introduced to the public. Between 1761 and 1812, the interval which spanned the existence of Dussek, a galaxy of famous pianists shone with varied lustre. To take them in chronological order, there were Clementi, Mozart, Himmel, Steibelt, [2]Woelfl, Beethoven, Cramer, Tomaschek, Hummel, Weber, J. Field ('Russian Field,' as he was called), and last, not least, Moscheles, who, though scarcely twenty years of age when Dussek died, had already made for himself a name. To these might be added Meyerbeer, who, as a youth, before he devoted himself exclusively to the composition of operas, was a rival even to Hummel in his [3]prime, and our own [4]G. F. Pinto (the Sterndale Bennett of his day), who died at the early age of 21. Among these it is no small thing to say that Dussek shone conspicuous. He never enjoyed the opportunity of encountering Mozart, as Clementi did, nor the equally important one of measuring his powers with those of Beethoven, as fell to Steibelt and Woelfl‐to the absolute satisfaction of neither; but before the rest he was, as Schumann

  1. The top of which Delphic hill Clementi never reached.
  2. Who died two years later than Dussek.
  3. But none of whose compositions for the Pianoforte have unfortunately, been published, though many exist in MS.
  4. About whom John Cramer used to speak with enthusiasm.