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Pianos and Pianists - Consultant Editor Ates Orga


Bohemian Romantic

<< Continued from 7th May

Le beau Dussek

Admired for his tonal palette, 'enchanted' touch, innovative (shifting) legato fingerings prophetic of Chopin ('to hold the vibration and to tie or bind one passage to another,' he called it), pedalling (in which area he was far in advance of Hummel), and emotionally intense artistry, for his fanciful way with fioritura elaboration, Dussek, le beau Dussek, was among the first of the great travelling showman pianists, a generation or more in advance of Liszt. William Ayrton of the Philharmonic Society, writing in Vol IV of The Musical Library (March 1837), called him 'a pianist of the highest rank [whose] best compositions have not been excelled'.


The Composer

Dussek's repeatedly been singled out for the progressiveness, the advanced chromaticism, of his harmonic language. For his approach to tonality and unorthodox key relationships (at times remarkably anticipant of things to come in Chopin, Schumann and Brahms). And for his formal innovations - beckoning as much ideas in Beethoven (a subject discussed famously by the late Harold Truscott in the Arnold & Fortune Beethoven Companion of 1971) as Weber or Chopin, Liszt or Smetana. He wrote over thirty piano sonatas - between 1788, the year of Mozart's final trilogy of symphonies, and 1812, the year of Beethoven's Seventh and Eighth.


The Pianist

Contemporaries and chroniclers of the day celebrated Dussek for his lyrically poetic dreaming no less than romantically fiery brilliance: the character and virtuosity of his keyboard style, his figurations, his specifically marked pedal indications (as early as the B flat Military Concerto of 1798, some five or six years before the Beethoven Waldstein), his fingerings, his way of generating sonority and resonance (albeit through illusion) - all mark him to have been an artist eager to identify with the potential and power of the new-breed Hammerklavier, a man anxious to take advantage of the innovations of such makers as Broadwood (in London), Erard (Paris) or Graf (Vienna). Essentially, like Beethoven and Schubert, he was a modern pianist writing for the modern piano. Historically, he had to content himself with straight-strung, wooden-framed, pre-double-escapement instruments. But what he really aspired to were the over-strung, iron-cast, double-escapement beasts of more than half a century later.


Bohemian Romantic!

Dussek, his detractors claim, sounds just like any other composer - Beethoven, Schubert, Weber, Rossini, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann, Smetana, Liszt ... Not a bit of it, retort his supporters. On the contrary, they say, what apparent likenesses there are mostly post-dated his passing: 'such resemblances show him [in chronological fact] to have been very much ahead of his time in the development of a Romantic piano style' (Howard Allen Craw, The New Grove, 1980) If a period needs perspective to give it focus, then the Age of Beethoven needed its Dussek. The Bohemian Romantic supreme, a colourfully charismatic personality who fed the wellsprings of the Beethoven/Schubert style and was a direct link between the galanterie and classicism of Mozart and the emotional flowering to come of Schumann, Chopin and Smetana, he was one of the radical freewheelers of the Napoleonic era.

© Ates Orga, May 21st 1999

A revised version of a longer essay published originally as part of the South Bank Centre's Beethoven Plus Festival, London November 1988

Dussek's Piano Concertos in B flat, Op 22
and G minor, Op 49

with Concerto Köln and
Andreas Staier
playing a Broadwood English Grand Action piano of 1806

Capriccio 10 444

1992 recording, released 1995

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