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Beethoven has Dussek to thank for a LOT. Marking Feb 12 – Dussek’s birthday

Beethoven has Dussek to thank for a LOT. Marking Feb 12 – Dussek’s birthday featured image

Jan Ladislav Dussek is a composer who’s known to piano and harp students for all his works that turn up in Royal Conservatory of Music repertoire – the guy could write sonatas and sonatinas for those two instruments like nobody’s business. He did so much for the piano that I’m surprised he isn’t better known. He was one of the first virtuosos to tour extensively, and played a major hand in expanding the keyboard range of the piano (which Beethoven fully explored). Dussek was friends with John Broadwood, the developer of the “English Action” piano, and because Dussek’s works required a strong sound and a range of notes not yet available, he pushed Broadwood to create pianos with a new depth of sonority and a wider keyboard range. It was this prototype that was sent to Beethoven.

Dussek, known for his looks as well as his talent, dominated the concert stage until Beethoven arrived on the scene. Considered a rock star teacher as well as performer, Dussek was so popular he became *the* guy for students to boast about having as a mentor. If he were around today, he’d be a panellist on a reality show called “Sonata City”, hosted by Lang Lang,  that would propel a classical pianist’s career overnight, with lots of YouTube clips and interviews on all the major talk shows in North America. He’d have endorsement deals with Broadwood Pianos, modelling contracts, before launching a cologne for men, then in phase two, a women’s perfume.

As a teacher, Dussek was able to command rates that had never been charged previously. He was known for interrupting terrific melodies with sudden contrasts of sound (again, further developed by Beethoven), and while his piano music didn’t make the list of “standard” repertoire heard today, his works are a favourite among teachers and show up a lot in student recitals.

I’ve heard many Dussek piano sonatas over the years as a music teacher, and before that, hearing them thumped out from The Matriarch’s piano studio downstairs. I chose one I’d never heard before, so I could enjoy it as music for music’s sake, and not a piece associated with work.

Jan Ladislav Dussek was born February 12, 1760 in the Czech Republic and died March 20, 1812 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France.


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