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Jan Ladislav Dussek, Lord Howe's Favorite Hornpipe: Biographical Overview

By Anneke Van Slyke, Erin Perry, and Margie Raupp

Overall Description

Jan Ladislav Dussek was born on February 12th, 1760 in Cáslav in Bohemia (Czech Republic). Dussek’s father, Jan Dussek, was an organist and schoolmaster, who inspired him to pursue music early on in his childhood. As a result, Dussek began studying the piano and organ, at the young age of five. Dussek’s skillful singing resulted in him being sent as a chorister to the Franciscan church in Iglau (now Jihlava) as a young boy. In 1779, after he finished his schooling in Prague, he obtained the patronage of Count Männer, allowing him to travel to Malines, where he remained as a piano teacher. He then went on to establish his career in Amsterdam, where he began to gain fame as a teacher, performer, and composer. He continued his tour with visits to Hamburg, St. Petersburg, Dresden, and more, all the while establishing himself as a virtuoso pianist.

In 1786, he traveled to Paris, where remained until 1789, when the French Revolution began to threaten his safety, due to his connections with the aristocracy. He fled to England, where he continued to write about a third of his entire output. While in London, he continued to teach, and he performed at Johann Peter Salomon’s concerts. In addition, Dussek conducted the orchestra at Theater Royal on Drury Lane. He also established a strong connection with Haydn, as they were both prominent composers in London at the same time.  In 1792, Dussek married Sophia Corri, singer and daughter of prolific music publisher Domenico Corri. He was then able to publish his own compositions, until the publishing company went bankrupt, leading Dussek to flee London. He continued a small tour with visits to Hamburg and Prague, even serving as the Kapellmeister to Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia from 1804-1806. Dussek finished out his last years in Paris, working for Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, a high level French diplomat. Dussek died on March 20th, 1812 in Paris. 

Dussek in Portrait

Painting of Dussek

Henri-Pierre Danloux, painting of Jan Ladislav Dussek (1795). Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

Dussek's Impact

Dussek’s output comprises mainly piano works that are considered proto-romantic, although some argue that there is too much restraint and regulation to be categorized as such. His music combines his Bohemian upbringing with his Western European education. Dussek is known for his specific articulations, such as legatissimo, which made his sonatas and concertos distinct. His pieces contain significant character and virtuosity, sometimes beyond the capabilities of many pianists at the time. Dussek is also well known for pushing piano designer, John Broadwood, to extend the range of the piano from 5 octaves, to 5 ½, and then finally to 6 octaves.