François Boucher, Shepherd's Landscape with a River, 1741
Alte Pinakothek Munich
One of the great Bohemian Romantics, Jan Ladislav Dussek (1760-1812) came of age in the Netherlands and North Germany where he may have taken lessons from C.P.E. Bach; in St Petersburg where, in 1783, he became implicated in a plot against Catherine II; and in Berlin where, in 1784, he formally presented himself as a pianist. In 1786 he went to Paris, in 1789 London. His celebrated return to Prague in 1802 was recalled by Tomášek in his Autobiography (1845-50):
‘There was [...] 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 saw 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 […]’
Interestingly, Tomášek says, it was Dussek - not Liszt - who ‘was the first [to place] his instrument sideways upon the platform, in which our pianoforte heroes now all follow [...] though they may have no very interesting profile to exhibit’.
Dussek’s piano sonatas used to be available in a Musica Antiqua Bohemica edition (1960-63, Vols. 46, 53, 59, 63 - scarce to find these days though the British Library holds a reference set).* ‘Antique’ embellishment/lingua classica/‘modern’ pianism aside, what’s striking about them is the progressiveness of their harmonic language, their frequently unorthodox approach to tonality (prophetic at times of Chopin, Schumann and Brahms), and their structuring – beckoning/influencing as much Beethoven (discussed famously by Harold Truscott in Arnold & Fortune’s 1971 Beethoven Companion) as Weber, Liszt, Smetana ...
The daring and gracious ... Tunes and turns one’s somehow always known ... The fragment of a motif reaching from the finale of Beethoven’s Op. 101 a decade later to Brahms’s E minor Cello Sonata fugue via the scherzo of Schumann’s Op. 11 lurking in the opening (1:26) of the ‘grand, noble, sublime [...] magnificent’ (Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, Leipzig 1810) Op. 64… The Allegro of Beethoven’s recently published Op. 7 teasing around the second group (1:12) of the first movement of Op. 44 – like Op. 64 a sub-titled but otherwise non-representational work, dedicated to Dussek’s London friend, publisher and rival, Clementi ... Schubert, fifteen years on, never far away ... The late 19th century accused Dussek of ‘diffuseness of design’ (Macfarren). Yet admired his final sonatas (Opp. 64, 75, 77 [1807-12]) as ‘amongst the best of his day [...] the indifference now shown to them  – so far, at least, as the concert platform is concerned – is proof of ignorance, or bad taste’ (Shedlock). CPO’s objective revival lets us re-judge.