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He advanced harp rep; paved the way for Beethoven: Jan Dussek on his birthday, Feb. 12

He advanced harp rep; paved the way for Beethoven: Jan Dussek on his birthday, Feb. 12 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, proud of his handsome appearance, was the first to sit with his profile to the audience (I could have sworn it was Franz Liszt), and he 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. He 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. For harpists, his works definitely became part of the main repertoire, full of variety and attractive melodies, that are fun to play.

Güneş Hizlilar (who looks like a vision from one of Renoir’s paintings) performs the Sonata for Harp in C minor (Allegro, Andantino, and Allegro-Rondo).

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

This web feature is dedicated to the memory of Vancouver piano teacher Edward J. Parker, who passed away February 8, 2018.

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