Updated: Jun 11, 2018
I've recorded the music of Jan Ladislav Dussek (1760-1812) and Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) (available on this website). They have led exceptionally interesting lives:
1. Dussek was, for a time, a favourite of Catherine the Great. However, after a while, he fled St. Petersburg after being accused of involvement in a plot to assassinate Catherine. Later he went to France where he became a favourite of Marie Antoinette.
The Sufferings of the Queen of France (1793) is a series of episodes, with interpolated texts relating to Marie Antoinette’s misfortunes, including her sorrow at being separated from her children and her final moments on the scaffold before the guillotine. You can listen to my recording of it (visit my online store)!
On the outbreak of the Revolution in 1789, Dussek fled France for England. He took with him the harpist wife of the composer Jean-Baptiste Krumpholtz, who drowned himself into the Seine as a consequence.
In London, Dussek joined forces with a music publisher named Corri to form a company. Dussek soon abandoned Madame Krumpholtz in favour of Corri's young daughter, Sophie, whom he married.
Dussek pushed John Broadwood the developer of the "English Action" piano into several extensions of the range and sonority of the instrument—it was a Broadwood instrument with Dussek's improvements that was later sent to Beethoven.
While Dussek was having dinner with John Broadwood his wife left with her lover. She later returned to Dussek when she was rejected. When the firm of Dussek and Corri went bankrupt, Dussek left England for Germany, leaving behind his family, and with his father-in-law in a debtor's jail.
In Germany, initially, he became one of the first "glamour" touring pianists, preceding Franz Liszt.
According to Louis Spohr, Dussek was the first to turn the piano sideways on the stage "so that the ladies could admire his handsome profile."
Dussek took up a position with Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, who treated him more as a friend and colleague than as an employee. Together, they sometimes enjoyed what were called "musical orgies."
When Prince Louis Ferdinand was killed in the Battle of Saalfeld, Dussek wrote the moving Sonata in F sharp minor, Elégie harmonique, Op. 61.
In 1807, despite his earlier affiliation with Marie Antoinette, Dussek returned to Paris in the employ of Talleyrand, the powerful French foreign minister.
He wrote a masterful sonata called Le Retour à Paris (The Return to Paris). This sonata also received the nickname Plus Ultra in heated response to a piano sonata by Joseph Woelfl, said to be the last word in pianistic difficulties: Ne Plus Ultra.
Later in his life, “Le beau Dussek” became grossly fat, eventually being unable to reach the piano keyboard.
Dussek was an important predecessor of the Romantic composers for piano, especially Chopin, Schumann and Mendelssohn.
Dussek wrote 34 piano sonatas, and many piano concertos.
Dussek wrote a highly unusual sonata for piano, violin, cello and percussion entitled The Naval Battle and Total Defeat of the Dutch by Admiral Duncan (1797), which is an extremely rare example of pre-20th century chamber music, which includes percussion.
1. Mozart, after having been rejected by Aloysia Weber, married her sister Constanze, and thus became Weber’s nephew by marriage.
2. Weber, a delicate child, was afflicted with congenital disease of the hip-joint, and walked with a limp throughout his life.
3. Weber was taught to sing and place his fingers upon the pianoforte almost as soon as he could speak, though he was unable to walk until he was four years old.
4. Weber was a pioneer of the craft of conducting without the use of violin or keyboard instrument.
Weber was a master lithographer. He lost his beautiful voice through accidentally drinking an acid used in the process.
Weber won a lasting reputation with the first important Romantic German opera, Der Freischütz.
Weber’s father owned a theatre company, and the family accompanied the troupe everywhere. Weber thus became familiarized with the stage from his earliest infancy, and thus gained an amount of dramatic experience that laid the foundation of his future greatness as an operatic composer.
Weber died in England of tuberculosis and overwork. He was buried in London, but 18 years later, his remains were transferred on an initiative of Richard Wagner and re-buried in Dresden.
Weber’s most famous piano work, Invitation to the Dance, was later orchestrated by Berlioz and also served as the thematic basis for Benny Goodman's swing tune Lets Dance.
Weber’s unfinished opera Die drei Pintos was originally given by Weber's widow to Meyerbeer for completion; it was eventually completed by Gustav Mahler, who conducted the first performance in 1888.
Weber was a great pianist, conductor, and lithographer.
Weber’s 'Konzertstück' for piano and orchestra was one of the most often performed concerti in the 19thcentury.
Liszt frequently performed Weber's music and made editions of his piano sonatas.