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Hyperion Records

CDA68027 - Dussek: Piano Concertos
Recording details: September 2013
Ulster Hall, Belfast, United Kingdom
Produced by Annabel Connellan
Engineered by Ben Connellan
Release date: August 2014
Total duration: 68 minutes 19 seconds

The Classical Piano Concerto
Piano Concertos
Allegro  [9'14]
Rondo: Allegro  [5'05]
Rondo  [6'30]
Rondo: Allegretto moderatissimo  [8'51] FREE DOWNLOAD TRACK

Following on from Hyperion’s hugely popular ‘Romantic Piano Concerto’ series, the ‘Classical Piano Concerto’ focuses on the lesser-known concertos from the dawn of the genre. Between about 1770 and 1820—the high classical period dominated by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven—musicians including Clementi, Cramer, Dussek, Steibelt, Woelfl and others made their names as composers and performers of piano concertos. This series aims to be the first in-depth recorded survey of this forgotten repertoire.

This first volume features three of Bohemian virtuoso Jan Ladislav Dussek’s eighteen piano concertos, taken from different points in his career. As a group, these pieces are a fascinating study, with most of the earlier works largely reflecting the Mozartian model, and the later ones revealing stylistic traits sometimes at odds with the late eighteenth-century conception of the form, and anticipating future developments in the genre.

There could be no finer guide to the hidden gems of this repertoire than Howard Shelley, whose recordings of Clementi keyboard works, and Mozart and Hummel piano concertos, have received such acclaim. He appears here as pianist / conductor with the Ulster Orchestra.

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Born in Čáslav, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic), Jan Ladislav Dussek (1760–1812) was a late classical /early romantic piano virtuoso and composer whose career manifests one of the first examples of the ‘international musician’. Born a decade after the death of J S Bach, emerging a generation after Haydn, four years Mozart’s junior, and a decade older than Beethoven, Dussek travelled, concertized, composed and taught across the European continent at the end of the eighteenth and into the nineteenth century.

Following student years spent near his home, and later in Prague, Dussek migrated (before he was twenty) to northern Europe. He spent the late 1770s and early 1780s in the Netherlands, and then in Hamburg, where he may have studied with C P E Bach. He journeyed to St Petersburg in 1783, where he played at the court of Catherine the Great, subsequently becoming Kapellmeister to Prince Radziwill in Lithuania. In 1784 he began a long concert tour of Germany, performing on glass harmonica as well as piano. By 1786 Dussek arrived in Paris, where he became a favourite of Marie Antoinette, and where he remained until 1789 (he also undertook a trip to Italy during this period).

With the onset of the French Revolution, Dussek fled to London, where he remained for eleven years. Here he became a popular concert performer (and piano teacher), scheduled frequently at the Hanover Square Rooms and the Salomon concerts, appearing with Haydn during that composer’s two London visits. In 1792 he married Sophia Corri, who became known as a singer, pianist and harpist. He went into the music publishing business with his father-in-law, Domenico Corri. While in London he also worked with the Broadwood piano manufacturing firm to extend the range of the piano from five to five-and-a-half octaves, and later to six. With little business acumen, he subsequently became insolvent and in 1799 he fled to Hamburg (leaving his wife and daughter, whom he would never see again). In Germany he met and became friends with the young Louis Spohr, with whom he performed and travelled.

The new century found Dussek returning to his Bohemian home, in 1802, and giving a number of highly regarded concerts. His younger fellow countryman, the composer and pianist Václav Tomášek, reported that Dussek was the first concert pianist to place the instrument sideways (in profile), so that the audience could see the pianist’s fingers strike the keys. In 1804 Prussian Prince Louis Ferdinand hired Dussek as Kapellmeister. With the Prince’s death on the battlefield in 1806, Dussek returned to Paris, where he remained until his death six years later.

Although he wrote a number of trivial rondos and variations on popular tunes of the day (as did most composers), Dussek also composed a significant number of more important piano sonatas, concertos and chamber works (including several duos, trios, a quartet, a quintet, and many other works with various combinations of instruments, with and without piano; the piano concertos, somewhat curiously, are his only orchestral works). Many of these have been unjustly neglected. Contemporaneous reviews praised the expressiveness and originality of his compositions, as well as his impressive keyboard virtuosity.

Dussek’s early works are Classical in style, and the works after the turn of the century reveal, as Howard Allen Craw notes in The New Grove, definite Romantic characteristics, ‘in the expression markings, the use of altered chords and non-harmonic notes’. Craw goes on: ‘His harmony includes a wider variety of chords and is considerably more chromatic than that of Mozart, Haydn and even Beethoven. His piano music is in general fuller in texture than that of C P E Bach, Mozart or Haydn … As has been frequently observed, much of Dussek’s music resembles that of other composers. Most often, however, these composers are later than Dussek, and such resemblances show him to have been very much ahead of his time.’

Determining the exact chronology of Dussek’s approximately eighteen piano concertos is a bit of a challenge. They span nearly a third of a century, with the earliest stemming from 1779 (when Dussek was nineteen), the last from about 1810, two years before his death at the age of fifty-two. His first and last attempts are lost, and at least three of the surviving concertos specify either pianoforte or harp. Like many composers in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, Dussek did not number his concertos successively. Sometimes identical works were printed by different publishers with conflicting opus numbers and ordinal listings (for example, the work published as A Sixth Grand Concerto was probably his fourteenth), and some have no opus numbers. He seems to have employed slow movements somewhat interchangeably within different concertos. As a group, these pieces are a fascinating study, with most of the earlier works largely reflecting the Mozartian model, and the later ones revealing stylistic traits sometimes at odds with the late-eighteenth-century conception of the form, and anticipating future developments in the genre.

Dussek’s Piano Concerto in G major, Op 1 No 3, is an early work (one of three from Dussek’s first published set, composed before 1783), roughly contemporaneous with Mozart’s relatively early Viennese piano concertos, K413, 414 and 415, and just before that composer’s six concertos of 1784 (K449, 450, 451, 453, 456, and 459). Unlike all of Dussek’s subsequent efforts in the genre, this concerto is cast in only two movements (without a middle slow movement): an opening Allegro, capped by a fast rondo. The opening movement follows the typical Mozartian seven-part schema of opening tutti (first ritornello), solo exposition, second tutti, development, recapitulation, and closing tutti, bisected by an improvised cadenza. It is fascinating to ponder which (if any) of the Mozart concertos Dussek may have known at this point in his career, and indeed vice versa. And while Mozart is given the credit for codifying the late-eighteenth-century ‘double exposition’ first-movement concerto paradigm, the publication of Dussek’s Op 1 concertos in 1783 precedes Artaria’s issuing of the first Mozart concertos to be published (as Op 4 Nos 1–3, which we now identify as K414, 413, and 415, respectively) by two years. Though there doesn’t seem to be any documentary evidence, it is possible that the two young composers crossed paths.

Perhaps the most salient feature of Dussek’s mature conception of a concerto first movement is the absence of what Mozart considered one of the staples of the form: the cadenza. Dussek dispensed with this traditional gesture quite early in his career; cadenzas appear only in the concertos of Opp 1, 3 and 17 (1783–1792). He seems to have been the first composer to omit the cadenza, although most others would later follow suit. The Weber scholar John Warrack attributes the absence of the cadenza in many nineteenth-century concertos to Dussek’s influence.

Dussek’s Piano Concerto in C major, Op 29 (also listed as Op 20; issued in 1795), stems from about the mid-point in his career. Published four years after Mozart’s death, it emerged at a time when the piano concerto genre was gaining popularity; a number of concertos by other composers were also published around this time. Examples include a concerto by François-Adrien Boieldieu, Johann Baptist Cramer’s first (Op 10) and second (Op 16) of a total of nine, John Field’s first (of seven), and Daniel Steibelt’s first two (of eight). Beethoven also composed his first two piano concertos (No 2 in B flat major, Op 19, and No 1 in C major, Op 15) around this time, though both were published only in 1801.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Dussek’s C major Concerto is its opening gambit. Instead of beginning with a brisk presentation of a bright C major theme, as one would have expected in 1795, Dussek initiates the movement with a twenty-two-bar Larghetto introduction in 3/8. The material presented here later recurs towards the end of orchestra’s first ritornello, and again at the beginning of the recapitulation. The G major slow movement is also cast as a Larghetto (like the slow introduction to the first movement), and the concerto is rounded of by a C major rondo. The first movement’s slow introduction is a truly original touch, and is quite possibly without precedent in a piano concerto. This experiment may stem from Haydn’s use of the gesture to open all but one of the ‘London’ symphonies, which were premiered in the British capital while Dussek was there. Haydn appeared with Dussek during both of his visits, and is known to have taken an interest in his younger colleague. He even wrote a highly complimentary letter to Dussek’s father in February 1792 in which he stated: ‘I … consider myself fortunate in being able to assure you that you have one of the most upright, moral, and, in music, most eminent of men for a son. I love him just as you do, for he fully deserves it. Give him, then, daily a father’s blessing, and thus will he be ever fortunate, which I heartily wish him to be, for his remarkable talents.’

Between writing the C major Concerto, Op 29, and the E flat major Concerto, Op 70, Dussek’s conception of the genre evolved. In most of the concertos Dussek composed after 1800, the soloist introduces new primary themes, as well as two or more secondary themes, not heard during the first tutti. Moreover, as if to intensify the distinction between the soloist’s material and that of the orchestra, dreamy, lyrical passages allotted primarily to the soloist appear in other sections of the movement. These create a discrete world for the soloist, removed from that presented by the orchestra in the first ritornello. Examples of this are found in many of Dussek’s later concertos, and they also feature in the concertos of younger composers, including Weber (No 1 in C major, 1812), Field (No 2 in A flat major, 1816), Hummel (B minor Concerto, Op 89, c1821), Chopin (No 1 in E minor, 1833), Clara Schumann (A minor Concerto, Op 7, 1837), and Robert Schumann (A minor Concerto, Op 54, 1846). Dussek’s structural innovation became standard in the early Romantic concerto.

Dussek’s Piano Concerto in E flat major, Op 70 (1810), is contemporaneous with the first efforts in the genre by Weber, Hummel and Ries, mid-to-late concertos by Cramer, Field, and Steibelt, and Beethoven’s final two piano concertos (No 4 in G major, 1808, and No 5 in E flat major, ‘Emperor’, 1810). By comparison with Dussek’s earlier concertos (and those of other composers), this concerto presents a greatly expanded first movement. Following a lengthy transition in the first ritornello, the secondary theme is presented in the dominant, a modulation never encountered at this point in the earlier Dussek concertos. The illustrious critic Donald Francis Tovey, in his famous essay ‘The Classical Concerto’, cautioned against just such a modulation, in which the first tutti ‘merges into symphonic writing’. Tovey might have described this section of Dussek’s protracted transition (as he did, perhaps pejoratively, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 3) as ‘sheer symphonic exposition: it arouses no expectation of the entry of the solo instrument and … leaves nothing essential for the pianoforte to add when its time comes’. There is an essential difference, however, between Dussek’s and Beethoven’s use of thematic material: as we have seen, in Dussek’s typical practice the soloist contributes his own, distinct thematic elements, and does therefore add essential material. Beethoven’s conception represents a greater engagement between the soloist and orchestra, with a sharing (or struggle for ownership) of the thematic material used in common.

The first movement has some novel structural features. Breaking with the typical concerto recapitulation scheme, where all the tutti and solo thematic material is obligatorily restated, Dussek substantially abridges and alters the recapitulation in the first movement, perhaps because he sensed that the movement would otherwise be too long. We reach a final trill for the soloist, preparing the way for the final confirmation of the tonic key, but Dussek resolves this unexpectedly onto the flattened submediant (C flat major, track 6 at 14'13), further extending this closing passage before the delayed confirmation of E flat major at the arrival of the closing (third) ritornello. Digressions are a salient feature of many of Dussek’s concertos, but this harmonic detour is entirely new to the recapitulation—it did not occur in the exposition.

The lovely second movement in B flat major is cast in a typically lyrical, ternary design. The movement is replete with concertante exchanges between the piano, winds and strings, revealing Dussek’s excellence in the subtleties of orchestration (and perhaps causing us to lament that he did not compose other large-scale orchestral works). At about 4'03, Dussek once again incorporates a side-stepping harmonic resolution, away from the expected sonority of F major, down a major third to D flat major, before returning home to B flat major.

Op 70 concludes with a jovial rondo in E flat major, with Dussek again brandishing a colourful orchestral palette. The middle section of the rondo, typically a developmental area, passes through several distant keys, including the enharmonic Neapolitan (E major), a colourful, even shocking harmonic juxtaposition at this point. Again, wonderful concertante exchanges abound.

Stephan D Lindeman © 2014

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