F ew musicians have spent more of their lives on the run than Czech piano virtuoso and composer Jan Ladislav Dussek. Yet despite dodging debtors, slighted lovers and peeved crowned heads, classical music’s pin-up boy (until the arrival of Liszt) managed to rattle off a wealth of attractive music. Not only that, as the first to sit sideways on in recital – “so the ladies could admire his handsome profile,” according to Spohr – Dussek, who was known as “Le Beau Visage”, defined the piano recital as we know it.
Jan Ladislav Dussek
Born in 1760 into a musical family, young Jan was a gifted if lazy student. Early successes in Austria and Belgium led him to the court of Catherine the Great where he proved a hit on the glass harmonica. Giving her secret police the slip when suspected of being involved in an assassination plot, Dussek fled to Lithuania, where he lasted just a year before a rumoured affair with his employer’s wife caused him to leg it to Paris.
A favourite of Marie Antoinette, he likely played violin sonatas with a young Napoleon Bonaparte,...