Dussek - Sonatina in Eb Op 20 No 6 1st Movement


Jan Ladislav Dussek was a Czech composer who was born in 1760 to a musical family. Although Dussek seems to have been a somewhat lazy student of music, he eventually became regarded as a piano virtuoso, performing widely throughout Europe.

Dussek eventually settled in London where he worked as a successful performer and teacher, collaborating with the famous piano manufacturer, John Broadwood.

His personal life was somewhat chequered and, following an unsuccessful business venture, he returned to Paris.

In later life, Dussek is reputed to have become so very stout that he could no longer reach the piano keys! He took to strong drink, which apparently hastened his death in 1812.

Pupil Match & Suitability

This lively piece is a relatively popular work by Dussek.

It is only effective when played at a brisk tempo, so it is suitable for students who enjoy fast playing and can show careful attention to expressive detail in phrasing, dynamics and articulation.

It is also suitable for introducing students to playing a movement of a fair length in the Classical genre, as its musical and technical demands are not quite so exacting as those needed when playing Mozart.

Style & Tempo

Dussek seems to have drawn inspiration from the superior quality of the pianos built by Broadwood in London at that time.

He was one of the composers who established a distinct ‘London’ school of piano music, the others being Muzio Clementi, whose piano music is broadly comparable with Dussek’s, and John Field, whose more lyrical style of music was an influence on Chopin.

Dussek’s style might be described as late Classical and aspects of his work - not least his role in improving the sonority and scope of the Broadwood piano - are thought to have had some influence on Beethoven.

Dussek was one of the first composers to cultivate a ‘singing’ style of playing the piano but his music never really became well known apart from in England.

Phrasing & Articulation

The movement is in sonata form and the phrasing falls quite naturally into units of four bars for most of the piece. The sections are clearly defined, with the second subject beginning at Bar 19, the development section starting at Bar 37 and the recapitulation entering at Bar 54.

There is scope for much variety in articulation and this is another means of making the music sound interesting and lively in character. A general rule that might be applied here is that semiquavers will sound best legato, whereas longer value notes will often be either slurred in pairs or detached.

The sound file of Bars 1 - 9 should be listened to carefully, as the whole character of the piece is shaped by these important opening bars and subsequent articulation is guided by the early choices made here.

Tone & Texture

The melody is mostly in the RH, with the LH providing a quieter accompaniment.

It is especially important to control the tone of the LH Alberti Bass (semiquaver broken chords, as in the opening bars), avoiding emphasising the repeated E.

Any chord, such as at the end of each section should be weighted so as to make the top note sing out more strongly than the lower notes, because it is a melody note.


A technique that might be new to your student at this stage is finger pedalling. This is where certain notes, notably in the LH, are held longer than the notated value in order to give a pedalled feel without the semiquavers becoming blurred.

Dussek himself is, in effect, asking for this when he notates Bars 63 - 68 using held notes in the LH part. The technique may be used elsewhere too, such as in bars such as 44, where we want a sustained LH F but there is a rest in the RH, beat 4.

It may be inadvisable to expect the Grade 6 student to use this technique in the LH semiquavers in Bars such as 1 - 4, as excess tension might result.


There are no particularly difficult fingering issues here and editorial suggestions are, in the main, sound.

When fingering scale passages, a helpful rule to follow is to keep to the standard fingering that would be used for that particular scale - after all, one of the reason why we practise scales is to make it easier to play them when they occur within a piece.


By far the easiest way to achieve a neat result in the ornamentation is to treat the ones in Bars 47 and 64 as semiquaver triplets.

The acciaccatura in Bar 24 should go on the beat, coinciding with the LH E, not fitted in between.


The textures need to remain clear and you may wish to remind the student who is becoming comfortable with pedalling not to over-use it. The pedal mechanism on the pianos of the time would have exerted less sustaining effect than that of the modern piano so pedalling on a modern piano needs to be very subtle. A reliable guide is that, if the effect of pedalling is obvious, it is probably excessive.

The main function of the pedal in this piece is to enhance the tone rather than to produce legato, which can, in any case, be achieved by the fingers. Finger pedalling may be used in the Alberti Bass passages in preference to using the actual pedal. The technique is explained here.

Teaching Strategies

This piece lends itself to being taught in sections. Once the decision has been made for the student to learn this piece, careful listening to a recording should be the first step.

There is no reason to begin a piece at the beginning; indeed it is useful to start with the section that you anticipate will be the most challenging. This may well be the section from Bar 63 - Bar 70, because of the held notes in the LH and also the octave leaps in the LH.

Practice Tips

Always stress to your student that it is a good practice habit to use corrrect, consistent fingering every single time they practise. Learning the notes and rhythms first, then considering the detail is definitely not a good idea.

We remember the fingering first used and it is a huge waste of time unlearning bad fingering in order to replace it with good fingering.

Similarly, it is a better strategy - and far more interesting - to practise with the agreed articulation patterns and the dynamics in place. This approach seems laborious and you might think it will take longer to learn the piece; however learning will be far more secure and the details will not be forgotten in performance.


A technical requirement that your student will certainly have explored previously is that of balancing the hands sensitively. If this has been problematic in the past, the give your student some pieces that are easier to learn but still require a high degree of control.

One super piece that helps the student to gain independence of hands, to balance the textures and to grade the dynamics is Bartok's Study for the Left Hand, Number 6 in his set of pieces For Children.

Final Performance

An excellent performance will show a keen sense of style in appropriate use of articulation detail, dynamic range, and shaping of phrase. There will be sensitive control of tone showing textural awareness and technical assurance will enable a communicative sense of performance at a lively pace that is easily maintained, never sounding rushed or anxious.

A good performance will show a developing sense of style. Accuracy and fluency will be reliable at an appropriately lively pace. There will be attention to musical detail and phrasing at a convincing tempo, although there may yet be some unevenness of LH semiquaver timing and the hands might not be balanced with complete success. Occasionally, in an otherwise good performance, the piece is taken so fast that the student cannot control the evenness and the phrasing can suffer from a lack of 'breathing space'.

A sound performance will show continuity at a moderate pace that is sustained despite the odd smudge in accuracy. There will be some evidence of musical awareness in terms of phrasing, articulation and dynamics but the listener might be left with a feeling that a keener sense of style was needed. There may be some unresolved technical issues such as neatness and control of semiquaver evenness and balance between hands.

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