Dussek - Rondo
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
The piece would suit a student who enjoys quite lively pieces and is already fairly proficient in controlling RH scale passages whilst keeping the LH accompaniment light and well balanced.
A feel for the elegance of the Classical style is needed, but could be cultivated by suitable listening before learning the piece. This piece could be useful 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 first section, which is the rondo theme, has some staccato (note that the wedge sign in the RH notes simply means staccato, not an accent). The dotted crotchets should be held for their full value in both RH lower line and LH bass notes.
Whether these are played completely legato or not is largely a matter of choice - indeed pianists with small hands are advised to go for fluency and control rather than attempting to maintain legato by crossing LH finger 4 over 5 in bar 6. The important thing is to give this passage musical shaping and to balance the textures successfully so that the RH melody line is prominent, the bass line firmly supporting and the inner notes lighter.
The RH scalic passages in bars 13 - 20 need a buoyant touch that is not over-legato. To achieve this effect the student may benefit from a gently rounded hand position, keeping the arm moving with the hand rather than bending awkwardly at the wrist. In those passages, however, the LH uses what is sometimes called 'finger legato', where the bass note of the group of six semiquavers is held. This effect is that of a semi-pedalled sound where the tone is enriched but the textures retain their clarity.
The phrases that feature LH quavers, such as at bars 29 - 36 sound best played with a light touch, without any over-holding of notes, giving more transparent textures than the previous section.
Tone & Texture
The score is well detailed in terms of textures, which are often clear and transparent as well as richer when the RH plays in thirds and the LH has some held bass notes. The melody lines are in the RH, with the LH accompanying.
Dynamics performance markings are numerous and the contrast appears to be wide-ranging. However, in keeping with the style and period, extremes of fortissimo should be avoided.
The RH thirds (eg bars 9 - 12) should be weighted so that the upper, melody notes sing out, which is one of the technical challenges of this piece.
How to weight one finger as opposed to another in the same hand may be better understood if the student experiments with walking the RH fingers on the left forearm, practising feeling the weight of the fingers that play the tune.
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.
Teaching and learning this technique is not difficult since little exercises are easily invented, such as playing the first five notes of a scale but holding onto the lowest one with finger 5. Next try any broken chord pattern where the lowest note is held. Inventing exercises frees the student from having to get the right notes according to the score so it is easier to concentrate just on the technique.
There are opportunities for the most accomplished musicians at this grade to use very subtle sustaining pedal, such as at the rf chords, but the phrase 'less is more' definitely applies here to the style and character.
It is important to keep a stable tempo in this piece, since there is the danger of slowing down to accommodate the semiquavers, then suddenly speeding up again for the well known rondo theme. The episodes will need more practice than the rondo theme.
Interpreting the Music
Rondo by Dussek is set for the ABRSM Grade 6 piano examination 2013 - 2014.
The best performances of this piece will feature, most importantly, elegantly shaped phrasing and playing that is well controlled both rhythmically and in tone.
The episodes will have something of their own individual character, providing a little contrast with the rondo theme. Dynamics will be varied, textures sensitively handled and articulation carefully detailed, with a bright, confident sense of performance that engages the listener throughout the whole piece.
Teaching & Learning the Piece
This bright, lively piece is bound to be a popular choice for Grade 6 students. The four page length need not be a deterrent, since the rondo structure means that much of the material is repetition of the main theme.
Students sometimes ask the meaning of a little line through a tie, such as at bar 8, LH and through the slur in bar 39, RH. This means that the editor has added the tie and the slur because this is probably what the composer intended.
It is essential that the detail in articulation and texture is practised right from the start of the learning process because this sort of detail is very difficult to incorporate later once the notes and rhythms have been learned.
When teaching this piece it will be important to ensure that the student is adhering to the score in a precise way, particularly in terms of time values of held notes and also rests. Well chosen and consistent fingering is, of course, essential.
This piece lends itself to being practised in sections, but care should be taken that the episodes are practised even more than the rondo theme, which will otherwise become the best known part of the music, with the episodes less secure and most probably slower in tempo.