Franz Xaver Dussek enjoyed a long and successful career as a composer, pianist and teacher in Prague. The son of a peasant, Dussek revealed his musical gifts at and early age and through the patronage of Count Johann Karl Spork was able to attend the Jesuit Gymnasium at Hradec Kr‡lov?. He undertook further musical studies in Prague with F. Habermann and completed his training in Vienna with the harpsichord virtuoso and court composer Georg Christoph Wagenseil. Dussek returned to Prague sometime around 1770 where he quickly established his reputation as a keyboard player and teacher. Judging from the extant MS copies of his works, Dussek seems to have had a strong professional association with the orchestras of Counts Pachta and Clam-Gallas, the latter a relative by marriage of his early patron Count Spork. Dussek's house was an important centre of musical activity and the composer himself, according to his obituary in the Leipziger Allgemeine Zeitung, afforded visiting virtuosi a warm welcome and used his influence to introduce them to important members of the nobility. Dussek's wife Josepha, a former pupil and celebrated soprano, had close family connections with Salzburg and through them the Dussek's became very friendly with Mozart. Leopold Mozart suspected the Dusseks' hand in Wolfgang's growing determination to escape from Salzburg and certainly they would have painted an attractive picture of how a freelance virtuoso, teacher and composer could live in Prague and Vienna. The Dusseks were probably among those who invited Mozart to Prague to witness the brilliant success of the local production of Le nozze di Figaro and it was in their summer residence, the lovely Villa Bertramka at Sm’chov near Prague, that Mozart completed the composition of Don Giovanni (October 1787) and probably also La clemenza di Tito (September 1791).
Dussek was the most prominent composer of instrumental music in Prague during his lifetime. Most of his symphonies and string quartets were written during the 1760s and exhibit quite progressive stylistic tendencies. The string quartets in particular have attracted a good deal of scholarly attention since the earliest of them were written around the same time as Haydn's first quartets. Dussek's compositions do not seem to have been disseminated very widely in spite of his strong local reputation. The Breitkopf Catalogue, which is an interesting indicator of a composer's popularity, contains surprisingly few Dussek works. In fairness to the composer, however, this state of affairs might be due to Breitkopf's difficulties in obtaining material from Prague or evidence that Dussek's patrons placed tight restrictions on the circulation of works they commissioned. Nonetheless, we know that in spite of restrictive clauses in Haydn's contract with Prince Esterh‡zy a large number of his compositions managed to find their way into the hands of Breitkopf's Viennese agent.
At their best Dussek's symphonies are works of elegance and imagination and reveal a strong melodic gift. Like many composers during the mid-18th century Dussek wrote three- and four-movement symphonies throughout his career. The musical structure of the large-scale sonata-form movements of the later works is often quite sophisticated and the development of thematic material more than merely perfunctory. Some of the finales are remarkable for their employment of elaborate rondo structures. Dussek handles his orchestral forces with confidence although he is more conservative in his use of wind instruments than his great compatriot Vanhal or Dittersdorf.