From Bagni’s Casinò to Tasmania

Why did the virtuoso pianist Theodor Döhler, a recital of whose music featured last Saturday as part of the 11th international conference organised by the Michel de Montaigne foundation, come to Bagni di Lucca in 1843 to perform at the casinò? Remember the original programme I printed in yesterday’s post and which was fortuitously found by Bagni Historical Society chair, Bruno Micheletti?


The answer lies buried in the Anglican cemetery.

Theodor Döhler’s father was Kapellmeister to the Neapolitan court and Theodor was born in that inimitable city in 1814. It was in Naples that he received his musical instruction and, as a child prodigy gave his first public concert, aged thirteen. Theodor’s father obtained a new appointment in Lucca in 1827 and from 1829 to 1834 Theodor studied under Carl Czerny whose vast output not only includes the piano studies which are still the staple fare of budding pianists today but also many other piano works, seven symphonies (two of which were only discovered this century) and much chamber music.


(Carl Czerny, Döhler’s teacher)

Theodor was, thus, in good hands since Czerny’s pupils, and those taught by the pupils of those pupils, include such illustrious names as Landowska, Arrau, Prokofiev and even Barenboim!

Döhler was also taught composition by Sechter, described as an even more prolific a composer than Telemann. For example Sechter wrote five thousand fugues alone! (Schubert also took at least one lesson from him – in counterpoint of course.)


(Fugue-a-day Sechter)

In 1832, Döhler became a protégé of Carlo Lodovico, Duke of Lucca. Carlo Lodovico was a quite extraordinary character whose responsibilities in ruling over Lucca came rather low in his list of priorities.


(The Duke of Lucca, Carlo Lodovico, Döhler’s protégé)

The duke  loved to travel, enjoyed scientific experiments and even composed music. He, therefore, must have had a genuine affection for Döhler’s talents.


(The young Theodor)

It was from 1834 to 1845 that Theodor developed his very successful virtuoso concert pianistic career performing in Italy, France, Denmark and Russia. Indeed, together with the likes of Liszt and Thalberg, Döhler was among the top and most sought after pianists of the first half of the nineteenth century.


In 1843 Dohler’s father fell ill while Theodor was touring. The dutiful son was too late to hear his father’s dying words but arranged his funeral and burial in Bagni di Lucca’s Anglican cemetery. I was given indications where I could find the as yet unrestored tomb. The original inscription is well-nigh impossible to read. Contributions for its and other funerary monuments restoration are welcome and should be sent to


In 1846 Döhler’s patron, Carlo Lodovico, honoured him with the rank of Baron and in the same year, as a newly-fledged nobleman, Dohler married the Russian countess Elise Sheremeteff.


(Theodor with his new wife in 1846)

elisaveta_sheremeteva(A photograph of the couple)

Döhler’s confirmation of rank was just in time since in 1847, after some political and financial troubles, Carlo Lodovico fled and left the dukedom of Lucca to the grand duchy of Florence, much to the chagrin of the Lucchesi to this day!  In any case, part of the agreement of the 1815 treaty of Vienna was that the duke of Lucca would become duke of Parma once the incumbent of the post, Marie Louise expired, which she did in 1847.

Döhler became very well settled in Moscow and gave up public performances. However, in 1848 he returned to Naples where he composed further piano pieces (including perhaps that tarantella that was played at the Casinò?) and an opera Tancreda. He died in Florence in 1856. I am as yet unsure where to find his tomb. Perhaps in the ‘cimitero protestante’ in that city?

(Federico Ciompi playing Döhler’s ‘Grand Fantasia and variations on favourite themes from Rossini’s ‘William Tell’ at our Casinò’s concert last Saturday):

 My initial view of Döhler’s music was that it was in the brilliant salon-virtuoso, prosecco-bubbly style. Certainly, Döhler’s wrote many morceaux brillantes to seduce his audience with his almost supernatural talent. However, he also wrote several pieces in deeper vein. The beautiful nocturnes, surely known to Chopin, are a case in point.

(Döhler’s nocturne op 24 played by Lorenzo Manfredi at the same concert)

However, I was astonished to come across an exquisite piano concerto by the composer, played by Howard Shelley and the Tasmanian Symphony orchestra. It’s available on Hyperion but, clearly, I can’t upload it here because of copyright.

(a Duet from ‘A summer in Lucca’ by Döhler sung by Letizia Cappellini and Giorgia Giulio, at our concert)

If you want to know more about musical life in Regency and early Victorian times Lucca and can read Italian then the book Un été à Lucques. Theodor Döhler, un pianista biedermeier alla Corte di Carlo Lodovico, by Fabrizio Papi (ex-director of Lucca’s Boccherini conservatoire) and published in 2012 by Pacini Fazzi is an absolute must.


It’s quite incredible how much more music I am constantly discovering in and around Lucca since first landing in these lands!






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s