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Carl Ditters yonDittersdorf (1739-1799)
Sinfonia in A minor'II delirio delli compositori, ossia II gusto d'oggid?¼'
Sinfonia in D major'II Combattimento delle passioni umani'
Sinfonia in A major'Sinfonia nazionale nel gusto di cinque nazioni'
Carl Ditters, later Baron Ditters von Dittersdorf, was one of the mostprolific and versatile of Haydn's and Mozart's Viennese contemporaries. He wasalso one of the most engaging professionalmusicians of his generation and his famous autobiography, completed two daysbefore his death, reveals a man of charm, vivacity and learning.
Ditters grew up in comfortable financial circumstances and was able toenjoy the benefits of a good general education at a Jesuit school in additionto receiving private tuition in music, French and religion. He began violinlessons at the age of seven and through the influence of his second teacher,Joseph Ziegler, was appointed as a member of the orchestra at the Benedictinechurch on the Freyung several years later. On 1st March, 1751, he joined themusical establishment of Prince Joseph Friedrich von Sachsen-Hildburghausen andbegan a more disciplined course of violin study with Giuseppe Trani. Trani wasimpressed with his pupil's early attempts at composition and commended him to GiuseppeBonno who offered him instruction in Fuxian counterpoint and free composition.
Ditters remained in service until 1761 when the Kapelle was dissolved followingthe Prince's departure from Vienna to assume the regency in Hildburghausen.
Along with the other musicians, Ditters was taken into the employ of CountDurazzo, Theatre Director at the Imperial Court.
Ditters's prolonged contact with dramatic music during the early 1760sthrough his membership of the theatre orchestra proved highly influential onhis development as an artist. Nonetheless, when his contract with Durazzoexpired in the winter of 1764 he chose to accept the post of Kapellmeister tothe Bishop of Grosswardein, recently vacated by Michael Haydn, rather than workunder the authority of Count Wenzel Spork, Durazzo's successor. In his newpost, Ditters assembled a good orchestra and a small company of singers. Hebegan to compose his first vocal works, including an oratorio Isacco andseveral operas, in addition to maintaining a steady output of instrumentalmusic.
In the course of his travels following the dissolution of the Bishop'sKapelle in 1769, Ditters met his next patron, Count Schaffgotsch, Prince-Bishopof Breslau. He agreed to anextended stay at the Prince-Bishop's castle at Johannisberg probably littleexpecting that he would spend much of the next twenty-odd years there. Althoughisolated somewhat from the main stream, Ditters's reputation did not suffer byhis being based at Johannisberg. His instrumental music circulated widely andhis vocal music, in particular his operas, operettas and Singspiels, enjoyedgreat popularity in Vienna and elsewhere. Through the Prince-Bishop's officesDitters was created a Knight of the Goldcn Spur in 1770, and, two years later,was granted a certificate of nobility by the Empress Maria Theresia, afterwhich he adopted the additional surname 'von Dittersdorf'.
After the Prince-Bishop's death in 1795 Dittersdorf received a smallpension barely sufficient for his needs. Handicapped by arthritis and short ofmoney, he was offered lodgings by Baron Ignaz von Stillfried on his property inBohemia remaining there with his family until his death on 24th October 1799.
Dittersdorf wrote fluently and attractively in all genres and the numberof prints and manuscript copies of his works which survive today bear witnessto his great contemporary popularity. Within his instrumental ceuvre, thesymphonies, of which there are well over a hundred, hold a particularlyimportant place and provide the best insight into his development as acomposer.
Like Haydn's symphonies, those of Dittersdorf were written over a periodof several decades and reveal an extraordinary wealth of novel and convincingsolutions to problems of form. Thethree symphonies featured on this recording cover a span of some fifteen yearsin Dittersdorf's creative life, a period which witnessed enormous stylisticchange both in his output and in the development of the symphony as a whole.
The earliest of the three works, the Sinfonia in F, wasadvertised in Breitkopf's famous thematic catalogue in 1766 although it wasprobably composed several years earlier. Like many of the symphonies of hisclose Viennese contemporaries Karl von Ordonez and Leopold Hofmann thisengaging work is small in scale and very deftly composed. The opening Allegrobegins with a pert little theme in the first violins which quickly leadsinto a thrilling orchestral crescendo. If Dittersdorf nods towards Mannheim inhis employment of their most famous orchestral signature, the crescendo, hisViennese origins are in evidence later in the movement in the playfulalternation of major and minor modes which is a strong feature of Austrianfolk-music. The tiny slow movement is as charming as anything written in the1760s and the graceful Minuetto and Trio which follow bear allthe familiar hallmarks of Viennese dance music. A brilliant Presto finalebrings this cheerful little work to a lively close.
The Sinfonia inD minor, written some time between 1773 and 1779, is a work of verydifferent character and is one of Dittersdorf's most impressive symphonies ofthe period. A number of Austrian composers, foremost among them Haydn andHofmann, experimented with the idea of opening a symphony with an extended slowmovement but the practice was abandoned relatively early. Haydn's last andgreatest work in this style, the so-called 'Passione' Symphony (Hob. I:49) was completed in 1768 and it is doubtful if any of Hofmann's symphonies ofthis type were written after the mid-1760s. The gripping Adagio openingto Dittersdorf's symphony - unaccountably headed Andantino in somesources - has a weight and intensity which is rarely found outside Haydn's Sturmund Drang symphonies. The wind instruments are used with telling effect andDittersdorf's sophisticated melodic lines contain some marvellous andunexpected harmonic twists. The ebullient Allegro vivace, is, bycomparison, a much more straight-forward movement. Its strong, driving unisonopening contrasts starkly with alight, scampering figure in the first violinsand the broad, lyrical second theme. All of these major thematic buildingblocks reappear in the central section of the movement but in place of thematicdevelopment Dittersdorf offers surprise: chiefly unexpected juxtaposition ofthemes and a notable pregnant pause. The Minuetto and Trio revealthe composer at his quirky best. Not only does he unsettle the listener withasymmetrical phrase lengths and odd chirrups from the wind instruments, but healso ends the Minuetto in the wrong key and directs the performer torepeat the first half only at the conclusion of the Trio. The Prestonon troppo finale, built around the kind of irresistible theme of whichDittersdorf's friend Haydn became the undisputed master, brings the symphony toa spirited conclusion, one perhaps rather unexpected given the sombre openingto the work.
The Sinfonia inG minor, one of Dittersdorf's most striking minor key symphonies, waswritten no later than 1768, the year the great Austrian Benedictine Monasteryat Lambach acquired a copy. The symphony survives in seven contemporary sourcesand is also listed in three important thematic catalogues of the