Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739 - 1799)
Symphonies after Ovid's Metamorphoses
(Sinfonien nach Ovids Metamorphosen) Vol. II
Sinfonia No.4 in F major, Die Rettung derAndromeda durch Perseus
(The Rescue of Andromedaby Perseus)
Sinfonia No.5 in A major, Verwandlung derlykischen Bauern in Frosche
(Transformation of the LycianPeasants into Frogs)
Sinfonia No.6 in D major, DieVersteinerung des Phineus und seiner
Freunde (The Turning toStone of Phineus and His Friends)
In theautobiography dictated to his son Carl Ditters gives a brief account of hisparentage. He was born in Vienna in 1739, the son of acostume-maker employed at the court theatre under Charles the Sixth, a man whoalso served as a first lieutenant in the citizen's artillery and took part inthe wars that followed the death of that ruler. He had a good general educationand in 1751 joined the musical establishment of the Prince of Sachsen-Hildburghausen,where he was able to undertake a more concentrated study of music, with compositionlessons from Giuseppe Bonno. The Prince left Vienna in 1761 anddisbanded his musical establishment, finding a position for Ditters and some ofhis colleagues under Count Durazzo in the court opera and orchestra. Thisbrought a close acquaintance with dramatic music, not least through Gluck, withwhom he travelled to Italy in 1763, making an impression himself asa violinist and meeting Italian musicians of distinction, including PadreMartini and the castrato Farinelli.
In 1764 CountDurazzo resigned his position, compelled to do so by the hostile Iintrigues of Reutterand others associated with the court, and was appointed ambassador to Venice, a positionhe held for some twenty years. Ditters found difficulty in working under Durazzo'ssuccessor and resigned in order to take up an appointment as Kapellmeister tothe Bishop of Grosswardein, where he succeeded Michael Haydn, younger brotherof Joseph Haydn. When the musical establishment was disbanded in 1769, he foundemployment as Kapellmeister to the Prince-Bishop of Breslau, Count Schaffgotsch,at Johannisberg, coupling this position with that of Forstmeister (forestrysuperintendent) in the Neisse region. In 1773 he was ennobled by the Ernpress,taking the additional title of von Dittersdorf. This enabled him to become Amtshauptmann,chief official, of Freiwaldau, retaining this position and his work at Johannisbergin spite of an apparent suggestion that he become court composer in Vienna, insuccession to Gassmann, who had died in 1774. The war of the Bavariansuccession brought difficulties for his patron and consequently forDittersdorf, who spent the years after the Prince-Bishop's death in 1795 in retirement.
He had been able, in 1793, to provide aseries of Singspiel for Friedrich-Augustof Brunswick-als, continuing a form of composition in which he had long beendistinguished, but which were now impossible at Johannisberg. He died in 1799at Neuhof in Bohernia, where he had settled at the invitation of Baron Ignazvon Stillfried.
Dittersdorfwas prolific as a composer, winning a reputation for his dramatic works,notably in the form of Singspiel, and his instrumental music, the latterincluding some 120 symphonies, a series of concertos and a quantity of chambermusic. His vocal and choral music included four successful oratorios. The Irishtenor Michael Kelly, the first Don Basilio in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, reportshaving heard Dittersdorf in a quartet at the house of his friend Stephen Storace,with Haydn playing first violin, Dittersdorf second, Mozart viola and thecomposer Vanhal cello. Dittersdorf was a respected figure in the musicalcircles of the time, welcomed and engaged in conversation by the Emperor himself,as he recounted to: his son.
Six of thetwelve Symphonies after the Metamorphoses of Ovid survive in theiroriginal form. These were written in 1783 and introduced to the public in Vienna three yearslater, when Dittersdorf had occasion to visit the city for the firstperformance of his oratorio Giobbe (Job). He relates in hisautobiography how, by special permission of the Emperor, he had arranged tohave six of the symphonies performed in the Augarten, an event for which Baronvan Swieten, arbiter of, musical taste at court and patron of Mozart and Haydn,had taken a hundred tickets. Bad weather led him to try to postpone theconcert, but difficulties arose when he sought permission from the police,since a new decision of the cabinet was needed for any such change of plan.
Dittersdorf was obliged to seek out a court official to authorise the postponementand in doing so found himself in conversation with the Emperor himself, anevent that he recounts in some detail.
In thefifteen books of his Metamorphoses the Roman poet Ovid gives in Latinhexameters a compendium of Greek and Roman mythology and legend. In spite ofthe title, this is not simply a book of changes, but an inspired and episodicnarrative, in which stories are only loosely connected one to the other. Thefirst three of Dittersdorf's symphonies based on the Metamorphoses tookelements from the first three books of Ovid. The fourth of the set, the Symphonyin F major , Die Rettung der Andromeda durch Perseus, therescue of Andromeda by Perseus, is scored for pairs of oboes and horns, withstrings. The first movement has no Latin superscription but seems to representthe flight of Perseus, Who has just used the head of the Gorgon, Medusa, toturn the Titan Atlas to stone, changing him into a mountain. His soaring f1ightcan be heard in the Solo oboe melody, over muted strings. The following Prestohas a quotation from Ovid at its head - motis talaribus aera findit, asPerseus parts the air, flying on his winged sandals and seeing below him theland of the Ethiopians and their king Cepheus. His wife Cassiopeia had boastedherself more beautiful than the sea-nymphs, the Nereids, and by way of revengethe sea-god Poseidon had sent a monster to lay waste the land, a beast to beplacated only by the sacrifice of Cassiopeia's daughter, Andromeda. Perseussees Andromeda, chained to a rock and awaiting her fate. In the following Fminor Larghetto, without Latin superscription, we may imagine the lamentof Andromeda, while the finale brings general rejoicing -gaudent generumque salutant,they rejoice and greet the son-in-law - now Perseus has killed the monsterand will marry Andromeda. The movement starts in D minor but moves forward toan F major Tempo di Minuetto in conclusion.
Symphony in A major, Verwandlung der lykischen Bauern in Frosche, thetransformation of Lycian peasants into frogs, is scored for pairs of flutes,oboes and horns, with strings. The narrative is drawn from the sixth book of theMetamorphoses. The first movement shows the peasants gathering bushy osierswith rushes and sedge that flourishes in the marshes -