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Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf

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Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf

Biography

Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (2 November 1739, Vienna, Aus. – 24 October 1799, Bohemia) was an Austrian composer, violinist and silvologist.

In 1745, the six-year-old August Carl was introduced to the violin, and his father's moderate financial position allowed him not only a good general education at a Jesuit school, but private tutelage in music, violin, French and religion. After leaving his first teacher, Carl studied violin with J. Ziegler, who by 1750 secured his pupil's appointment as a violinist in the orchestra of the Benedictine church on the Freyung.

Prince Joseph of Saxe-Hildburghausen soon noticed young Ditters, and on 1 March 1751 hired him for his court orchestra. Under princely auspices he studied violin with Francesco Trani who, impressed with the ability of his pupil in composition, commended him to Giuseppe Bonno who instructed him in Fuxian counterpoint and free composition. After a few years the Austrian Empress hired Dittersdorf for her own orchestra through Count Durazzo, theatre director at the Imperial Court. In 1761 he was engaged as violinist in the Imperial Theatre orchestra, and in 1762 as its conductor. It was during this period that he became acquainted with Christoph Willibald Gluck. In 1764 he met the great Franz Joseph Haydn and became one of his closest friends.

Ditters accepted the post of Hofkomponist (court composer) for Philipp Gotthard von Schaffgotsch, the Prince-Bishop of Breslau in 1771, and it was during his tenure at Johannesberg that most of his creative output was produced. Over the next twenty years he wrote symphonies, string quartets and other chamber music, and opere buffe. In 1773 the prince-bishop appointed him Amtshauptmann of nearby Jeseník (Freiwaldau). Since this new post required a noble title, Ditters was sent to Vienna and given the noble title of von Dittersdorf. His full surname thus became "Ditters von Dittersdorf", but he is usually referred to simply as "Dittersdorf".

About 1785, Haydn, Dittersdorf, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Baptist Wanhal played string quartets together, Dittersdorf taking first violin, Haydn second violin, Mozart viola and Wanhal cello.

In 1794, after twenty-four years at Johannesberg, Dittersdorf, after a serious clash with von Schaffgotsch, was expelled from his palace. His final decade was occupied with overseeing operatic productions in addition to compiling and editing his own music for publication.

Ditters' early work laid the groundwork for his later more important compositions. His symphonic and chamber compositions greatly emphasize sensuous Italo-Austrian melody instead of motivic development, which is often entirely lacking even in his best works, quite unlike those of his greater peers Haydn and Mozart.

Even with these reservations, Dittersdorf was an important composer of the Classical era. After some early Italian opere buffe, he turned to writing German Singspiele instead, with Der Apotheker und der Doktor (1786) in particular being a tremendous success in his lifetime. He also wrote oratorios, cantatas and concertos, string quartets and other chamber music, piano pieces and other miscellaneous works.

Biographies also indicate that Dittersdorf was a silvologist, a forest researcher, but without further explanation.


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