Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf
Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, born simply Karl Ditters, was an Austrian contemporary of Haydn and one of the most popular composers in Europe in his day. As a virtuoso violinist and prolific composer he was a favorite of various court ensembles. His popularity was said to rival that of Haydn, Gluck, and Mozart. During his 60 years of life, he composed over 120 symphonies, 45 operas, a myriad of sacred and chamber works, and completed his autobiography two days before his death. Although his music had circulated all over Europe, he never found a source of stable patronage as Haydn did, and he reportedly died in dire financial straits. Ditters began his career as a violin virtuoso. Employed in a church orchestra at age 10 or 11, he moved on to the court orchestra of the Prince of Sachsen-Hildburghausen. There he studied composition under Giuseppe Bonno, the court composer and Kapellmeister. He also met Gluck, a fellow violinist, and Haydn. In 1761, at age 21, Ditters was appointed court violinist. Two years later, in 1763, he made his first trip abroad, traveling to Italy with Gluck and performing. Ditters left the imperial court in 1764 after a dispute. He became Kapellmeister for the court of the Bishop of Grosswardein, in what is now Romania, and produced mostly sacred music for five years. After a dispute with Empress Maria Theresia, the Bishop disbanded his chapel, leaving Ditters unemployed. The following year, Ditters became acquainted with the Prince-Bishop of Breslau, Schaffgotsch, who appointed Ditters court composer in 1770. The court was located in the small hamlet of Johannisberg, and to persuade Ditters to remain in such an out-of-the-way locale, the prince bestowed upon him many honors and titles, including the Order of the Golden Spur and the position of Overseer of Forests and Chief Magistrate. In 1772 Ditters gained noble status and appended "von Dittersdorf" to his surname. During his years in Johannisberg, Ditters composed numerous symphonies, chamber works, and operas. This period is considered his most creative, and for a time he was in the running to succeed Gassmann as Kapellmeister at the court of Emperor Joseph II. In the middle 1780s, several of his compositions were performed in prestigious circumstances. The imperial palace was the venue for performances of six of his 12 "Ovid" symphonies. As a symphonist Ditters gained a reputation for humor and formal inventiveness, and even today those adventurous musicians who unearth his works are likely to be delighted by those same qualities. The year 1786 proved to be a defining one for Ditters: his comic opera, Der Apotheker und der Doktor (The Pharmacist and the Doctor) premiered in Vienna with overwhelming success. It soon became the most popular opera in Europe, rapidly spreading to opera houses across the continent. Riding on a wave of popularity, Ditters composed eight more comic operas over the next five years, and these singspiele, works with spoken dialogue and folkish elements, proved extremely influential over the next half century. Among their direct successors was Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. In the middle 1790s, Ditters' employment with the Prince-Bishop Schaffgotsch came to an end. History is obscure about why, but the separation was caused either by the Prince's death or by court intrigues that led to Ditters' expulsion. Ditters' popularity began fading as well. Facing an impoverished future, Ditters found another patron in Baron Ignaz von Stillfried, who in 1795 installed the composer in his castle in southern Bohemia. His final years were spent editing his works and writing his autobiographical Lebenbeschreibung (Leipzig, 1801).
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Chamber Music - Released August 7, 2020 | Avie Records
The chamber ensemble Night Music gets extra points for the program here: in a historical performance landscape full of hypothetical programs, the group has unearthed and performed an actual one. It took place in Vienna in 1801 at a salon attended by Caroline Pichler, already a noted historical novelist. Some of her comments are included, and she was a perceptive observer. The music is neither light background stuff nor on the progressive cutting edge that one would hear a few years later when Beethoven attended Pichler's salons. The standout is probably the Quintet for flute and strings in D major of composer Joseph Martin Kraus, with its sizable and well-organized 14-minute opening movement. The Duetto for viola and violone of Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf was a light work of the moment; Dittersdorf had died two years earlier, and his autobiography seems to have been a kind of book club entry for the salon. The Duetto is a delicate little divertimento-type work more concerned with texture than melody. Perhaps less successful is the arrangement of the Haydn Symphony No. 94, Hob. 1/94 ("Surprise") for flute and strings by none other than Johann Peter Salomon, the composer/entrepreneur who arranged Haydn's London trips. Those wondering how the introduction of a concerto-like element fits with the structure of the symphony, like the fortissimo chord that gives the symphony its nickname, will find that, well, it really doesn't fit. However, the sheer existence of this arrangement is of considerable interest and shows just what length people of the time would go to in order to hear their favorite music at home. The church sound is a disincentive here, with all the atmosphere of a high school swimming pool, but this is an authentic performance that truly lives up to the word. © TiVo
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