Saturday, 16 January 2016


“If music be the food of love, play on.” – William Shakespeare

Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739 - 1799) was an Austrian composer, violinist and forest ecologist. He was born in the Laimgrube (now Mariahilf) district of Vienna, Austria, as August Carl Ditters. His father was a military tailor in the Austrian Imperial Army of Charles VI, for a number of German-speaking regiments. After retiring honourably from his military obligation, he was provided with royal letters of reference and a sinecure with the Imperial Theatre. 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, through his influence, secured his pupil’s appointment as a violinist in the orchestra of the Benedictine church on the Freyung.

Dittersdorf had composition lessons from Giuseppe Bonno in his native Vienna and served as a violinist in the orchestra of the Prince of Sachsen-Hildburghausen, before joining the imperial theatre. He then served as Kapellmeister to the Bishop of Grosswardein, where, in 1762, he succeeded Michael Haydn. In 1769 he became Kapellmeister to the Prince-Bishop of Breslau, at this period acquiring the patent of nobility that added to the name of Ditters the honorific ‘von Dittersdorf’.

Conditions in Johannisberg, the seat of the Prince-Bishop, deteriorated in the political circumstances of the time, and on the death of his employer in 1795 he moved with his family to join the household of a nobleman in Bohemia. Before his death he dictated his fascinating autobiography to his son, a vivid account of musical life in his time.

Dittersdorf wrote a large number of stage works. The earlier Italian works written for Johannisberg were followed by a series of Singspiel primarily for Vienna, and 11 further such works in 1793 and 1794 for Duke Friedrich-August of Brunswick-Oels. These, all in all, mark an important stage in the development of the form. Dittersdorf made his due contribution to oratorio in four such works. He wrote settings of the Mass and other liturgical works, as well as cantatas and arias for church use. His secular vocal works are few.

In orchestral music Dittersdorf may be compared in some respects to his near contemporary Joseph Haydn. His 120 listed symphonies include a set of six giving musical expression to the Metamorphoses of Ovid and another ‘nel gusto di 5 nazioni’ (‘in the taste of five nations’). His concertos, rather fewer in number, include 18 for violin, five for viola, one for cello and one for double bass, as well as a Double Concerto for viola and double bass. The chamber music of Dittersdorf, with all the clarity of Classical style, includes string quartets and quintets, divertimenti, and compositions for groups of wind instruments.

Here is his Viola Sonata in E-flat major:
00:00 I. Allegro moderato
04:47 II. Menuetto, Allegretto
07:54 III. Adagio
10:24 IV. Menuetto, Allegretto
12:52 V. Tema con variazioni, Allegretto
Viola: Anna Barbara Dütschler; Fortepiano: Ursula Dütschler

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