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8.553369 - DITTERSDORF: Sinfonias on Ovid's Metamorphoses, Nos. 4 - 6
English 

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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 der Andromeda durch Perseus

(The Rescue of Andromeda by Perseus)

 

Sinfonia No.5 in A major, Verwandlung der lykischen Bauern in Frösche

(Transformation of the Lycian Peasants into Frogs)

 

Sinfonia No.6 in D major, Die Versteinerung des Phineus und seiner

Freunde (The Turning to Stone of Phineus and His Friends)

 

In the autobiography dictated to his son Carl Ditters gives a brief account of his parentage. He was born in Vienna in 1739, the son of a costume-maker employed at the court theatre under Charles the Sixth, a man who also served as a first lieutenant in the citizen's artillery and took part in the wars that followed the death of that ruler. He had a good general education and 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 composition lessons from Giuseppe Bonno. The Prince left Vienna in 1761 and disbanded his musical establishment, finding a position for Ditters and some of his colleagues under Count Durazzo in the court opera and orchestra. This brought a close acquaintance with dramatic music, not least through Gluck, with whom he travelled to Italy in 1763, making an impression himself as a violinist and meeting Italian musicians of distinction, including Padre Martini and the castrato Farinelli.

 

In 1764 Count Durazzo resigned his position, compelled to do so by the hostile Iintrigues of Reutter and others associated with the court, and was appointed ambassador to Venice, a position he held for some twenty years. Ditters found difficulty in working under Durazzo's successor and resigned in order to take up an appointment as Kapellmeister to the Bishop of Grosswardein, where he succeeded Michael Haydn, younger brother of Joseph Haydn. When the musical establishment was disbanded in 1769, he found employment as Kapellmeister to the Prince-Bishop of Breslau, Count Schaffgotsch, at Johannisberg, coupling this position with that of Forstmeister (forestry superintendent) 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 Johannisberg in spite of an apparent suggestion that he become court composer in Vienna, in succession to Gassmann, who had died in 1774. The war of the Bavarian succession brought difficulties for his patron and consequently for Dittersdorf, 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-August of Brunswick-äls, continuing a form of composition in which he had long been distinguished, but which were now impossible at Johannisberg. He died in 1799 at Neuhof in Bohernia, where he had settled at the invitation of Baron Ignaz von Stillfried.

 

Dittersdorf was prolific as a composer, winning a reputation for his dramatic works, notably in the form of Singspiel, and his instrumental music, the latter including some 120 symphonies, a series of concertos and a quantity of chamber music. His vocal and choral music included four successful oratorios. The Irish tenor Michael Kelly, the first Don Basilio in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, reports having heard Dittersdorf in a quartet at the house of his friend Stephen Storace, with Haydn playing first violin, Dittersdorf second, Mozart viola and the composer Vanhal cello. Dittersdorf was a respected figure in the musical circles of the time, welcomed and engaged in conversation by the Emperor himself, as he recounted to: his son.

 

Six of the twelve Symphonies after the Metamorphoses of Ovid survive in their original form. These were written in 1783 and introduced to the public in Vienna three years later, when Dittersdorf had occasion to visit the city for the first performance of his oratorio Giobbe (Job). He relates in his autobiography how, by special permission of the Emperor, he had arranged to have six of the symphonies performed in the Augarten, an event for which Baron van 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 the concert, 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 postponement and in doing so found himself in conversation with the Emperor himself, an event that he recounts in some detail.

 

In the fifteen books of his Metamorphoses the Roman poet Ovid gives in Latin hexameters a compendium of Greek and Roman mythology and legend. In spite of the title, this is not simply a book of changes, but an inspired and episodic narrative, in which stories are only loosely connected one to the other. The first three of Dittersdorf's symphonies based on the Metamorphoses took elements from the first three books of Ovid. The fourth of the set, the Symphony in F major , Die Rettung der Andromeda durch Perseus, the rescue of Andromeda by Perseus, is scored for pairs of oboes and horns, with strings. The first movement has no Latin superscription but seems to represent the flight of Perseus, Who has just used the head of the Gorgon, Medusa, to turn the Titan Atlas to stone, changing him into a mountain. His soaring f1ight can be heard in the Solo oboe melody, over muted strings. The following Presto has a quotation from Ovid at its head - motis talaribus aera findit, as Perseus parts the air, flying on his winged sandals and seeing below him the land of the Ethiopians and their king Cepheus. His wife Cassiopeia had boasted herself more beautiful than the sea-nymphs, the Nereids, and by way of revenge the sea-god Poseidon had sent a monster to lay waste the land, a beast to be placated only by the sacrifice of Cassiopeia's daughter, Andromeda. Perseus sees Andromeda, chained to a rock and awaiting her fate. In the following F minor Larghetto, without Latin superscription, we may imagine the lament of Andromeda, while the finale brings general rejoicing -gaudent generumque salutant, they rejoice and greet the son-in-law - now Perseus has killed the monster and will marry Andromeda. The movement starts in D minor but moves forward to an F major Tempo di Minuetto in conclusion.

 

The Symphony in A major, Verwandlung der lykischen Bauern in Frösche, the transformation 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 the Metamorphoses. The first movement shows the peasants gathering bushy osiers with rushes and sedge that flourishes in the marshes – agrestes illic fruticosa legebant / vimina cum iuncis gratamque paludibus ulvam. The sonata-form movement leads to a D major Adagio for single flute, bassoon and strings, in which one must imagine the continuation of the story, as told by Ovid. The goddess Leto, mother of Arternis and Apollo, tired and thirsty, seeks to drink, but is forbidden to do so by the peasants. The goddess remonstrates: she had sought to drink, not to bathe, and they should pity her babies. The peasants muddy the water and still refuse, and eventually Leto, in anger, condemns them to live for ever in that pond, changed into frogs. In the following movements, a minuet and a final movement that seems about to become a fugue, the fate of the Lycians is heard, with the croaking of frogs vividly suggested.

 

The last of the symphonies to survive in its original orchestral form is the Symphony in D major, Die Versteinerung des Phineus und seiner Freunde, the turning to stone of Phineus and his friends. It is scored for flute, pairs of oboes, horns, trumpets and timpani, and strings, with the timpani only making their appearance in the last movement. The legend is taken from the fifth book of the Metamorphoses and concerns a rival of Perseus for the hand of Andromeda. Perseus finally makes use of the head of the Gorgon, Medusa, to turn Phineus and his companions to stone, effectively removing an obstacle to his proposed marriage. There is no direct Latin indication of the narrative behind the ternary first movement, which is followed by an Allegro -at ille / iam moriens oculis sub nocte natantibus atra / circumspexit Athin, but he, now dying with eyes swimming under dark night, looked on Athis. The Assyrian Lycabas mourns his friend Athis, killed by Perseus, and in his turn is killed by the hero. The slow movement, with plucked strings, shows the musician - qui, pacis opus, citharam cum voce moveres, accustomed to play the Iyre and sing, a peaceful occupation, entrusted with celebrating in song and with his cithara the wedding banquet, now killed by Pettalus, a companion of Phineus: his hands touch the Iyre as he falls dead. In the last movement Perseus produces the head of the Gorgon - et Gorgonis extulit ora - bidding any friend present hide his face. With twice a hundred of his companions dead, Phineus admits defeat, but in his turn suffers final petrifaction as a cowering suppliant.

 

 


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