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8.553368 - DITTERSDORF: Sinfonias on Ovid's Metamorphoses, Nos. 1 - 3

Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739 -1799)

Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739 -1799)


Symphonies after Ovid's Metamorphoses

(Sinfonien nach Ovids Metamorphosen) Vol. I


Sinfonia No.1 in C major, Die vier Weltalter (The Four Ages of the World)

Sinfonia No.2 in D major, Der Sturz Phaetons (The Fall of Phaethon)

Sinfonia No.3 in G major, Verwandlung Aktäons in einen Hirsch

(Transformation of Actaeon into a Stag)


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 intrigues 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 Neisseregion. In 1mhe was ennobled by the Empress, taking the additional title of von Dittersdorf. This enabled hirn 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 a series of Singspiel for Friedrich-August of Brunswick-Öls, continuing a form of composition in which he had long been distinguished, but which werenowimpossible 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 rn Mozart's Le nozze dl 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 1783and 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 Gob). 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.


The Metamorphoses of the Roman poet Ovid contains, in its fifteen books, a compendium of Greek and Roman mythology and legend. In spite of the title, this is not simply a book of changes in Latin hexameters, but an inspired and episodic narrative, in which stories are only loosely connected one to the other .Opening with Chaos, Ovid soon moves on to the four ages of the world, the subject of the first of Dittersdorf's symphonies, the sjnfonja in C major, Die vjer Weltalter. Scored for flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets and timpani, with strings, the first movement introduces the peace of the golden age - aurea prjma sata est aetas, the golden age was first established, an age in which men kept faith without any compulsion. The movement is dominated by its tranquil opening theme and is followed by an evocation of the silver age - subiit argentea proles auro deterjor, there followed the silver Ii race, lesser than gold, more precious than tawny bronze, now with its four seasons." The music is livelier in a tripartite sonata-form movement. This leads to the Minuet to con garbo, a graceful minuet, to represent the age of bronze - tertia post illas successjt aenea proles, third after those followed the bronze race, more savage in spirit and prompter to make war. The A minor minuet is angular in theme, with a trio section of greater suavity .The symphony ends with the age of iron - de duro est ultjma ferro, the last is of hard iron, an age when all wickedness is let loose. A descending chromatic figure opens the movement in increasingly rapid note values, continuing with a military fanfare and music of greater excitement which eventually subsides, leading to a final Allegretto that is gracious enough at first, but ends with the agitation of an age of violence.


The second of the set, the symphony in D major, Der Sturz Phaetons, with similar instrumentation but no timpani, deals with Ovid 's version of the legend of Phaethon, son of Helios (the Sun) and Clymene, a mortal. Phaethon sought out his father, who offered him one gift, whatever he should ask. Phaethon asked to drive his father's chariot for one day and, in spite of his father's warning, attempted this feat. The horses of the Sun bolted and brought danger of fire to the earth, until Zeus, the king of the gods, hurled a thunderbolt at him.


Phaethon fell into the river Eridanus, where he died. Dittersdorf's first movement reflects the first line of Ovid's narrative - Regia solis erat subljmjbus alta columnjs, the royal seat of the Sun was on high with lofty columns, bright with shining gold and gilded bronze like flames. Syncopation lends a feeling of impending doom to the music, with its scintillating ornamentation and, in the Allegro, contrasts of dynamics. The narrative continues in the Andante - deposuit radios propriusque accedere iussit, the Sun laid aside the shining rays about his head and ordered the boy to come nearer, accepting him as his son. Here the bassoon doubles the first violin at the octave, accompanied by a descending accompanying figure in the other strings, with music that again offers the dynamic contrast of divine father and mortal son. Paenituit iurasse patrem, his father was sorry to have sworn to grant Phaethon's wish, for this is the one thing he would have denied him. The story and symphony end with the final catastrophe - Intonat, et dextra libratum fulmen ab aure / misit.in aurigam pariterque animaque rotisque / expulit et saevis compescuit ignibus ignes, Zeus thunders and hurled his thunderbolt at the charioteer, expelling him from life and from his chariot and curbed fire with savage fire. Opening in B minor, with syncopation again suggesting what is to come, the music gives a dramatic representation of the fall of Phaethon, ending in hushed tones, the solar eclipse that took place as the Sun mourned his loss.


The Symphony in G major, Verwandlung Aktäons in einen Hirsch, now also without trumpets, is a true tale of metamorphosis, taken from the following, third book of Ovid's poem. Dittersdorf chooses only a short phrase as superscription - per devia lustra vagantes, wandering through out-of-the-way woods, as the young men end their hunting. The music brings suggestions of the hunt in its ascending fanfare arpeggios and its halloos, but is followed by a gentlerpastora1Adagio, with a flute 5010 over the traditional figuration for murmuring streams or breezes. The quotation from Ovid at the head of the movement declares that hic dea silvarum venatu fessa solebat / virgineos artus liquido perfundere rore, here the goddess of the woods, tired from hunting, was wont to bathe her virgin limbs in dew. A minuet introduces Actaeon, grandson of Cadmus - Ecce nepos Cadmi -who strays into the grove where the goddess is. The finale sees the goddess take her revenge. Actaeon is changed into a stag and torn apart by his own dogs - diIacerant falsi dominum sub imagine cervi, the dogs tear their master apart under the false appearance of a stag. Once again the agitation of the music subsides, as the story comes to an end.


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