Voices from the 18th Century: Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf Speaks With Emperor Joseph II



The following conversation is an excerpt from the autobiography of Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (pictured), a celebrated Austrian composer from the latter half of the eighteenth century. His back-and-forth with Joseph II is beautifully revealing.

JII: Have you heard Mozart play?

CDvD: Three times already.

JII: How do you like him?

CDvD: As any connoisseur must like him.

JII: Have you also heard Clementi?

CDvD: Yes, I have.

JII: Some people prefer him to Mozart… what is your opinion? Be blunt.

CDvD: Clementi’s way of playing is art alone.

JII: That’s just what I said. It is as if we had both studied the same book.

CDvD: We have. The great book of experience.

JII: What do you think of Mozart’s compositions?

CDvD: He is undoubtedly one of the greatest of all original geniuses, and I have not yet known any composer who has such a surprising wealth of thought. I only wish he were not so wasteful of it.

JII: He makes one mistake in his theatrical pieces as the singers so often complain, namely that he drowns them out with his full accompaniment.

CDvD: This surprises me. One can adjust harmony and accompaniment so that the cantilena is in no way hurt.

JII: You possess this gift in a masterly way. I noticed it in your two oratorios Esther and Job. What do you say to Haydn’s compositions?

CDvD: I haven’t heard any of his theatrical plays.

JII: You haven’t lost anything; for he works the same way as Mozart. But what do you think of his pieces for chamber music?

CDvD: They are the sensation of the whole world, and rightly so.

JII: Isn’t he a bit too playful from time to time?

CDvD: He has the gift for it without losing the high standard of art,

JII: There you are right…

(Translation: Paul Nettl)

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