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FULIAS IOANNIS - The symphonies of Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf on Ovid’s β€œMetamorphoses”
[Ξ•ΞʽΝ 1217] ISBN 978-9-607-55490-1

The symphonies of Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf on Ovid’s β€œMetamorphoses”:
A contribution to the restoration of a milestone in the history of programme music

Ξ•ΞʽΝ 1217
ISBN 978-9-607-55490-1

Pages: 624
Size: 170 x 240 mm

Although renowned in his time, nowadays Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf is only one of many composers who in retrospect were entirely overshadowed by both Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the most prominent figures in late 18th century music. Therefore, only a small part of his vast compositional oeuvre is mentioned in music historiography, while few are his works that are available in our days for listening or even for a closer study. The question, of course, that is directly raised in such a case concerns whether it is really worth it for a modern scholar to deal with an almost forgotten composer, particularly as long as the relevant research seems to have already adjudicated on the limited value and importance of his work. However, as to this very point one has to be very cautious, since the research that has actually been conducted so far on Dittersdorf – but also on most of the other β€œminor” composers of the classical period – is extremely wanting in general and ultimately inadequate.
What constitutes a clear proof of the above position is the special case of a cycle of twelve symphonies that Dittersdorf composed in the early 1780s on an equal number of selected ancient myths from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Considering the peculiar nature of such a work as well as its extent, one would expect to find a rather abundant literature on the subject. Yet, the reality proves to be very different: a limited number of (usually brief) essays has been exclusively devoted to historical, analytical or even interpretative aspects of this symphonic cycle, while further relevant references to it can be also detected in some larger studies that have been occasionally focused on Dittersdorf or on the genre of programme music in general. Furthermore, the conclusions drawn for this symphonic cycle are in substance quite contradictory: apart from the fact that most scholars refer only to the first six (and still extant in full score) symphonies on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the history of their creation and dissemination continues to be marked by numerous ambiguities, serious inconsistencies and significant gaps, while their appreciation vacillates between the categories of β€œprogrammatic” and β€œcharacteristic” music of the classical period, as well as between aesthetic judgments spanning the whole spectrum of the β€œvalue scale”, i.e. from the most derogatory to the most positive opinions.
This fact was admittedly crucial enough as a starting point for my own research on this work, which I began to study in the summer of 2012 along with its poetic origins, namely the celebrated Metamorphoses of Ovid. The research was intensively continued over the next two and a half years, in order to achieve a comprehensive and fully detailed investigation of the multifaceted historical, analytical, interpretative and aesthetic dimensions of this unique symphonic work of Dittersdorf.
The structure of the present book largely reflects the systematic treatment of all the aforementioned keystones of research, starting from a historical part that refers equally to Ovid and Dittersdorf as to the Metamorphoses of the former and the symphonies composed after them by the latter. Thus, the first two chapters begin with a comprehensive account of the life and work of both the poet and the composer, before focusing, on the one hand, on an overall presentation of the epic (at least in its length) poem of the ancient Latin writer – which, more specifically, refers to the history of its creation, to its contents, to certain key characteristics of it and to its subsequent dissemination – and, on the other hand, on a thorough investigation into the history of its genesis and its further formation, on the complications in its first edition, on its performances during the late 18th century and on the posterior fate, as well, of this highly innovative symphonic cycle of the Austrian composer. The examination of these issues was based on many primary sources and historical evidence, which were first utilised in their entirety in a scientific study on the symphonies on Ovid’s Metamorphoses by Dittersdorf, since many of them – which are also very critical for the unravelling of the events that took place during the last two decades of the 18th century – were published only very recently. Paradoxically, however, their publication did not result in a re-appreciation of the hitherto adopted assumptions concerning this symphonic work; as a result, until now, for instance, only the original titles for some of the symphonies are still in use, instead of those revised by the composer himself and, hence, the definitive ones, while a lot of erroneous data concerning chronologies and specific events, along with unsubstantiated hypotheses and judgments on these symphonies, are also transmitted through even the most recent (and, supposedly, more valid) relevant literature! In addition, the full restoration of the quite eventful historical background of these symphonies helps us to largely understand (even without taking into consideration the equally crucial aesthetic reasons, which are extensively developed in the third part of this same study) why they not only failed to be established in the symphonic repertoire, but they were also consigned to a long oblivion and, unfortunately, some of them have since been partially or fully lost.
The second and larger part of the present study is the analytical one, where each of the symphonies of the cycle is examined in detail and with the requisite accuracy both on purely compositional-technical and on interpretative terms. The structure of chapters 3 to 14 is identical: at first, each selected myth of Ovid is thoroughly presented, so that it can be afterwards compared to its perception and adaptation by the composer for the needs of the programmatic background of the relevant symphony, which serves as a basis for the subsequent research on the particular affect and the broader extramusical context of each individual symphonic movement, also in relation to its structural specifications and all other parameters of musical composition. The extent and thoroughness of music analysis is justified here by two main reasons: on the one hand, because the few analytical approaches that have been attempted so far on this repertoire were completely fragmentary, often superficial or quite allusive and inaccurate, and ultimately scarcely informative concerning both the compositional logic itself that defines the musical structure, and the interpretative decoding of the allegorical content of these musical works, which occurs here just for the first time in full extent under the light of the explanatory commentary that Dittersdorf himself provides for them, since this valuable source was ignored by scholars until very recently; on the other hand, the study of musical form in this repertoire provides us with a first class opportunity for applying a combination of the most modern analytical tools with all the related data deriving from a profound understanding and a practical re-exploitation of handbooks of music composition dating, primarily, from the late 18th century and, secondarily, from the early 19th century. In this manner, this study presents exemplary β€œhistorically informed” analyses of music works of the classical period with the assistance of an eclectic methodology, which, just like its – already mature – practical counterpart that is systematically cultivated since the end of the 20th century in the field of music performance (and that, let us say in passing, would be desirable to exhibit soon – also in auditory terms – the outstanding quality of these exciting symphonies by Dittersdorf on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which is barely perceptible from their few and rather mediocre recordings made so far), exploits the vast theoretical experience of more than two centuries, critically comparing the various technical requirements identified for any musical form by either Koch or Hepokoski and Darcy, Galeazzi or even Caplin (just to mention here some of the prominent music theorists both from the time of the composer and of our own era), in order to shed light on the actual constructional conditions under which the master musicians of the classical period implemented their inspirations in their remarkable works.
All major findings from the individual analyses of the second part are collected in the first of the two chapters that constitute the third and last part of the present study, where comparative conclusions are drawn about all the available sources for the extramusical content of Dittersdorf’s symphonies on Ovid’s myths, on how the composer adapted the ancient myths into classical symphonies and about some specific characteristics that ensure coherence in these four-movement symphonic cycles, as well as on the structural specifications and the various compositional strategies that Dittersdorf uses in order to assimilate and highlight the extramusical elements in each separate category of symphonic movements, i.e. in fast but also in slow movements in sonata forms, in movements based on various rondo and rondo-like forms, in minuets and, finally, in movements written in free – more or less – forms. Then follows a critical review of aesthetic appreciation and value judgements about Dittersdorf’s symphonies on Ovid’s Metamorphoses detected in texts from the late 18th century to our days, which provides a comprehensive overview of their heretofore perception and leads, within the last chapter of this book, in an utterly essential reconstruction of the concepts β€œcharacteristic” and β€œprogrammatic” music, whereby the entire orchestral repertoire of the classical period with extramusical connotations is classified into various subcategories, and this cycle of symphonies by Dittersdorf can finally be reinstated in music history but also re-appreciated in its actual dimensions for the first time ever in music historiography. Furthermore, all valuable historical evidence by both the composer and his ardent supporter Hermes concerning the content of the programmatic symphonic cycle on Ovid’s Metamorphoses is included in the two appendices of the present study.

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