Composers Datebook®

Mozart 'dissed' by Dittersdorf?

Composer's Datebook - September 1, 2023


On today’s date in 1785, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart dedicated six of his string quartets to his friend and older colleague, Joseph Haydn. Earlier that year, Haydn heard some of them performed in Vienna. Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang’s father, was also present, and must have been elated when Haydn said, “Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name.”

Mozart’s quartets were published by the Viennese firm Artaria and generated some much-needed income for Wolfgang. Whether they made money for their publisher as well is another matter. Three years later, one of Mozart’s lesser contemporaries, Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, offered Artaria six of HIS string quartets at the same price they paid Mozart, with a note that read, “I am certain you will do better with MY quartets than you did with Mozart’s, which deserve the highest praise, but which, because of their overwhelming and unrelenting artfulness, are not to EVERYONE’s taste.”

Apparently Mozart’s quartets were deemed too “brainy” for public taste. Well, Dittersdorf may have sold better in the 1780’s, but these days performers and audiences find Mozart’s “unrelenting artfulness” more to their taste than Dittersdorf’s sugary confections.

Music Played in Today's Program

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791) String Quartet in G, K.387 Emerson String Quartet DG 439 861

Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739 - 1799) String Quartet No. 4 in C Gewandhaus Quartet Berlin Classics 9261

On This Day


  • 1653 - Baptismal date of German composer and organist Johann Pachelbel, in Nuremberg;

  • 1854 - German composer Engelbert Humperdinck in Siegburg (near Bonn);

  • 1886 - Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck, in Brunnen;

  • 1952 - Iranian-born American composer Reza Vali, in Ghazvin, Iran;


  • 1912 - English composer of African descent, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, age 37, in Croydon;


  • 1816 - Spohr: opera "Faust" (1st version in German with spoken dialogue), in Prague at the Ständetheater;

  • 1934 - Janácek: opera "Osud" (Fate), over Brno radio; the first staged performance of this work took place 24 years later at the Brno National Theater on Oct. 25, 1958;

  • 1963 - Britten: "Cantata Misericordium," a Latin dramatization of the parable of the Good Samaritan, by the Suisse Romande Orchestra conducted by Ernest Ansermet, in Geneva, Switzerland, at a concert in celebration of the Red Cross;

  • 2000 - Gubaidulina: "St. John's Passion," in Stuttgart (Germany), by the chorus and orchestra of the Kirov Opera Theater and the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir, conducted by Valery Gergiev; This work was one of four passion settings commissioned by the International Bach Academy to honor the 250th anniversary of Bach's death in the year 2000 (see also: Aug. 28 Sept 5 8);


  • 1785 - Mozart dedicates the publication of his six new String Quartets (K. 387, 421, 428, 458, 464 465) to Haydn.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®