The Premonition


Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf was not superstitious but he had no way to account for the strange touch that saved his life when he was twenty-one years old. In his autobiography he tells the story, which comes from 1759:

One snowy winter Dittersdorf had been giving violin lessons to a young courtier and, in exchange, a couple of times a week the young man drove Dittersdorf in a sleigh to a popular inn about a half mile out of town. One day the young man told Dittersdorf to expect a coach driver and groom to pick him up and take him to a grand ball given for a festive occasion. Dittersdorf accepted the invitation, put on his best clothes and went out to watch for the coach.

Just after Dittersdorf left his room, though, he was seized by a sense of panic as if an icy hand were passing down his back. Suddenly he had no desire whatsoever to go to the ball. When Dittersdorf’s young friend stopped by, Dittersdorf told him he had changed his mind but couldn’t give any reason. After pleading with him, the friend went away pouting. He made the groom take Dittersdorf’s place on the sleigh so that the weight would be balanced. Dittersdorf watched through the window as the young man drove off toward the town gate.

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Dittersdorf dismissed the matter and went over to his brother’s place for an evening of coffee and smoking, reading and music making.

They were just tuning for a new quartet when someone rushed up with the news that the sleigh had hit a stone, overturned, and thrown the groom headfirst at the town gate, killing him instantly. As for the young courtier, he had said that his one consolation in the disaster was that Dittersdorf had not gone on the fatal ride since he would surely have been injured — or killed — the same way.

Ditteersdorf’s young friend was put under house arrest for four months because of his reckless driving. As for Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, he always believed that he owed his life to an inexplicable feeling of dread that seized him on that winter afternoon

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