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Sweet Reward


Twenty-first century neurologists have determined that the pleasure a musician derives from playing the climax of a composition compares with the enjoyment of eating chocolate. If they’re right, Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf had a double reason to remember a reward he received as a young violinist.

In 1761 Dittersdorf was accompanying the famous composer Christoph Willibald Gluck to Bologna, one of the music capitals of Europe. Years later, when Dittersdorf dictated his autobiography, he recalled an occasion when his playing brought him a particularly sweet return.

A distinguished musician of the day, Giovanni Battista Martini, asked the young violinist to play a concerto in his church during an upcoming service. He asked if Dittersdorf would be satisfied with the usual fee of twelve double ducats. Dittersdorf replied that he would play only on condition that he was not paid.

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“What I prized beyond money,” he said, “was the honor of being chosen to play by ‘the Father of Music.”

During the three-day festival Dittersdorf and Gluck went to church to hear Vespers, which featured music by Martini. Dittersdorf thought it was magnificent. In one Psalm Martini had written the Amen in the form of an eight-part fugue—all the more glorious since the orchestra consisted of 160 people and the chorus was 80 strong.

The next morning Gluck and Dittersdorf went to see Martini, who invited them to drink chocolate with him.

“I think it likely,” Martini said, “that yesterday’s Vespers and today’s High Mass will be my Swan Song, because I am already aware that my powers, physical and mental, are beginning to fail.”

After Dittersdorf had played his concerto, he and Gluck went home and sat down to dinner, after which the landlord came in and said, “Padre Martini sends you both a few pounds of chocolate.”

In a shaky hand, the old priest had written on the packet: “12 pounds for my dear friend Cavalier Gluck and 12 pounds for my dear son Signor Carl Ditters.”