Prince Joseph Friedrich von Sachsen-Hildburghausen noticed him and hired him for his court orchestra. At the princely demesne he studied violin with Francesco Trani and composition with Giuseppe Bonno; and it was during this period that he became acquainted with Gluck and Joseph Haydn. In 1761 he was made violinist for the Imperial Theatre, and in 1763 he traveled to Bologna with Gluck. It was this "Italian Tour" that was to leave the greatest impression on his musical opus, as his early compositions are Gluckian in structure but do not exhibit the courtly style then popular in Germany and Austria. Ditters' early work was a prefiguration of his serious output that was to come in later years - an almost Italianate style focused on melodic development without the overt flourishes characteristic of le style français.
In 1764 Ditters assumed the post of Kapellmeister at the court of Ádám Patachich, Hungarian nobleman and Bishop of Nagyvárad (Oradea, Romania). The following year he was introduced to Philipp Gotthard von Schaffgotsch, the Prince-Bishop of Breslau, whose wish was to create a cultural centre around his court at château Jánský Vrch (Johannesberg) in Javorník, (today Czech Republic). In 1771 Ditters accepted the post of Hoffkomponist (court composer); and it was during his tenure at Johannesberg that most of his creative output was produced. Over the next twenty years, he composed symphonies, chamber music, and opere buffe. In 1773 the prince-bishop made Ditters Amtshauptmann of nearby Jeseník (Freiwaldau); one of several measures to help entice the cosmopolitan composer to remain at isolated Johannesberg. Since this new post required a noble title, Ditters was sent to Vienna and received a noble title von Dittersdorf. His surname became "Ditters von Dittersdorf", but he is usually referred to simply as "Dittersdorf".
In 1794, after twenty-four years at Johannesberg, von Dittersdorf experienced a serious clash with von Schaffgotsch and was expelled from the palace. Next year he was invited by Baron Ignaz von Stillfried to live at his spare castle Červená Lhota in southern Bohemia. His final decade was occupied with overseeing operatic productions and with compiling and editing his own music for publication.
With the exception of his pieces for the double bass and his concerto for harp, his works are seldom performed today. He was well known in his day, though, and is still considered an important composer of the Classical era. After some early Italian opera buffa, he composed a number of German Singspiele, with Der Apotheker und der Doktor (1786, generally known today as Doktor und Apotheker) in particular being a tremendous success in his lifetime, playing in houses all over Europe. His symphonies (around 120 of them) are also considered fine pieces with their folk-like melodies and witty passages; they include twelve based on Ovid's Metamorphoses (six of which have survived to the present day). He also wrote oratorios, cantatas, concertos (including two for the double bass and one for the viola), chamber music, piano pieces and other works. His memoirs, Lebenbeschreibung, were published in Leipzig in 1801.