Christoph Willibald von Gluck

(1714 - 1787)

German composer. Went to Prague University in 1732 to study music and philosophy, also learning violoncello. In 1735 travelled to Vienna under protection of Prince Lobkowitz. Joined private orchestra of Prince Melzi, who engaged him for his orchestra in Milan, 1737. There he probably studied with Sammartini. Wrote his first opera Artaserse, 1741, seven more following up to 1744. Travelled with Prince Lobkowitz to London 1745, composing two operas produced in 1746, meeting Handel, and giving two concerts as performer on glass armonica.After 1746, travelled in Austria and Denmark and again visited Prague and Naples. In 1754 Empress Maria Theresa appointed him opera Kapellmeister to court theatre in Vienna, a post which required him to compose in the more lively and flexible style of the fashionable French operas comiques.

During 1755-61 he was closely associated with Durazzo (court theatre Intendant), Quaglio (scene-painter), Angiolini (dancer), and the poet Calzabigi, with whom he evolved his operatic 'reforms' in which the singers' claims were subjugated to those of the drama, with recitativo accompagnato ousting the more formal secco recitative. His ballet Don Juan (1761) and opera Orfeo (1762) embodied these principles which reached full expression in Alceste (1767), an anticipation of Wagner's music-drama. Gluck set forth his operatic creed in the preface of Alceste.

He resigned his Vienna court post in 1770 and went to Paris, having been contracted to compose Iphigenie en Aulide for the Opera. Its production in 1774 was followed by a slightly revised French version of Orfeo and two years later of Alceste. Jealousy of Gluck's success in Paris led to an engineered quarrel with the Italian composer Piccinni, who was asked to set the same libretto on which Gluck was known to be working on. Gluck destroyed his sketches but composed Armide (1777), followed by Iphigenie en Tauride (1778). In 1779 he returned to Vienna and retired, living in a grand manner and dying after defying his doctor by drinking a post-prandial liqueur. The simplicity and sublimity of Gluck's melodies, supported by a vivid dramatic snese, have ensured the survival of a large proportion of his music. Works include:

Operas: Artaserse (Milan 1741); La caduta dei giganti and Artemene (London 1748); La Semiramide riconosciuta (Vienna 1748); La contesa dei Numi (Copenhagen 1749); La clemenza di Tito (Naples 1752); Le Cinesi (1754); La danza (Vienna 1755); Il re pastore (Vienna 1756); Orfeo ed Euridice (Vienna 1762); Telemaco (Vienna 1765); Paride ed Elena (Vienna 1770); Iphigenie en Aulide (Paris 1774); Orphee (Paris 1774); Alceste (Vienna 1767, Paris 1776); Armide (Paris 1777); Iphigenie en Tauride (Paris 1778); Echo et Narcisse (Paris 1779).

Operas Comiques: L'Ile de Merlin and La Fausse Esclave (Vienna 1758); La Cythere assiegee (Schwetzingen 1759); L'Arbre enchante (Vienna 1759); La Rencontre imprevue (Vienna 1764).

Ballets: Don Juan (Vienna 1761); Semiramide (Vienna 1765).

Misc.: De Profundis, chorus; six sonatas a tre (London 1746); nine symphonies (Vienna 1753).

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