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GLUCK, Christophe Willibald  (1714-1787)

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Gluck, Christoph Willibald, Ritter von, renowned German composer; b. Erasbach, near Weidenwang, in the Upper Palatinate, July 2,1714; d. Vienna, Nov. 15, 1787. His father was a forester at Erasbach until his appointment as forester to Prince Lobkowitz of Eisenberg about 1729. Gluck received his elementary instruction in the village schools at Kamnitz and Albersdorf near Komotau, where he also was taught singing and instrumental playing. Some biographers refer to his study at the Jesuit college at Komotau, but there is no documentary evidence to support this contention. In 1732 he went to Prague to complete his education, but it is doubtful that he took any courses at the Univ. He earned his living by playing violin and cello at rural dances in the area; also sang at various churches. He met Bohuslav Czernohorsky, and it is probable that Gluck learned the methods of church music from him. He went to Vienna in 1736, and was chamber musician to young Prince Lobkowitz, son of the patron of Gluck’s father. In 1737 he was taken to Milan by Prince Melzi; this Italian sojourn was of the greatest importance to Glucks musical development. There he became a student of GB. Sammartini and acquired a solid technique of composition in the Italian style. After 4 years of study, he brought out his 1st opera, Artaserse, to the text of the celebrated Metastasio; it was produced in Milan (Dec. 26, 1741) with such success that he was immediately commissioned to write more operas. There followed Demetrio, or Cleonice (Venice, May 2,1742), Demofoonte (Milan, Jan. 6, 1743), Il Tigrane (Crema, Sept. 9,1743), La Sofonisba, or Siface (Milan, Jan. 13,1744), Ipermestra (Venice, Nov. 21, 1744), Poro (Turin, Dec. 26, 1744), and Ippolito, or Fedra (Milan, Jan. 31, 1745). He also contributed separate numbers to several other operas produced in Italy. In 1745 he received an invitation to go to London; on his way, he visited Paris and met Rameau. He was commissioned by the Italian Opera of London to write 2 operas for the Haymarket Theatre, as a competitive endeavor to Handel’s enterprise. The 1st of these works was La Coda to del giganti, a tribute to the Duke of Cumberland on the defeat of the Pretender; it was produced on Jan. 28, 1746; the 2nd was a pasticcio, Artamene, in which Gluck used material from his previous operas; it was produced March 15, 1746. Ten days later, he appeared with Handel at a public concert, despite the current report in London society that Handel had declared that Cluck knew no more counterpoint than his cook (it should be added that a professional musician, Gustavus Waltz, was Handel’s cook and valet at the time). On April 23, 1746, Cluck gave a demonstration in London, playing on the “glass harmonica” He lefl London late in 1746 when he received an engagement as conductor with Pietro Mingotti’s traveling Italian opéra company. He conducted in Hamburg, Leipzig, and Dresden; on June 29, 1747, he produced a “serenata,” Le nozze d’Ercole e d’Ebe, to celebrate a royal wedding; it was performed at the Saxon court, in Pillnitz. He then went to Vienna, where he staged his opera Seaniramide riconosciti to, after a poem of Metastasis (May 14, 1748). He then traveled to Copenhagen, where he produced a festive opera, La Con tesa del Numi (March 9,1749), on the occasion of the birth of Prince Christian; his next productions (all to Metastasio’s texts) were Ezio (Prague, 1750), lssipile (Prague, 1752), La c/em enza dl Tito (Naples, Nov. 4,1752), Le Cinesi (Vienna, Sept. 24, 1754), La danza (Vienna, May 5,1755), L’innocenzagitistiflcata (Vienna, Dec. 8,1755), Antigono (Rome, Feb. 9, 1756), and II Re pastore (Vienna, Dec 8,1756).
In 1750 Gluck married Marianna Pergin, daughter ofa Viennese merchant; for several years afterward he conducted operatic performances in Vienna. As French influence increased there, he wrote several entertainments to French texts, containing spoken dialogue, in the style of opéra comique; of thes~ the most successful were Le Cadi dnpé (Dec. 1761) and La Rencontre imprdvne (Jan. 7, 1764; perf. also under the title Les Pelerins de Ia Mecque, his most popular production in this genre). His greatest work of the Vienna period was Offeo ed Euridice, to a libretto by Calzabigi (in a version for male contralto; Oct. 5,1762, with the part of Orfeo sung by the famous castrato Gaetano Guadagni). Cluck revised it for a Paris performance, produced in French on Aug. 2,1774, with Orfeo sung by a tenor. There followed another masterpiece, Alceste (Vienna, Dec. 16, 1767), also to Calzabigi’s text. In the prefact to Alceste, Gluck formulated his esthetic credo, which elevated the dramatic meaning of musical stage plays above a mere striving for vocal effects: “I sought to reduce music to its true function, that of seconding poetry in order to strengthen
emotional expression and the impact of the dramatic situatio without interrupting the action and without weakening it superfluous ornaments. Among other productions of the Vie nese period were Il trionfo di C/ella (Vienna, May 14, 1763 II Parnaso con fuso (Schönbrunn Palace, Jan.24, 3765), IlTe macco (Vienna, Jan. 30, 1765), and Pa ride ed Elena (Vie Nov. 30, 1770). The success of his French operas in Vienna led Cluck the decision to try his fortunes in Pan-is, yielding to the peru sian of François du Roullet, an attaché at the French emb in Vienna, who also supplied him with his 1st libretto for serious French opera, an adaptation of Racine’s lphigenie An/ide (Paris, April 19, 1774). He set out for Paris early 1773, preceded by declarations in the Paris press by du Rn and Gluck himself, explaining in detail his ideas of drammusic. These statements set off an intellectual battle in the Paris press and among musicians in general between the adherents of traditional Italian opera and Cluck’s novel French opera. It reached an unprecedented degree of acrimony when the Italian composer Nicola Piccinni was engaged by the French court to write operas to French texts, in open competition with Gluck; intrigues multiplied, even though Marie Antoinette never wavered in her admiration for Cluck, who taught her singing and harpsichord playing. However, Cluck and Piccinni themselves never participated in the bitter polemics unleashed by their literary and musical partisans. The sensational successes of the French version of Cluck’s Orfeo and of Alceste were followed by the production of Arnride (Sept. 23, 1777), which aroused great admiration. Then followed his masterpiece, lphi genie en Tauride (May 17, 1779), which established Cluck’s superiority to Piccinni, who was commissioned to write an opera on the same subject but failed to complete it in time. Cluck’s last opera, Echo et Narcisse (Paris, Sept. 24, 1779), did not measure up to the excellence of his previous operas. By that time, his health had failed; he had several attacks of apoplexy, which resulted in partial paralysis. In the autumn of 1779 he returned to Vienna, where he lived as an invalid. His last work was a De pro fundis for Chorus and Orch., written 5 years before his death.
Besides his operas, he wrote several ballets, of which Don Juan (Vienna, Oct. 17, 1761) was the most successful; he also wrote a cycle of 7 songs to words by Klopstock, 7 trio sonatas, several overtures, etc. Wagner made a complete revision of the score of Iphigënie en Aulide; this arrangement was so extensively used that a Wagnerized version of Cluck’s music became the chief text for performances during the 19th centuly. A complete ed. of Cluck’s works was begun by the Barenreiter Verlag in 1951. A thematic catalogue was publ. by A. Wotquenne (Leipzig, 1904; Cerman tr. with supplement by J. Liebeskind). See also C. Hopkinson, A Bibliography of the Printed Works of C.W. von Cluck, 1714-1787 (2nd ed., N.Y., 1967).