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Christoph Willibald Gluck

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The middle years

Please select an option. Choose an option Please wait, fetching the form. Cookies and Privacy. Email required Password required Remember me? Email required Get our weekly newsletter. Gluck joined a traveling opera company led by Pietro Mingotti. Such companies would visit towns without a permanent opera house. The first of Gluck's operas known to have been played by Mingotti's troupe was performed at a double wedding for the ruling house of Saxony in Dresden on June 29, The following year La contesa de' numi April 9, appeared at the royal court in Copenhagen.

Gluck was twice the age of his bride. She was the well-off daughter of a Viennese businessman and brought a lot of money with her dowry, enabling Gluck to become economically independent. Gluck finally settled in Vienna where he became Kapellmeister. In , Gluck produced the groundbreaking ballet Don Juan in collaboration with the choreographer Gasparo Angiolini.

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By that time, Gluck was already engaged in his operatic reforms. Gluck had long pondered the fundamental problem of form and content in opera. He thought both of the main Italian operatic genres—opera buffa and opera seria—had strayed too far from what opera should really be. They seemed unnatural, the singing in opera seria was devoted to superficial effects, the content was uninteresting and fossilised.

Opera buffa had long lost its original freshness, its jokes were threadbare, the repetition of the same characters made them seem no more than stereotypes. In opera seria too, the singers were effectively absolute masters of the stage and the music, decorating the vocal lines so floridly that audiences could no longer recognize the original melody. Gluck wanted to return opera to its origins, focusing on human drama and passions, and making words and music of equal importance.

In Vienna, Gluck met likeminded figures in the operatic world: Count Giacomo Durazzo, the head of the court theatre, who was a passionate admirer of French stage music; the librettist Ranieri de' Calzabigi, who wanted to attack the dominance of Metastasian opera seria; the innovative choreographer Gasparo Angiolini; and the London-trained castrato Gaetano Guadagni.

The first result of the new thinking was Gluck's reformist ballet Don Juan , but a more important work was soon to follow. On October 5, , Orfeo ed Euridice was given its first performance, with music by Gluck to words by Calzabigi. The dances were arranged by Angiolini and the title role was taken by Guadagni. Orfeo showed the beginnings of Gluck's reforms and the opera has never left the standard repertory.

Gluck's idea was to make the drama of the work more important than the star singers who performed it, and to do away with dry recitative which broke up the action. The more flowing and dramatic style which resulted has been seen as a precursor to the music dramas of Richard Wagner.

Gluck and Calzabigi followed Orfeo with Alceste and Paride ed Elena , pushing their innovations even further.

Tzveta Sofronieva

Calzabigi wrote a preface to Alceste, which Gluck signed, setting out the principles of their reforms. Gluck now began to spread his ideas to France. The premiere sparked a huge controversy, almost a war, such as had not been seen in the city since the Querelle des Bouffons. On August 2, , the French version of Orfeo ed Euridice was performed, with the title role transposed from the castrato to the tenor voice.

This time Gluck's work was better received by the Parisian public. In the same year Gluck returned to Vienna where he was appointed composer to the imperial court. Over the next few years the now internationally famous composer would travel back and forth between Paris and Vienna. On April 23, , the French version of Alceste was given. During the rehearsals for Echo et Narcisse , Gluck suffered his first stroke. Since the opera itself was a complete failure, Gluck decided to return to Vienna.

His musical heir in Paris was the Italian-Austrian composer Antonio Salieri , who had made friends with Gluck when he arrived in Vienna in Gluck brought Salieri to Paris with him and bequeathed him the libretto for Les danaides. The opera was announced as a collaboration between the two composers; however, after the overwhelming success of its premiere on April 26, , Gluck revealed to the prestigious Journal de Paris that the work was wholly Salieri's. In Vienna Gluck wrote a few more minor works but he generally lived in retirement. On November 15, , in Vienna, Gluck suffered another stroke and died a few days later.

At a formal commemoration on April 8, his friend and pupil Salieri conducted Gluck's De profundis and a requiem by the Italian composer Jommelli was given. Like many other prominent musicians and painters, Gluck was buried in the Matzleinsdorfer Friedhof. When this cemetery was turned into a park in , Gluck's remains were transferred to a tomb in the Vienna Zentralfriedhof. Gluck's musical legacy included about 35 complete operas, together with numerous ballets and instrumental works. His operatic reforms influenced Mozart , particularly his opera Idomeneo