Christoph Gluck, classical music composer

Christoph Gluck

Biography

Christoph Gluck, the first of six surviving children, was born in Erasbach (now a part of Bavaria) on July 2nd, 1714. Three years later his family moved to Bohemia where his father was in the service of Prince Phillip Hyazinith von Lobkovitz. Gluck's father intended to bring up his son in his own profession, forestry, but in Bohemia Gluck became entranced by the power of music. Gluck later wrote that he made astounding progress and learned to play several instruments. According to some accounts of Gluck's childhood, he left home as a child for Vienna paying for his way by singing as he traveled. It is, however, generally believed now that his exodus from Bohemia occurred later and his destination was not Vienna but Prague. Early biographies state that Gluck studied logic and mathematics while at the University of Prague and, no doubt, took advantage of Prague's flourishing musical scene. However, Gluck left Prague without taking a degree.

The next record in Gluck's life shows him arriving in Milan in 1737 where he studied composition under G. B. Sammartini. He also staged his first opera, Artaserse, which opened the Milanese Carnival of 1742. Set to a libretto by Metastasio, conflicting anecdotes about the performance make it unclear as to its public impression. Its reception, however, could not have been too unfavorable as Gluck composed operas to open the Carnival for the next four years.

Accepting an invitation to become the house composer at London's King Theater in 1745, Gluck's visit to England was met simply with bad luck. The Jacobite Rebellion had caused a good deal of panic in the British capital and the King's Theater remained closed for most of the year. The two operas Gluck composed for performance in London had to wait until the following year, 1746, to be staged. Nevertheless, Gluck's time in London was not completely wasted. There he was exposed to music of Handel, which he later admitted as being a strong influence on his style. Handel, on the other hand, did not have so high a regard for Gluck's music.

During 1747-48, Gluck received two remarkable commissions. The first was for an opera to be produced in Dresden to celebrate a royal double wedding between the ruling familes of Bavaria and Saxony. The success of this work led to the second commission: an opera to celebrate Maria Theresa's birthday in Vienna. Though Gluck's opera for the Empress's birthday enjoyed great success, Gluck left Vienna after the court poet and librettist of the opera, Metastasio, expressed displeasure at Gluck's work. For the next couple of years, he spent his time with a traveling opera company.

In 1750, Gluck returned to Prague. Later that year in September, he married Maria Anna Bergin, the daughter of a wealthy, but deceased, Viennese merchant. A few years later, he settled in Vienna with the position of Kapellmeister. Though up until this time Gluck's operas were set to Metastasio libretti—the standard of Italian opera—he had long contemplated the nature of opera. Gluck felt that the major forms of Italian opera (opera buffa and opera seria) had become caricatures of their true ideals. Instead of the focus being upon the singers and their superfluous ornamentations of melodies or the standardized troupe of characters, Gluck wanted the intent of opera to be upon human passions with a closer connection between words and music. Finding other likeminded men in Vienna, Gluck embodied his operatic reforms in Orfeo ed Euridice, which premiered on October 5th, 1762. Since its first performance, Orfeo has remained a staple of the opera repertoire. Two other operas, Alceste and Paride ed Elena, followed over the next several years that furthered Gluck's ideas even more. His innovations in opera influenced his contemporary Mozart, particularly in Idomeneo, as well as establishing the groundwork for Weber and Wagner.

Having successfully demonstrated his ideas in Vienna, Gluck signed a contract with the Paris Opéra for six stage works. The first of these, Iphigénie en Aulide, set off a controversy that engulfed the entire French capital and oddly foretells that great debate between Wagner and Brahms that occurred a century later. Gluck's opponents brought Niccolò Piccinni, the leading composer of Italian opera at the time, to Paris and the city became divided between the supporters of Gluck and those of Piccinni, though neither composer took part.

Eventually returning to Vienna, Gluck left Paris in the hands of his protégé, Antonio Salieri. Gluck wrote little after his return to the Austrian capital. In 1787, he suffered a stroke and died a few days later on November 15th, 1787.


Composer Title Date Action
Christoph Gluck Dance of the Blessed Spirits, from Orfeo ed Euridice 01/22/2009 Play Add to playlist
Christoph Gluck Dance of the Blessed Spirits, from Orfeo ed Euridice 01/23/2012 Play Add to playlist
Christoph Gluck Dance of the Blessed Spirits, from Orfeo ed Euridice 03/18/2009 Play Add to playlist
Christoph Gluck Mélodie d'Orfée (tr. Sgambati) 02/12/2009 Play Add to playlist
Christoph Gluck Che farò senza Euridice?, from Orfeo ed Euridice 06/30/2014 Play Add to playlist
Christoph Gluck Iphigénie en Aulide overture 06/30/2014 Play Add to playlist