Christoph Willibald Ritter Von Gluck

Patricia Howard

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:
Christoph Willibald Ritter Von Gluck

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Christoph Willibald Gluck (b. 1714–d. 1787) has a secure place in history as the reformer of 18th-century opera. Blending forms and styles from across the whole field of European opera, he replaced the established, popular, but formulaic genre of Italian opera seria with music dramas that have a less predictable structure and more spontaneous modes of expression. The first truly international opera composer, Gluck was born in Germany, raised in Bohemia, learned his trade in Milan, absorbed lessons in simplicity from Handel in London, collaborated with like-minded reformers in Vienna, and created his finest works for Paris. He was a conscious synthesizer of diverse influences, declaring that his aim was to produce a music fit for all nations. At the heart of his reforms was a new approach to word setting that valued a natural declamation of the text above lyricism; he also sought to raise the importance of the chorus and orchestra, and to limit singers’ customary freedom to improvise ornamentation. His enduring influence can be detected in the operas of Mozart, Berlioz, and Wagner. Gluck scholarship is focused almost exclusively on his role as reformer. In successive phases, attention has moved from identifying the nature of Gluck’s innovations to putting his achievements in context, and to pointing up the contributions of his contemporaries, both in reshaping opera (Traetta and Jommelli) and in the parallel reforms of singing (Guadagni), acting (Garrick), dance (Angiolini and Noverre), costume (Diderot), and stage design (the brothers Galliari). Despite determined efforts to detect signs of his reforming tendencies in his earliest works, there is little evidence of these before his ground-breaking opera Orfeo ed Euridice (Vienna, 1762), perhaps because until that work, Gluck did not have the opportunity of collaborating with a librettist who shared his vision: Orfeo was as much the creation of the poet Ranieri de’ Calzabigi as it was Gluck’s. Subsequent reform landmarks resulted from equally stimulating partnerships, notably Iphigénie en Aulide (Paris, 1774) with François-Louis Gand Leblanc du Roullet and Iphigénie en Tauride (Paris, 1779) with Nicolas-François Guillard. Gluck’s output includes some fifty operas, at least a dozen ballets, and a small number of sacred and secular vocal works.

Article.  12141 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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