Gluck, Christoph Willibald


Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck  is a great opera composer who in the second half of the 18th century reformed the Italian opera-seria and the French lyrical tragedy. The great mythological opera, which experienced an acute crisis, acquired in Gluck's work qualities of the genuine musical tragedy, filled with strong passions, raising the ethical ideals of loyalty, duty, readiness for self-sacrifice. The appearance of the first reformatory opera "Orpheus" was preceded by a long way - the struggle for the right to become a musician, wandering, mastering various opera genres of the time. Gluck lived an amazing life, devoting himself entirely to the musical theater.

Gluck was born in the family of a forester. His father considered profession of a musician to be an unworthy occupation and in every possible way interfered with his son's musical interests. Therefore, as a teenager, Gluck leaves home, wanders, dreams of getting a good education (by this time he graduated from the Jesuit college). In 1731, Gluck was admitted to the University of Prague. The student of the Faculty of Philosophy dedicated a lot of time to musical studies - he took lessons from the famous Czech composer Boguslav Chernogorsky, sang in the choir of the St. Jacob’s church.

In 1735, Gluck, already a professional musician, traveled to Vienna and started to serve in the chapel. Soon the Italian philanthropist A. Meltsi offered Gluck the place of the chamber musician in the court chapel in Milan. In Italy Gluck’s path as an opera composer starts; he gets acquainted with the work of the greatest Italian masters, and is engaged in a composition under the direction of J. Sammartini. The preparatory period continued for almost 5 years; and it was only in December 1741 in Milan, that the first Gluck's opera "Artaxerxes" (libretto P. Metastasio) was successfully staged. Gluck receives numerous orders from the theaters of Venice, Turin, Milan and for four years creates several more opera-seria ("Demetrius", "Poro", "Demofont", "Hypermnestra", etc.), which brought him fame and recognition of the sophisticated and demanding Italian public.

A new stage in life and work of the composer began with his move to Vienna (1752), where Gluck soon became the conductor and composer of the court opera, and in 1774 received the title of "a real imperial and royal court composer." Continuing to compose opera-seria, Gluck also turns to the new genres.

The French comic operas written with the texts of the famous French playwrights, enriched the composer's style with new intonations, compositions, responding to the needs of the audience for the vital, democratic art. Interesting indeed is Gluck’s work in the genre of the ballet. In collaboration with the talented Viennese choreographer G. Anjolini, the ballet pantomime "Don Juan" was created.

The novelty of this performance - a true choreographic drama - is determined in many ways by the plot. It was not traditionally fantastic, allegorical, but deeply tragic, sharply controversial, touching upon the eternal problems of human existence.

The most important event in the creative evolution of the composer and in the musical life of Vienna was the premiere of the first reformatory opera Orpheus (1762), in which the absolute unity of musical and stage development was achieved.

"Orpheus" was followed by two more reformatory operas - "Alzesta" (1767) and "Paride ed Elena" (1770). Not finding the proper support from the Viennese and Italian public Gluck goes to Paris.

The years spent in the French capital (1773-79) were the time of the composer's highest creative activity. Gluck wrote and staged new reformatory operas at the Royal Academy of Music, reworks "Orpheus "And" Alzestu ", in accordance with the traditions of the French theater. Gluck stirred up the musical life of Paris, sparked sharp aesthetic discussions. On the side of the composer were French enlighteners, encyclopedists (D. Diderot, J. Rousseau, J. d'Alembert, M. Grimm), who welcomed the birth of a truly high heroic style in opera; his opponents were adherents of the old French lyrical tragedy and opera-seria. Trying to shake the positions of Gluck, they invited to Paris the Italian composer N. Piccinni, who at that time enjoyed European recognition.

The controversy between the supporters of Gluck and Piccinni entered the history of the French opera as "the war of the gluckists and picchinnists." The composers themselves, who treated each other with sincere sympathy, remained far from these "aesthetic battles".

In the last years of his life, spent in Vienna, Gluck dreamed of creating the German national opera "The Battle of Herman". Nevertheless, a serious illness and the advanced age prevented the realisation of this plan. During the funeral of Gluck in Vienna, his last work for the choir and orchestra "De profundis" was performed. This requiem was conducted by the student of Gluck, A. Salieri.

Stylistics of  the Gluck’s musical tragedies - sublime beauty and nobility of images, impeccable taste and unity of the whole, the monumentality of the composition, based on solo and choral musical forms interaction, goes back to the traditions of the ancient tragedy. Created in the heyday of the Enlightenment movement on the eve of the Great French Revolution, they responded to the needs of the time in great heroic art.

Directed selection and concentration of means of musical-dramatic characteristics, strict co-ordination of all links of a large composition - these are the most important discoveries of Gluck, which were of great importance both for the renovation of opera dramaturgy and for the establishment of new, symphonic thinking.

Ref.: I. Oxalova