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Composer born on July 2. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck

Gluck, detail of a portrait by Joseph Duplessis, dated 1775 (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)

Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck (2 July 1714  – 15 November 1787) was an opera composer of the early classical period. After many years at the Habsburg court at Vienna, Gluck brought about the practical reform of opera’s dramaturgical practices that many intellectuals had been campaigning for over the years. With a series of radical new works in the 1760s, among them Orfeo ed Euridice and Alceste, he broke the stranglehold that Metastasian opera seria had enjoyed for much of the century.

Listen to  Orfeo ed Euridice – Dance of the Blessed Spirits


4 Responses

  1. Sounds lovely.

    Mozart is my fave . . . and this reminds me of Eine Klein Nactmusik a bit.

    Maybe the photo influenced me. : )

  2. Interesting piece on Ritter. I’d like to know more about the difference between Metastasian opera seria and the newer dramaturgical practices.

    • An answer to the Metastasian question. From a friend of a friend.

      Gluck himself may have provided the best description of what “reforms” his “reform operas” brought:

      The Italian Alceste was the second of Gluck’s three so–called reform operas written with Ranieri de’ Calzabigi (the others were Orfeo ed Euridice and Paride ed Elena) in which a noble simplicity in the action and the music was intended to replace the complicated plots and florid musical style of opera seria. Although Orfeo was the first of these reform operas, it is Alceste that contains, in the first edition of the score, the famous preface in which Gluck and Calzabigi outlined their principles and ideals:

      When I undertook to write the music for Alceste, I resolved to divest it entirely of all those abuses, introduced into it either by the mistaken vanity of singers or by the too great complaisance of composers, which have so long disfigured Italian opera and made of the most splendid and most beautiful of spectacles the most ridiculous and wearisome. I have striven to restrict music to its true office of serving poetry by means of expression and by following the situation of the story, without interrupting the action or stifling it with a useless superfluity of ornaments; […] Thus I did not wish to arrest an actor in the greatest heat of dialogue in order to wait for a tiresome ritornello, nor to hold him up in the middle of a word on a vowel favourable to his voice, not to make display of the agility of his fine voice in some long–drawn passage, nor to wait while the orchestra gives him time to recover his breath for a cadenza. I did not think it my duty to pass quickly over the second section of an aria of which the words are perhaps the most impassioned and important, in order to repeat regularly four times over those of the first part, and to finish the aria where its sense may perhaps not end for the convenience of the singer who wishes to show that he can capriciously vary a passage in a number of guises; in short, I have sought to abolish all the abuses against which good sense and reason have long cried out in vain.
      I have felt that the overture ought to apprise the spectators of the nature of the action that is to be represented and to form, so to speak, its argument; that the concerted instruments should be introduced in proportion to the interest and the intensity of the words, and not leave that sharp contrast between the aria and the recitative in the dialogue, so as not to break a period unreasonably nor wantonly disturb the force and heat of the action.
      Furthermore, I believed that my greatest labour should be devoted to seeking a beautiful simplicity, and I have avoided making displays of difficulty at the expense of clearness; nor did I judge it desirable to discover novelties if it was not naturally suggested by the situation and the expression; and there is no rule which I have not thought it right to set aside willingly for the sake of an intended effect. [trans. Eric Blom, 1936]
      From http://arts.jrank.org/pages/9201/Alceste-%28ii%29-%28%E2%80%98Alcestis%E2%80%99%29.html

      In this, Gluck could be considered to be the forerunner of Wagner, whose intention was that the purpose of the music was to serve the drama. George Bernard Shaw (in a quote that I found recently but I can’t remember where, so my words are not exact): “There is not one bar of classical music in The Ring. Every note conveys the drama of the work.”

      (From “Unsettling Opera: Staging Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, and Zemlinsky” by David J. Levin (Google Books)

      See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opera#Reform:_Gluck.2C_the_attack_on_the_Metastasian_ideal.2C_and_Mozart

  3. Christoph Willibald Ritter Von Gluck. Sorry that that line wrapped the name around like that.
    I don’t know what the difference. I’ll ask a couple of friends.

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