Christoph Wilibald Von Gluck, a German composer, born at Weidenwang in the Upper Palatinate, July 2, 1714, died in Vienna, Nov. 15, 1787. The dates and other particulars in this article which differ from those usually given, are drawn from documentary evidence substantiated or first given to the public by Anton Schmid, of the imperial library at Vienna, in 1854 (Glucks Leben und tonkunstlerisches Wir-ken). The father, Alexander Johannes Klukh (as he always wrote his name), was first a huntsman of Prince Eugene, afterward removing to "Weidenwang as forester. In 1717 he entered the service of Count Kaunitz in Bohemia, and thus the young Christoph came at the age of three to the land which, owing to its great number of wealthy nobles and convents, was then the most favorable to the development of musical talent. In the gymnasia and the Jesuit colleges music was earnestly cultivated, and every nobleman had his musical chapel; all churches of any pretensions, very many of the smaller parish churches even, had their choirs supported by ample funds.
The treatment of Gluck and his brothers by the father was hard even to tyranny; the composer in his old age well remembered being forced with his brother Anton to follow his father in the coldest winter weather into the forests, sometimes barefoot, "to make them tough." The children had the best school instruction in Kamnitz and Eisenberg, and from his 12th to his 18th year Christoph was sent to the gymnasium at Kommotau. The boy carried with him a good degree of knowledge both in singing and playing bowed instruments, and in the school of the Jesuits his musical talents were specially cultivated. He became a chorister in the principal church of the place, and gained some knowledge of the harpsichord and organ. At 18 he went to Prague to enter the university, but was finally obliged to devote himself to music for subsistence. He gave lessons in singing and upon the violoncello, sang and played in several churches for a small salary, and during vacation sang and played in the villages of the surrounding country, sometimes being paid in one with eggs, which in another he exchanged for bread.
After a time he appeared in the large towns as a violoncellist, and attracted the attention of Prince Lobko-witz, so that when in 173G he went to Vienna, the house of the prince was opened to him, and a salary was given which enabled him, at 22, to study musical science. He now had opportunity also to hear the works of Fux, Cal-dara, the brothers Conti, Porsile, and other dramatic and church composers, adequately performed. The Lombard prince di Melzi, hearing Gluck both as a singer and violinist, in the soirees of Lobkowitz, appointed him chamber musician, took him to Milan, and placed him under Sammartini. Having meanwhile shown talent in composition, in 1740 he received an order to compose an opera for the court theatre of Milan. The old field of the Italian opera of Handel's time had now been nearly exhausted, and the works of the day, even those of the greatest masters, had gone down in the scale until they were little more than pieces of music written to give the singers opportunity to exhibit their powers. Real musical expression was one of the last things which entered into the thoughts of the composer. Hence the first work of Gluck has an importance in musical history beyond any other of that time, unless the oratorios of Handel be excepted.
The text chosen for him was the Artaserse of Metastasio, a libretto which in its form was sufficient - in case Gluck had then, which he had not, thought out the system which he afterward adopted and which produced an entire revolution in the musical drama - to prevent him from striking out an entirely new path. Still the composer had an indistinct feeling of the hollowness and insufficiency of the recognized forms of dramatic composition, and ventured to make expression the great object of his music. He completed the work, with the exception of one air, in his own manner, and in 1741 had it in study. At the first rehearsal in the theatre a large company was present. The new work proved so different from what they were accustomed to hear as to be generally received with smiles, and shrugs, and jokes upon the German composer. Gluck let all pass without remark. For the final rehearsal he composed the wanting air in the strictest style of the day. It was a beautiful piece for the singer, and when the audience heard it they broke into the loudest applause, and with one consent attributed it to Sammartini. Gluck remained silent. The first public performance came off with appropriate scenery and action. The house was crowded.
The interest rose with every number, the music meeting with the most decided success, until the modish air, which proved so "stale, flat, and unprofitable," so out of character with all the rest, that Gluck had to withdraw it and substitute one more in the spirit of his work. The success was triumphant, and the composer was called from city to city of Italy to direct the Artaserse. He was now the great operatic composer of that era. In 1742 he wrote Demo-foonte, text by Metastasio, for Milan; Deme-trio and Ipermnestra, texts by the same, for Venice; in 1743, Artamene for Cremona, and Siface for Milan; in 1744, Fedra for Milan; in 1745, Alessandro nell' Indie, by Metastasio, under the title Poro, for Turin. Lord Middlesex invited him to London to compose for the theatre in the Haymarket, and in 1745 he set out for the English capital, but found the theatre closed. On Jan. 7, 1746, it was reopened, with La caduta de' giganti, by Gluck. It was not successful, and was only performed five times. He afterward produced Artamene with better fortune, and Piramo e Tisbe, in which pieces from his earlier works were, at the wish of the managers, adapted to a new text.
This failed comparatively; and this event led Gluck to his permanent system of composition, whose principles are as follows: 1, that dramatic music can only reach its highest power and beauty when joined to a text simple, truly poetic, and exhibiting natural and definite emotions and passions with the highest possible truth to nature; 2, that music might be made the language of emotion, capable of expressing the various feelings of the heart; 3, that the music must follow with all possible exactness the rhythm and melody of the words; 4, that in accompaniments the instruments must be used to strengthen the expression of the vocal parts by their peculiar characters, or to heighten the general dramatic effect by employing them in contrast to the voice, as the text or dramatic situation might demand. From these principles it followed that the beautiful arias then esteemed the highest efforts of the musical art, though in fact unsurpassable as means of sensual gratification to the ear, could never deeply touch the soul nor rouse any lasting emotion.
In his later years Gluck was in the habit of saying, when an air of this kind was commended: "Yes, it is right beautiful; but it does not draw blood." Toward the close of 1746 the composer returned to Germany. Dla-vacz says he became a member of the electoral orchestra of Dresden with a respectable salary, which seems probable, but in fact none of the biographers have cleared up the chronology of his life for the two or three years after his return. On June 29, 1747, an opera in one act, Le nozze d'Ercole e d' Ebe, music by Gluck, was performed at Pilnitz in honor of the marriage of Princess Anna, daughter of Augustus III. According to Schmid, La Semiramide rico-nosciuta, text by Metastasio, music by Gluck, was performed at Vienna on Maria Theresa's birthday, in May, 1748; and in the autumn of the same year a newspaper contains a paragraph of news from Hamburg, which is dated Oct. 3, and says : "Herr Gluck, so well known in music, is at present chapelmaster here in place of Scalabrini." In 1749 he removed to Vienna, and only left that city when called to Italy and Paris to produce his works. In the house of Joseph Pergin, a banker and wholesale merchant, he was received both as a friend and as music teacher of the two daughters. With Marianne he fell in love, and his passion was returned.
The mother approved the match, but when the young man applied to the father for the hand of his daughter, he was rudely refused, as being but a musician. Wounded by this, Gluck now accepted an order to compose Telemacco for the theatre Argentina at Rome, and left Vienna at once, in such haste to be away that, without waiting for his passport, he smuggled himself across the boundary in the habit of a Capuchin monk. In 1750 news came to him that Pergin was dead. As soon as his opera was upon the stage, where, like all his other works, it was successful, he hastened back to Vienna, and on Sept. 15 was married. The marriage was childless, but few have been happier, and seldom even during his most tedious journeys were Gluck and his wife separated. In 1751 he visited Naples, to produce La clemenza di Tito; in 1754 he composed Le Cinesi, a fantastic production, performed at Schlosshof before the emperor and Maria Theresa; and the same year he was appointed chapelmaster of the imperial opera at Vienna, which office he held until 1764. Before the close of the year he was again called to Rome, and produced there II trionfo di Ca-millo and Antigono, which gained him from the pope the order of knight of the golden spur; hence his title in musical history, Chevalier or Ritter. In 1755 he produced the music to Me-tastasio's La danza; in 1756, L'innocenza gius-tificata in one act, and II re pastore in three.
Between 1755 and 1762 he composed also a great number of airs and other pieces for a series of ten French operettas and vaudevilles performed in Vienna. In 1760 his principal work was Tetide, a serenata composed for the nuptials of the archduke Joseph; and in 1761 a most successful ballet, Don Juan, or Das stei-nerne Gastmahl, founded upon the same fable afterward employed by Da Ponte in his text to Mozart's immortal opera. In 1762 II trionfo di Clelia was composed at Bologna, and met with the invariable success of Gluck's productions, and then its author returned to Vienna. Calzabigi had there ready for him the libretto of Orfeo ed Buridice, a poem differing completely in construction from the Metastasian type, which then alone was recognized as classic throughout Europe. Orpheus, Eurydice, and, in two or three short scenes, Amor are the only characters represented. At the beginning and end a chorus of Greeks, in Tartarus a chorus of shades and demons, in Elysium a chorus of blest spirits, each occupying a single scene, with choral music and ballet, is all that divides the attention from the three leading characters.
The subject, opening with a chorus at the tomb lamenting the death of Eurydice, is the familiar myth, only changed at the close, where Amor appears and finally restores the beloved one to Orpheus. There is but little action, and that of the simplest character. Everything depended upon exciting the sympathies of the audience at the outset, and holding them to the end, and this too by musical means then new and strange. Twice in this work Gluck has shown the daring of genius trusting to its own powers, in a manner not surpassed by Beethoven himself. At the close of the first chorus Orpheus dismisses his friends, and is left alone not merely to execute a recitative and single air, written expressly for the singer to exhibit his powers, but a series of them, in which not an ornament or cadenza is admitted, and which nothing but the depths of expression in Gluck's music could redeem even now from the fatal fault of tedium. The other case is that in which Orpheus entering Tartarus is confronted by demons and shades, who by the force of his music at length are led to give way and allow him to pass on to Elysium. On Oct. 5, 1762, the opera was performed in public. Surprise and astonishment were the emotions with which the audience left the house. All hearts had been strangely moved.
It had interested the company from the first singer to the most insignificant dancer in the ballet, and was given with rare perfection. The music made its way to all hearts, it became a most popular work in Vienna, and is still a stock piece in Berlin. In 1763-'5 Gluck composed Enzio, text by Metastasio; La rencontre imprevue, text by L. II. Dancovot (afterward very popular in a German translation with the title Die Pilgrime von Mekka); and II Par-nasso covfuso, a dramatic poem by Metastasio, performed in the palace at Schonbrunn by the four daughters of Maria Theresa, sisters of Marie Antoinette, their brother, the future emperor Joseph, playing the harpsichord; revised Telemacco for the Vienna stage, and composed La corona for the archduchesses. The last piece was never performed, owing to the sudden death of the emperor Francis. The dramatic form of none of these works, although they gave Gluck opportunity to prove his inexhaustible fund of melodic and harmonic beauty, enabled him to follow the path struck out in the Orfeo. In the mean time Calzabigi prepared another libretto for him, founded upon the "Alccstis" of Euripides, and it was successful.
In 1769 it was printed in score, with the celebrated dedicatory epistle to the grand duke of Tuscany. "When I undertook to set the opera Alceste to music," he writes, "I purposed carefully to avoid all those abuses which the mistaken vanity of the singers, and the too great good nature of composers, had introduced into the Italian opera; abuses which reduced one of the noblest and most beautiful forms of the drama to the most tedious and ridiculous. I sought therefore to bring back music to its true sphere, that is, to add to the force of the poetry, to strengthen the expression of the emotions and the interest of the situations, without interrupting the action or deforming the music by useless ornamentation. I was of opinion that the music must be to the poetry what liveliness of color and a happy mixture of light and shade are for a faultless and well arranged drawing, which serve only to add life to the figures without injuring the outlines. I have therefore taken care not to interrupt the actor in the fire of his dialogue, and compel him to wait for the performance of some long tedious ritornello, or in the midst of a phrase suddenly hold him fast at some favorable vowel sound, that he may have opportunity by some long passage to exhibit his voice, or to make him wait while the orchestra gives him time to get breath for some long fermate.
Nor have I thought myself at liberty to hurry over the second part of an aria, when perhaps this is just the most passionate and important part of the text, and this only to allow the customary repetition of the words four times; and just as little have I allowed myself to bring the aria to an end where there was no pause in the sense, just to gain an opportunity for the singer to show his skill in varying a passage. Enough; I wished to banish all those abuses against which sound common sense and true taste have so long contended in vain. I am of opinion that the overture should prepare the auditors for the character of the action which is to be presented, and hint at the progress of the same; that the instruments must be ever employed in proportion only to the degree of interest and passion; and the composer should avoid too marked a disparity in the dialogue between air and recitative, in order not to break the sense of a period, or interrupt in a wrong place the energy of the action. Further, I considered myself bound to devote a great share of my pains to the attainment of a noble simplicity; therefore I also avoided an ostentatious heaping up of difficulties at the expense of clearness; I have not valued in the least a new thought if it was not awakened by the situation and did not give the proper expression.
Finally, I have even felt compelled to sacrifice rules to the improvement of the effect." In 1709 Gluck produced a third opera in the new style, Paride ed Elena, but it became popular only with musicians, and has in late years never been revived. In that year he was called to Parma to compose festival music for the marriage of the grand duke to Maria Amalia, daughter of Maria Theresa. Instead of a long opera, divided into acts, four short one-act pieces were prepared, Le feste di Apollo, L'Atto di Baud e Filemone, L'Atto d'Aristeo, and for the fourth the Orfeo given in seven scenes, with the greatest success. For several years afterward he remained in Vienna, enjoying great social distinction, but composing nothing for the stage. His next great effort was the Iphiginie en Aulide, which after many struggles and the removal of innumerable obstacles was finally, through the influence of Marie Antoinette, produced on April 19, 1774, at the royal opera in Paris, whither Gluck had gone in the previous summer.
It was followed by an embittered warfare between the adherents of the old school, then chiefly represented at Paris by Piccini, and the converts to the new ideas of Gluck. A catalogue of the writings of the Gluckists and Piccinists on the two sides of this question would fill one of our pages. The final result was the complete victory of Gluck. The composer followed up the Iphigenie with the Orfeo ed Euridice, adapted to the French stage, with the very material alteration of changing the part of Orpheus to that of a tenor, to suit the voice of Legros, there being no contralto adequate to it. The success of the work was as striking in Paris as in Vienna and Turin. In February, 1775, Gluck produced L'Arbre enchante, in one act, at Versailles, a work of no great importance, and written merely for a festival given by Marie Antoinette to her young brother Maximilian. In August his Cythere assiegee was produced at the academy, but met with no distinguished success. Meantime he was zealously engaged upon three works, an adaptation of Alceste to the Prussian stage, and the operas Roland and Armide, texts by Quinault. Roland he laid aside on hearing that it had also been intrusted to Piccini, and wrote a sharp letter to Bailly du Rollet, which, without the consent of the writer, was printed in the Annie litteraire, and enraged the Piccinists. Early in 1776 Gluck was again in Paris with his Alceste. It was produced, and hissed off the stage.
The unlucky composer, who had been behind the scenes, rushed from the opera house, and meeting a friend threw himself into his arms in tears. As this ill success was mostly owing to cabals among the singers and the personal efforts of Gluck's opponents, and as the composer had influence enough to insure its repetition, it made its way with the public, and soon took its place only below the Iphiginie and the Orfeo. The war of the wits and critics was, however, more bitter than ever. Gluck himself seems to have been not a little embittered, and his polemical writings are often excessively keen. In the midst of his ill success with the Alceste came the news that his niece Marianne, whose ill health had caused him this time to visit Paris alone, had been carried off at the age of 16 with the smallpox. Upon her the childless musician had lavished all a father's love. She had been a pupil of Millico, and when but a child, as Burney records, was already a songstress of wonderful powers. It was not until Sept. 23, 1777, that the Armide, text by Quinault, from Tasso, was produced.
It was rather coldly received, but is by many considered the greatest composition of Gluck, and by others only inferior to his later work, the Iphigenie en Tauride. Gluck returned to Vienna to work upon a new text, Iphigenie en Tauride, by a young poet named Guilbard. In November, 1778, he was so far advanced with it that he returned to Paris, Where on May 18, 1779, it was produced. Like Haydn's "Creation," written when he was nearly 70 years of age, this opera of Gluck, written at the age of 64, ranks among the highest efforts of the composer; with many, as before stated, it ranks the first. It is still, in a German translation, one of the favorite pieces on the Berlin stage. It was the crowning triumph of Gluck's system of operatic writing, and ended the series of works which gave direction to the genius of Mehul and Cherubini in Paris, Mozart and Beethoven in Germany, in their works for the stage. Another piece, brought by Gluck to Paris at this time, the Echo et Narcisse, met with no great success.
He returned to Vienna, and in 1783 had an attack of apoplexy, which caused him to decline the text of Les Danaides, sent him from Paris. To his dramatic compositions Gluck added only for the church a De Profundis, a psalm, Domine Dominus noster, and a part of the sacred cantata, finished by Salieri, Le jugement dernier. For months before his decease, Gluck had been obliged to use the greatest precautions to prevent a return of apoplexy. One day he invited two old Parisian friends to dine with him. After the meal, coffee and spirits were placed upon the table, and Mme. Gluck went out to order the carriage for the daily drive prescribed by the physician. One of the friends excusing himself from emptying his glass, the host at last seized it, swallowed its contents, and laughingly told them not to let his wife know of it, as everything of the kind was forbidden to him. The coach being ready, Mme. Gluck invited the guests to amuse themselves in the garden for a short time. Gluck took leave of them at the coach door.
Fifteen minutes afterward he had another stroke; the coachman hurried home; his master had already lost all consciousness, and soon breathed his last. - See Gluck et Piccine, by Gustave Desnoiresterres (Paris, 1872).