Christoph W. Gluck

Composers Datebook: July 2

Christoph W. Gluck was an older contemporary of Mozart. In August 1782 a special performance of Mozart's Entfuhrung, which Gluck, an older contemporary of Mozart was anxious to hear, was arranged for. It delighted Gluck immensely and he invited Mozart to dinner. The following year (1783), Gluck went to Mozart's concert (March 23) and Mozart improvised variations on a theme from La Rencontre imprevue.

My primary source about Gluck is one by Alfred Einstein simply titled Gluck published by McGraw-Hill. I like this paragraph from the backcover: "It is not easy to say whether Gluck was international or German, Italian, or French, for he was an opera composer," writes Einstein of this study of the life and music of C. W. Gluck (1714-1787); yet the career of Gluck does epitomize the internationalism prevailing in the arts of his time.

Gluck Brief Biography

Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck (2 July 1714 –  15 November 1787), was born in Berching, Germany and died in Vienna. He was an opera composer of the early classical period. He was a musician with the Habsburg court at Vienna for many years and brought about significant practical reforms of the opera's practices. With a series of radical new works in the 1760s, Mozart was about 4 years of age, Gluck was reputed to have broken the Metastasian opera seria (serious opera) which was enjoyed for most of that period.

Famous amongst Gluck's operas were Orfeo ed Euridice and Alceste. Gluck was encouraged to move to Paris through the strong influence of French opera in his works, and which he did, in November 1773. Integrating the traditions of Italian opera and the French national genre into a new synthesis, he wrote eight operas for the Parisian stages. One of the last of these, Iphigénie en Tauride, was a great success and is generally acknowledged his finest work.

In 1774, his  Iphigénie en Aulide brought to a strong debate over the future of the opera in which Gluck's French style had the support of Marie Antoinette, while Piccinni his Italian rival had the support of Madame du Barry. With Armide (1777)  and  Iphigénie en Tauride (1779), Gluck won a complete victory over Piccinni.

Though he was extremely popular and widely credited with bringing about revolutionary changes in French opera, his mastery of the Parisian operatic scene was never really acknowledged. Eventually, and after the poor reception of his Echo et Narcisse, he left Paris frustrated and returned to Vienna and lived there until his death.

In relation to Mozart, Gluck's opera reforms influenced the young composer, particularly in opera Idomeneo (1781).

Video Credit:

Janet Baker sings "Che farò senza Euridice" from Gluck's 'Orfeo ed Euridice."  Youtube, uploaded by Inwit. Accessed October 17, 2017.

Image Credit:

Christoph W. Gluck. / Public Domain.


  • Einstein, Alfred. Gluck. McGraw-Hill. The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music, ed. by Stanley Sadie. London: Macmillan, 1994.
  • The Oxford Companion to Music, ed. by Alison Latham. OxfOord: UP, 2002. Note: is on subscription access.

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