Christoph Willibald Gluck

Christoph Willibald Gluck

Erasbach, Landkreis Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz, Bavaria (Bayern), Germany
Death 15 Nov 1787 (aged 73)
Vienna, Wien Stadt, Vienna (Wien), Austria
Burial Vienna, Wien Stadt, Vienna (Wien), Austria
Plot Group 32 A, Number 49
Memorial ID 4481 · View Source
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Composer. He reformed opera in the 1700s. Gluck eliminated the mere display of brilliant singing that had previously dominated the genre, and tried to achieve a unified balance between music and drama. He used the orchestra instead of the traditional harpsichord to accompany the vocalists, which provided greater opportunity to develop an opera's dramatic possibilities. And he stressed the importance of the composer's wishes, rather than the whims of star singers, in deciding how an opera should be performed. Gluck forcefully articulated these ideas in the published preface of one of his greatest operas, "Alceste" (1767). His innovations influenced many later composers, including Hector Berlioz and Richard Wagner. The son of peasants, Gluck was born in Erasbach, Bavaria, Germany. A violin prodigy, he went to Vienna in 1736, where his gifts attracted the attention of local nobility. They paid for him to study in Italy. Gluck composed his first opera there, "Artaserse" (1741), with seven more following in quick succession. He subsequently promoted his work in several European cities, including London, where he met the great George Frideric Handel. The composer of "Messiah" was not impressed. "Gluck knows no more counterpoint than my cook", Handel snorted. Already famous, he returned to Vienna in 1748 to assume a dominant place in its musical life. In 1754 he was appointed Kapellmeister to Empress Maria Theresa, the highest music post in Austria, and two years later Pope Benedict XIV awarded him a knighthood and the Order of the Golden Spur. Despite his fame and fortune, Gluck grew increasingly dissatisfied with the kind of music he was writing. His operas up to then were in the accepted Italian manner; their improbable librettos, mostly supplied by Vienna court poet Pietro Metastasio, were stilted and artificial, sacrificing drama to pageantry. Fortunately, two powerful Viennese figures (ironically, both Italian) thought as he did. Count Giacomo Durazzo, assistant director of the court theatres, and poet Ranieri de' Calzabigi were admirers of French culture, and encouraged Gluck to use that as his model. Together they created four landmark productions: the ballet "Don Juan" (1761) and the operas "Orfeo and Euridice" (1762), "Alceste" (1767), and "Paride and Elena" (1770). Gluck's music, with its austerity, directness, and emphasis on dramatic illustration, was bold and entirely new in concept, and was initially greeted with total incomprehension. Discouraged, he accepted Queen Marie Antoinette's invitation to come to Paris in 1773. His attempted reforms were even more controversial there than in Vienna, and it was only through the Queen's intervention that his new opera, "Iphigenia in Aulis" (1774), reached the stage. It was a smash hit. The cultural elite of Paris split into two warring camps: supporters of Gluck, including philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau; and defenders of the Italian tradition, led by composer Nicola Piccini. The Gluck-Piccini rivalry, further inflamed by Gluck's opera "Armide" (1777), grew so intense that the director of the Paris Opera, recognizing its commercial potential, announced a gimmick that would settle the matter once and for all. He commissioned both Gluck and Piccini to write operas on the same text, "Iphigenia in Tauris"; the public would decide which style was superior. Premiered on May 18, 1779, Gluck's "Iphigenia in Tauris" proved to be his greatest triumph. Its spectacular success so unnerved Piccini that he tried to withdraw from the competition, but was held to his contract. Piccini's work was a fiasco, and the duel marked the downfall of Italian influence on French opera. Vindicated at last, but now old and in poor health, Gluck retired to Vienna. He wrote no more operas, preferring instead to bask in the tributes he received as the greatest living opera composer. One day while having lunch with two visiting Frenchmen, Gluck ignored doctor's orders and drank two cognacs. Hours later he suffered a fatal stroke. Originally interred at Matzleinsdorf, Gluck's remains were reburied at Vienna's Zentralfriedhof in 1923.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards


Hier ruht ein Rechtschaffener deutscher Mann, ein Eifriger Christ, ein treuer Gatte. Christoph Ritter Gluck, der erhabenen Tonkunst grosser Meister. Er starb am 15 Nov. 1787.



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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 4 Feb 1999
  • Find a Grave Memorial 4481
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Christoph Willibald Gluck (2 Jul 1714–15 Nov 1787), Find a Grave Memorial no. 4481, citing Zentralfriedhof, Vienna, Wien Stadt, Vienna (Wien), Austria ; Maintained by Find A Grave .