Christoph Willibald von Gluck

German composer of the classical era (Erasbach, 1714 - Vienna, 1787)

Except for sonatas in trio, four ballets and a few vocal pieces, Christoph Willibald Gluck dedicated his work to the opera composition. With his reform he set the first stone to a transformation that would be completed by Wagner a century later.

After he learnt the basics of singing and instrumental technic, Christoph Willibald Gluck lived in Prague, Vienna and Milan in order to complete his formation as a musician. His twenty-one first operas, each in the Italian language and aesthetics, are played in the best theatres throughout Europe.

In 1754 Gluck became the Vienna Burgtheater musical director and directed lyrical representations with a French influence that grew stronger and stronger. He also created many pieces falling in the opéra-comique genre. Meeting the Italian writer Calzabigi was one of the decisive point in the composer’s career. Orfeo (Vienna, 1762), was the starting point of what Gluck called his “opera reform” which was confirmed five years later with Alceste.

“I tried to reduce music to its true function which is to second poetry in order to strengthen the impact and emotional expression of dramatic situations, without disrupting the action and weaken it with unnecessary ornaments”

In 1773, Gluck left for Paris after having witnessed the success his French operas had in Vienna. But the composer’s innovative ideas met objections in the conservative circle and Gluck found himself engaged in an “argument of the Gluckists and the Piccinnitst”, an intellectual battle opposing the traditional Italian opera partisans and the new French opera that Gluck defended. Gluck’s music, contemporary to Mozart’s, was admired by Berlioz and Wagner and bears within itself all the opposing characteristics of a style that was deeply changing.

Six landmark dates in the life of Christoph Willibald Gluck 

• 1736: enrolled in Vienna as one of Prince Lobkowitz’s chamber musician

• 1737: stay in Milan

• 1746: met Haendel in London

• 1754: became the Burgtheater of Vienna musical director

• 1773: stay in Paris

• 1776 : the French versions of Alceste and Orfeo ed Euridice started the “argument of the Gluckists and the Piccinnitst”

Five key pieces by Christoph Willibald Gluck 

• 1754 : created in Milan his first opera Artaserse

• 1762 : Orfeo ed Euridice

• 1767 Alceste

• 1774 : Iphigénie en Aulide, his most complete opera following the spirit of his researches

• 1779 Iphigénie en Tauride