The Book of Musical Knowledge: The History, Technique, and Appreciation of Music, Together with Lives of the Great Composers, for Music-Lovers, Students and Teachers

By Arthur Elson | Go to book overview

XIX
CHERUBINI AND FRENCH OPERA

LUIGI CARLO ZENOBIO SALVATORE MARIA CHERUBINI, whose name became as famous as it was extensive, was born at Florence in 1760. He was at first trained by his father, a harpsichord player at a local theatre; and afterwards he took a thorough course with Sarti. His life divides itself naturally into three periods, -- first, a short career in the conventional Italian style; second, the leadership of opera composition at Paris; and last, a number of years as composer of sacred music and director of the Paris Conservatoire. His lofty style gave point to the saying that he was an Italian who composed German music in France.

In his first period, Cherubini mastered counterpoint, and became familiar with the style and spirit of the old Italian church music.

After a sojourn in London, the young composer made Paris his home, and soon came under the classic spell of Gluck's later operas. Cherubini himself composed an "Ifigenie in Aulide," which was given at Turin in 1788 with much success.

His first Parisian triumph, "Demophon," proved that he had definitely discarded the light Italian style, and adopted something more strongly dramatic. Like Rossini, he was inspired by the traditions of the Parisian stage; but he soon rose to greater heights than Rossini ever reached.

His next French success, "Lodoïska," was brought out in 1791. This work gained for its composer an international reputation. It also cast into the shade the light melodious trifles that were beginning to appear in Paris. In later years, the more superficial works of Boieldieu and Auber became typical of Parisian taste. It is on record that when the former had won plaudits with his "Caliph of Bagdad," Cherubini said to him, "Are you not ashamed to enjoy such an undeserved success?" Boieldieu then studied with Cherubini with good results. In all his career Cherubini was a rather caustic and captious individual, more feared than loved; but he used

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