Gluck: An Eighteenth-Century Portrait in Letters and Documents

Gluck: An Eighteenth-Century Portrait in Letters and Documents

Gluck: An Eighteenth-Century Portrait in Letters and Documents

Gluck: An Eighteenth-Century Portrait in Letters and Documents

Synopsis

This book brings together a variety of eighteenth century sources--principally letters to and from Gluck--to construct a portrait of one of the most interesting musicians of that century. Celebrated today for his historical significance, as the composer who did most to effect the transition from baroque to classical opera, Gluck in his lifetime was both a controversial and a colorful figure. Besides the letters, the book includes a wealth of factual documents and informal anecdotes, not easily accessible in the original German, French and Italian languages. Everything has been arranged and translated to provide readers with a lively, continuous narrative.

Excerpt

GLUCK's next opera transformed his standing both among his contemporaries and for all time. There are, however, few sources to tell how it came to be written, and the most explicit is not necessarily the most reliable. More than twenty years later, aware of the epoch-making nature of the little azione teatrale called Orfeo, and knowing that he had achieved nothing comparable since his collaboration with Gluck ended, the librettist Ranieri de' Calzabigi gave the following account:

I am no musician, but I have made a great study of declamation. . . . it is twenty-five years since I became persuaded that the only music suitable for dramatic poetry, and especially for dialogue and for those airs that we call action numbers' [d'azione], was the lively and energetic music that conformed most closely to natural declamation. I held, moreover, that declamation itself was no more than imperfect music, and could be notated as such if only we had invented enough signs to indicate the pitches, the increases and diminutions in volume, and, so to speak, the infinitely varied nuances with which the voice is used in declaiming. I held that music, on whatever verses, was no more than skilful, studied, declamation, further enriched by the harmony of its accompaniments, and that therein lay the whole secret of composing excellent music for a drama; and that the more taut, energetic, impassioned, and touching the poetry, the more the music which sought to express it well, according to its proper declamation, would be the right music for this poetry, the best music. . . .

I arrived in Vienna in 1761, full of these ideas. A year later, his excellency Count Durazzo, then the director of entertainments at the imperial court and now its ambassador in Venice, to whom I had recited my Orfeo, encouraged me to have it performed in the theatre. I agreed to it, on condition that the music should be written according to my wishes. He sent me M. Gluck, who, he assured me, would fall in with all of them.

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