Gluck, Christoph Wilibald, Ritter von

Among his admirers was Rousseau, who declared that the music of Orpheus had reconciled him to existence, and acknowledged publicly that he had erred in stating that the French language was unsuitable to set to music. It may be stated here that as a conductor Gluck was brusque and exacting, the musicians requiring double pay when playing under his baton; nevertheless, his facial and gestural expression was so emotional an indication of his ideas that he finally won over the most lazy or obstinate performer to his views. The opposition to Gluck became so strong that a rival composer, Piccinni, was invited to appear in Paris, and a stage war began similar to, yet more fierce, than the one between Handel and Bononcini in England. The press was brought into service, and for several years the conflict was kept up. Gluck's Armide, produced in 1777, was written with a view to refuting the charge that his work lacked melody, the same accusation that was brought later against Wagner. It amply proved his ability to portray the softer and more pleasing aspects of life. This opera and Orpheus have attained a wider and more lasting popularity than any other of his works. The final contest was soon precipitated. The directors of Grand Opera had commissioned Gluck to write an opera, Roland. On learning that they had called on Piccinni to do the same, he destroyed the partly finished manuscript in a rage, and wrote to du Rollet about the matter. Du Rollet published Gluck's letter, thus throwing down a gauntlet to the latter's opponents. Nevertheless, he uttered no invective against Piccinni, and the two themselves were friendly rather than otherwise. The next fight was openly planned. With Guillard as his librettist, Gluck began Iphigenie en Tauride; the rival faction put Piccinni at work on the same subject. It is possible that strategy and influence at court had something to do  with the delay; at any rate, Piccinni's opera was not given until 1781, two years after the successful presentation of Gluck's, and then its obvious inferiority to the earlier production ended the struggle. One more opera, Echo and Narcissus, was given in 1779, but made little impression; Gluck's life- work was accomplished. He began work on a last opera, Les Danaides, but a stroke of apoplexy compelled him to abandon the project, and he turned over the libretto to Salieri. Soon after he retired to Vienna with honors and riches, his active career at an end; and the next apoplectic stroke ended his life. As a man, Gluck was self-possessed, confident, a conscientious worker, loyal to his friends, generous in recognizing the merits of others, yet quick-tempered and proud. In comparing him with Wagner, Ernst Newman says: "Less nervously constituted, less self-conscious, he yet did a work which, though it can not be compared to Wagner's in real depth of importance, yet marks him out far above any musical figure of his time." His music reflects his character; it is animated, yet never subtle nor overemotional, and is essentially classical, as was Gluck's choice of subjects. He differed from the other great musicians of his century in that their music was principally based on the piano, the instrument most capable of purely polyphonic treatment, while Gluck wrote almost exclusively for voices and stringed instruments, more limited in range, yet intrinsically more suited to dramatic expression. Iphigenie en Tauride, usually considered Gluck's masterpiece, is the most perfect in form of all his operas. He also made important changes in the orchestra, removing the harpsichord, introducing the harp and trombone, and emphasizing the value of the overture as an indication of the character of the drama which it prefaced. The general estimate of his place among composers is, that his work as a reformer of opera constituted a phase in musical history not without its effect, yet not wholly permanent a first strong effort towards the result later achieved by Wagner.