documents, and the biographies and critiques of Leblond, F. J. Riedel ('Ueber die Musik des Ritters Christoph von Gluck, verschiedene Schriften,' Vienna 1775), Siegmeyer ('Ueber den Ritter Gluck und seine Werke,' Berlin 1825), Miel, Solié, Anton Schmid ('Chr. W. Ritter von Gluck,' Leipzig 1854), Fétis, Hector Berlioz ('A travers chants'), Ad. Adam ('Derniers Souvenirs'), Desmoiresterres ('Gluck et Piccinni,' Paris, 1872), etc. For more minute details the reader is referred to Schmid's work, which is most complete as regards the catalogue of Gluck's compositions. To his list must be added the magnificent edition of Mlle. Pelletan, evidently the work of an ardent admirer; of which the full scores of the two 'Iphigénies,' with a portrait, and preface in three languages, are all that have appeared at present. For those who wish to study the physiognomy of this diplomatic composer, impetuous artist, and amusingly vain man, there are the engravings of Miger and Sichling from the portrait painted by Duplessis in 1775, Saint Aubin's engraving from Houdon's celebrated bust, and Philippeaux's from the picture painted by Houdeville. There is a full-length statue of Gluck by Cavelier at the new Opera House in Paris. Under Miger's portrait are the words of Pythagoras, 'He preferred the Muses to the Sirens,' words applied to him by Wieland, and, as such, in striking contrast to the many bitter remarks of earlier German critics.
Before summing up our opinion of Gluck's works as a whole, we have only to remark that, according to Fétis, he failed in symphony proper, and was by no means distinguished as a composer of sacred music. He wrote indeed but little for the church; the psalm 'Domine, Dominus noster' for choir and orchestra, a 'De profundis' for the same (engraved), and a part of the cantata 'Le Jugement dernier,' completed by Salieri, being all his known works in this style.
Gluck's fame therefore rests entirely on his dramatic compositions. Padre Martini said that he combined in the musical drama 'all the finest qualities of Italian, and many of those of French music, with the great beauties of the German orchestra'—in other words, he created cosmopolitan music. He was not satisfied with introducing a correct style of declamation, and banishing false and useless ornaments from the stage; and yet if he had merely carried to perfection the work begun by Lully and Rameau; if his efforts had been limited to removing the harpsichord from the orchestra, introducing the harp and trombones, employing the clarinets, scoring with skill and effect, giving more importance and interest to the overture, and employing with such magic effect the artifice of momentary pauses to vary or emphasise speech in music,—if he had done no more than this he would have earned our gratitude, but he would not in that case have been one of the monarchs of art. What then did he accomplish that was so extraordinary? He grasped the idea that the mission of music was not merely to afford gratification to the senses, and he proved that the expression of moral qualities is within her reach. He disdained all such tricks of the trade as do not appeal to the heart,—in fact he 'preferred the Muses to the Sirens.' He aimed at depicting historic or legendary characters and antique social life, and in this work of genius he put into the mouth of each of his heroes accents suited to their sentiments, and to the spirit of the times in which they lived. He made use of the orchestra to add to the force of a dramatic situation, or (in one noble instance) to contrast external repose with the internal agitation of a remorseful conscience. In a word, all his French operas show him to have been a noble musician, a true poet, and a deep thinker.Like Corneille he has endowed France with a series of sublime tragedies; and if the author of 'Le Cid,' 'Les Horaces,' 'Cinna,' 'Polyeucte,' and 'Pompée' may be justly reproached with too great a preference for Lucan and Seneca, there is perhaps also cause for regret that Gluck was too much influenced by the declamatory school then prevalent in France. But, like the father of French tragedy, how nobly has he redeemed an occasional inflation or monotony, a few awkward phrases, or trifling inaccuracies of style! There is another point of resemblance between these two men, whose manly genius was reflective rather than spontaneous; all their works have in common the element of grandeur, but they differ from one another in physiognomy, form, and character. The influence of such Art as theirs is anything but enervating; on the contrary it elevates and strengthens the mind, and is thus placed beyond the reach of the caprices of fashion or the attacks of time.
[ G. C. ]
[ V. de P. ]
- An etching of this by Le Bat forms the frontispiece to Part IV of Lajarte's admirable 'Bibliotheque musicale du Théatre de l'Opéra,' 1876.