Luigi Cherubini

  • Born: Florence, Italy, 14 September 1760
  • Died: Paris, France, 15 March 1842

Cherubini is one of the Titans – and almost unknown today. Beethoven (BEETHOVEN!), no less, considered him the greatest living composer of his time.

The Florentine dominated French musical life for half a century, as a composer of revolutionary opera and patriotic works at the end of the 18th century, and of religious music in the early 19thLodoïska, his second French opera, is considered the first truly Romantic opera, and to have founded the French school.

Great musicians held him in enormous regard:

  • BEETHOVEN: “I honour and love you… you for ever remain of all my contemporaries the one whom I esteem the most” (letter from Vienna, 15 March 1823). “The greatest living composer”.
  • SCHUMANN: “When Beethoven was alive, he was certainly the second master of the contemporary era, and since the latter’s death, he must be regarded as the foremost among living artists…” (December 1840)
  • MENDELSSOHN: The first three bars of the overture to Les deux journées “are worth more than our entire repertoire” (1834)
  • WAGNER: “Certainly the greatest of musical architects, a sort of Palladio, […] so beautiful and assured… All the other [French composers], Auber, Berlioz, would be unthinkable without him.”
  • BRAHMS: “We musicians recognize Médée as the highest dramatic art.”

The 19th century musicologist Alexander Ulybyshev considered Cherubini “the musician who, after Mozart, has exerted the greatest general influence on the tendency of the art… Cherubini strikes me as being the most accomplished musician, if not the greatest genius, of the nineteenth century.”

As director of the Conservatoire from 1822 to 1840, his students included Auber and il suo caro Halévy, his protégé, to whom he bequeathed his autograph scores. Berlioz, on the other hand, quarreled with him; Cherubini chased the young man around the Conservatoire library when he came through the women’s entrance. Later, Berlioz interrupted the performance of Cherubini’s final opera, Ali Baba (1833), leaping to his feet and offering money for an idea, any idea, raising the sum each time: “I give up!”

Today, Cherubini’s only familiar works may be Médée (recorded by Maria Callas) and his magnificent Requiem. Few of his operas have been recorded: Les deux journées, one of his most popular works, as long ago as 1947; Medea and Eliza only in unrepresentative Italian translations. Faniska not at all. Even though Haydn and Beethoven were at the premiere in Vienna, and hailed Cherubini as the foremost dramatic composer of the age.

Cherubini demands rediscovery.


Operas

  1. Amore artigiano (1773)
  2. Il giocatore (1775?)
  3. Untitled intermezzo (1778)
  4. Il Quinto Fabio (1779; revised 1783)
  5. Armida abbandonata (1782)
  6. Adriano in Siria (1782)
  7. Mesenzio, re d’Etruria (1782)
  8. Lo sposo di tre e marito di nessuna (1783)
  9. Olimpiade (1783)
  10. L’Alessandro nelle Indie (1784)
  11. L’Idalide (1784)
  12. Demetrio (1785)
  13. La finta principessa (1785)
  14. Il Giulio Sabino (1786)
  15. Ifigenia in Aulide (1788)
  16. Démophoon (1788)
  17. Lodoïska (1791)
  18. Koukourgi (composed 1792–93, first performed 2010)
  19. Le congrès des Rois (1794, with other composers)
  20. Élisa (1794)
  21. Médée (1797)
  22. L’hôtellerie portugaise (1798)
  23. La punition (1799)
  24. La prisonnière (1799)
  25. Les deux journées (1800)
  26. Épicure (1800, with Méhul)
  27. Anacréon (1803)
  28. Faniska (1806)
  29. Pimmalione (1809)
  30. Le crescendo (1810)
  31. Les Abencérages (1813)
  32. Bayard à Mézières (1814)
  33. Blanche de Provence (1821)
  34. La marquise de Brinvilliers (1831, with other composers)
  35. Ali Baba (1833)