Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842)

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Donald Macleod focuses on Cherubini's roots in Italy and his first trip to London.

"Some maintain his temper was very even, because he was always angry" - that's what the composer Adolphe Adam said about Luigi Cherubini, the man Beethoven named when asked the question, "who is the greatest composer in Europe - apart from you?" Italian by birth, from a modest background, he was singled out early by his prodigious talent, and by 18 he was completing his studies with Giuseppe Sarti, one of the leading Italian opera composers of the day. Operatic commissions followed, and before long he had won enough recognition to receive an invitation to become house composer at the King's Theatre in London's Haymarket. From here it was a short step to Paris, where Cherubini settled at the age of 25; he would remain there for the rest of his life, during which he came to bestride Parisian music like a colossus.

All week, Donald Macleod investigates the life and work of the man often spoken of as "an Italian composer writing German opera for a French audience". He begins by examining Cherubini's Italian roots, with two early choral pieces written under Sarti's tutelage. Then we follow him to London, where he discovers that the title "house composer" really means "house composer of pasticcios" - operatic patchworks stitched together from well-known arias. His one original opera for London, Il Giulio Sabino, was not a success - "murdered in its birth for want of the necessary support of capital singers", as Dr Burney put it. But his first international success was just five years away; Lodoïska was an instant smash in that most momentous of years, 1791, and went on to play to sell-out houses throughout Europe before eventually crossing the Atlantic to New York in 1826.

"Some maintain his temper was very even, because he was always angry" - that's what the composer Adolphe Adam said about Luigi Cherubini, the man Beethoven named when asked the question, "who is the greatest composer in Europe - apart from you?" Italian by birth, from a modest background, he was singled out early by his prodigious talent, and by 18 he was completing his studies with Giuseppe Sarti, one of the leading Italian opera composers of the day.

Operatic commissions followed, and before long he had won enough recognition to receive an invitation to become house composer at the King's Theatre in London's Haymarket.

From here it was a short step to Paris, where Cherubini settled at the age of 25; he would remain there for the rest of his life, during which he came to bestride Parisian music like a colossus.

All week, Donald Macleod investigates the life and work of the man often spoken of as "an Italian composer writing German opera for a French audience".

He begins by examining Cherubini's Italian roots, with two early choral pieces written under Sarti's tutelage.

Then we follow him to London, where he discovers that the title "house composer" really means "house composer of pasticcios" - operatic patchworks stitched together from well-known arias.

His one original opera for London, Il Giulio Sabino, was not a success - "murdered in its birth for want of the necessary support of capital singers", as Dr Burney put it.

But his first international success was just five years away; Lodoïska was an instant smash in that most momentous of years, 1791, and went on to play to sell-out houses throughout Europe before eventually crossing the Atlantic to New York in 1826.

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Donald Macleod focuses on what are probably Cherubini's two most influential operas.

Donald Macleod continues his exploration of the life and work of Luigi Cherubini with a look at what are probably his two most influential operas - Medée and Les deux journées. Better known in its truncated Italian version, Medée first saw the light of day on 13 March 1797 at the Théâtre Feydeau in Paris. With a plot that makes Fatal Attraction look like a lovers' tiff, it proved strong meat for Parisian audiences, who in those Revolutionary times already had a surfeit of gut-wrenching carnage in their day-to-day lives, and didn't need more of it served up in the theatre. It never really took off in Cherubini's day, although it was hugely respected by other composers, including Beethoven, who owned a score of it, and later Brahms, who called it "the work we musicians recognise among ourselves as the highest piece of dramatic art". It languished for the first half of the 20th-century until in 1953, Maria Callas performed it in Florence, under the baton of a young Leonard Bernstein, and it's her demonic performance - albeit of an inauthentic version - that reawakened interest in the work. By contrast, Les deux journées - or The Water-Carrier, as it became known outside France - was immediately successful. With its message of social and political reconciliation, conveyed simply and directly, it was to remain a fixture in the international repertory for most of the 19th century.

Donald Macleod continues his exploration of the life and work of Luigi Cherubini with a look at what are probably his two most influential operas - Medée and Les deux journées.

Better known in its truncated Italian version, Medée first saw the light of day on 13 March 1797 at the Théâtre Feydeau in Paris.

With a plot that makes Fatal Attraction look like a lovers' tiff, it proved strong meat for Parisian audiences, who in those Revolutionary times already had a surfeit of gut-wrenching carnage in their day-to-day lives, and didn't need more of it served up in the theatre.

It never really took off in Cherubini's day, although it was hugely respected by other composers, including Beethoven, who owned a score of it, and later Brahms, who called it "the work we musicians recognise among ourselves as the highest piece of dramatic art".

It languished for the first half of the 20th-century until in 1953, Maria Callas performed it in Florence, under the baton of a young Leonard Bernstein, and it's her demonic performance - albeit of an inauthentic version - that reawakened interest in the work.

By contrast, Les deux journées - or The Water-Carrier, as it became known outside France - was immediately successful.

With its message of social and political reconciliation, conveyed simply and directly, it was to remain a fixture in the international repertory for most of the 19th century.

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Donald Macleod discusses a pair of major commissions Cherubini undertook in 1805 and 1815.

Donald Macleod continues his exploration of the life and work of Luigi Cherubini with a look at a pair of major international commissions the composer undertook in 1805 and 1815, interspersed by a long period of depression during which he gave up composition completely and devoted himself to botany and painting. But in the summer of 1805, Cherubini packed himself, his wife and their young daughter Zenobie, a babe in arms of three months, into a horse-drawn coach and spent 32 days travelling from Paris to Vienna by way of Chalons, Verdun, Metz, Mannheim, Frankfurt, Cassel, Berlin, Dresden and Prague - all this at a time when Europe was ablaze with Napoleonic conflict. In fact Cherubini reached Vienna just ahead of the Great Dictator, who on his arrival promptly put him in charge of a prestigious series of concerts! Cherubini had been invited to Vienna to compose two new operas. In the event he only completed one, Faniska, but there were other compensations, including meetings with Beethoven - who was reportedly grumpy - and Haydn, who may have been amused to learn that Cherubini had recently penned a major work in commemoration of the Viennese master's death, which had been falsely reported in a London newspaper the previous year. It was London that beckoned Cherubini in 1815, with a commission for three works from the newly formed Philharmonic Society. None of them have gained a firm foothold in the repertoire, but Cherubini's Symphony, which has been championed by Italians of the stature of Arturo Toscanini and Riccardo Muti, deserves to be heard more often.

Donald Macleod continues his exploration of the life and work of Luigi Cherubini with a look at a pair of major international commissions the composer undertook in 1805 and 1815, interspersed by a long period of depression during which he gave up composition completely and devoted himself to botany and painting.

But in the summer of 1805, Cherubini packed himself, his wife and their young daughter Zenobie, a babe in arms of three months, into a horse-drawn coach and spent 32 days travelling from Paris to Vienna by way of Chalons, Verdun, Metz, Mannheim, Frankfurt, Cassel, Berlin, Dresden and Prague - all this at a time when Europe was ablaze with Napoleonic conflict.

In fact Cherubini reached Vienna just ahead of the Great Dictator, who on his arrival promptly put him in charge of a prestigious series of concerts! Cherubini had been invited to Vienna to compose two new operas.

In the event he only completed one, Faniska, but there were other compensations, including meetings with Beethoven - who was reportedly grumpy - and Haydn, who may have been amused to learn that Cherubini had recently penned a major work in commemoration of the Viennese master's death, which had been falsely reported in a London newspaper the previous year.

It was London that beckoned Cherubini in 1815, with a commission for three works from the newly formed Philharmonic Society.

None of them have gained a firm foothold in the repertoire, but Cherubini's Symphony, which has been championed by Italians of the stature of Arturo Toscanini and Riccardo Muti, deserves to be heard more often.

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(04/05)

Donald Macleod explores Cherubini's extraordinary political flexibility.

Donald Macleod continues his exploration of the music and life of Luigi Cherubini with a look of his extraordinary political flexibility - an essential survival skill in the looking-glass world of post-Revolutionary France. His Marche Funèbre is a case in point. Written in 1820 to commemorate the passing of the Duc du Berry, the second son of the man who four years later would become Charles X of France, this sombre march, so full of grief for its dedicatee, had had a previous incarnation, some 23 years earlier, as part of a funeral cantata on the death of Général Hoche - a French soldier who had risen to be General of the Revolutionary Army. And the composer who wrote his C minor Requiem to mourn the anniversary in 1816 of the execution of Louis XVI doubtless wouldn't have wished his aristocratic friends to be reminded that 20 years earlier he had conducted the choir at an official ceremony to celebrate the third anniversary of the demise of the same monarch. But such considerations didn't prevent Beethoven, Berlioz, Schumann and Brahms from regarding Cherubini's Requiem in C minor as best-in-class; and it even provided the soundtrack to Beethoven's funeral in 1827.

Donald Macleod continues his exploration of the music and life of Luigi Cherubini with a look of his extraordinary political flexibility - an essential survival skill in the looking-glass world of post-Revolutionary France. His Marche Funèbre is a case in point. Written in 1820 to commemorate the passing of the Duc du Berry, the second son of the man who four years later would become Charles X of France, this sombre march, so full of grief for its dedicatee, had had a previous incarnation, some 23 years earlier, as part of a funeral cantata on the death of Général Hoche - a French soldier who had risen to be General of the Revolutionary Army. And the composer who wrote his C minor Requiem to mourn the anniversary in 1816 of the execution of Louis XVI doubtless wouldn't have wished his aristocratic friends to be reminded that 20 years earlier he had conducted the choir at an official ceremony to celebrate the third anniversary of the demise of the same monarch. But such considerations didn't prevent Beethoven, Berlioz, Schumann and Brahms from regarding Cherubini's Requiem in C minor as best-in-class; and it even provided the soundtrack to Beethoven's funeral in 1827.

Donald Macleod continues his exploration of the music and life of Luigi Cherubini with a look of his extraordinary political flexibility - an essential survival skill in the looking-glass world of post-Revolutionary France.

His Marche Funèbre is a case in point.

Written in 1820 to commemorate the passing of the Duc du Berry, the second son of the man who four years later would become Charles X of France, this sombre march, so full of grief for its dedicatee, had had a previous incarnation, some 23 years earlier, as part of a funeral cantata on the death of Général Hoche - a French soldier who had risen to be General of the Revolutionary Army.

And the composer who wrote his C minor Requiem to mourn the anniversary in 1816 of the execution of Louis XVI doubtless wouldn't have wished his aristocratic friends to be reminded that 20 years earlier he had conducted the choir at an official ceremony to celebrate the third anniversary of the demise of the same monarch.

But such considerations didn't prevent Beethoven, Berlioz, Schumann and Brahms from regarding Cherubini's Requiem in C minor as best-in-class; and it even provided the soundtrack to Beethoven's funeral in 1827.

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(05/05)

Donald Macleod focuses on Cherubini's last 20 years.

Donald Macleod concludes his week-long exploration of the life and work of Luigi Cherubini with a look at the composer in his last 20 years. In 1822 - by now firmly ensconced as the grand old man of French music - he was appointed Director of the Paris Conservatoire, where he set about introducing a programme of radical reforms, including the recruitment of more female students; by the time of his death, women numbered half the student body. A related reform famously caused ructions with the young Hector Berlioz, who one day in 1822 mistakenly entered the Conservatoire through a door newly designated for the use of women only. Cherubini was informed of this infraction and turned up in person to deliver a reprimand to the young whippersnapper. When Berlioz dared to answer back, Cherubini, by then in his sixties, ended up chasing him furiously around the library, knocking over tables, chairs and piles of books, to the dismay of the other readers. Donald imagines this scene set to the "jingling-jangling, crashing, banging" overture to Cherubini's opera, Ali Baba. This was the most ambitious score he had ever created, given a commensurately extravagant production by the Paris Opera in the summer of 1833 - and a commensurately emphatic thumbs-down by audience, critics and cognoscenti alike. Ali Baba was a gigantic turkey, running for just 11 performances, none of which its composer could bear to attend. He never wrote another opera, turning instead to the medium of the string quartet, which he had briefly essayed some 20 years earlier. And he returned again to sacred music with a second Requiem, composed this time with a very special dedicatee in mind - himself.

Donald Macleod concludes his week-long exploration of the life and work of Luigi Cherubini with a look at the composer in his last 20 years.

In 1822 - by now firmly ensconced as the grand old man of French music - he was appointed Director of the Paris Conservatoire, where he set about introducing a programme of radical reforms, including the recruitment of more female students; by the time of his death, women numbered half the student body.

A related reform famously caused ructions with the young Hector Berlioz, who one day in 1822 mistakenly entered the Conservatoire through a door newly designated for the use of women only.

Cherubini was informed of this infraction and turned up in person to deliver a reprimand to the young whippersnapper.

When Berlioz dared to answer back, Cherubini, by then in his sixties, ended up chasing him furiously around the library, knocking over tables, chairs and piles of books, to the dismay of the other readers.

Donald imagines this scene set to the "jingling-jangling, crashing, banging" overture to Cherubini's opera, Ali Baba.

This was the most ambitious score he had ever created, given a commensurately extravagant production by the Paris Opera in the summer of 1833 - and a commensurately emphatic thumbs-down by audience, critics and cognoscenti alike.

Ali Baba was a gigantic turkey, running for just 11 performances, none of which its composer could bear to attend.

He never wrote another opera, turning instead to the medium of the string quartet, which he had briefly essayed some 20 years earlier.

And he returned again to sacred music with a second Requiem, composed this time with a very special dedicatee in mind - himself.