Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck (1714-1767)
Program note written by Jacob Farmer
One movement from the second act of the opera Orfeo ed Euridice
Approximate Performance Time:
Intermediate – appropriate high school students
James Galway, Charles Gerhardt & National Philharmonic Orchestra. Orfeo Ed Euridice: Act II: Dance of the Blessed Spirits. BMG, 2002. MP3.
Chen, Virginia Lee. “The Immortality of Orpheus in Opera.” Order No. 3687403 Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2014. Ann Arbor: ProQuest. Web. 1 Oct. 2016.
Christoph Willibald Gluck was born in 1714 in Neumarkt (modern day Bavaria). Discouraged by his father’s insistence to take over the family forestry business, Gluck moved to Prague around the age of thirteen to support himself in music. During this time, he played in churches and began his musical studies and university work. By 1945 Gluck had become an accomplished, well-known opera composer. Lord Middlesex of the Haymarket Theatre invited Gluck to challenge Handel’s dominance of London opera fans, but the plan was cut short due to political turmoil caused by the Stuarts. Gluck is best known for his many operas, particularly Orfeo ed Euridice, in addition to eight ballets and a collection of piano songs. Gluck died in 1787 at the age of 73.
The Minuet and Dance of the Blessed Spirits appears in Gluck’s opera Orfeo Ed Euridice Act II. It features strings and a solo flutist. The work is organized in a ternary form with the outside sections in F major and the middle part in the relative minor. The passionate and most recognizable melody from the opera is from the relative minor portion. This melody suggests Orfeo’s despairing quest to find his love and bring her back to the human world.
In Hector Berlioz’s Treatise on Instrumentation (1843), Berlioz states:
“When listening to the D-minor melody of the pantomime in the Elysian-Fields scene in Orfeo, one is immediately convinced that only a flute could play this melody appropriately… The voice starts almost inaudibly, seeming afraid to be overheard; then it sighs softly and rise to the expression of reproach, of deep pain, to the cry of a heart torn by incurable wounds; gradually it sinks into a plaint, a sigh, and the sorrowful murmur of a resigned soul. Gluck was, indeed, a great poet!”