A little bit of good Gluck
To celebrate his 300th birthday, we discover the lesser-known works of an operatic great
Today marks the 300th birthday of Christoph Willibald Gluck, a composer widely credited for radical reforms in opera. Not that you'd necessarily be aware of it - in comparison to last year’s festivities for the anniversaries of Britten, Verdi and Wagner, commemorations of Gluck’s tercentenary have been comparatively low key. Much of the composer’s non-operatic works have fallen into relative obscurity, and today he is mainly known for operas like Orfeo ed Euridice and Iphigénie en Tauride, despite having written nine symphonies, numerous chamber works and several choral pieces.
And so, to wish the old boy happy birthday, we have given five of his lesser-known works an airing. You can hear each of them in the playlist below.
1. Six Trio Sonatas, Wq.53
Gluck wrote his Six Trio Sonatas while acting as house composer at the King’s Theatre in London in 1746. The instrumentation and style of these remain typical of the late Baroque style. However, it was in London that Gluck was exposed to the music of George Friederic Handel, something that would greatly influence his later classical style.
2. De profundis
Gluck’s pupil Salieri conducted a performance of De profundis for choir and orchestra at the composer's funeral in 1787, but it was not published until 1804. It is a rare surviving example of Gluck’s skillful choral writing. His Hoch tut euch auf also survives and performances of it are usually given during Advent.
Note: the De profundis is not available on Spotify, but a performance can be found here
3. Symphony Concertante in D major
The Symphony Concertante demonstrates Gluck’s transition into the classical style making use, as it does, of a form that mixed soloists with newly emerging symphonic writing. The piece is scored for strings and woodwind, and features an exciting and virtuosic interplay between oboe and natural horns.
4. Flute Concerto in G major
This concerto attributed to Gluck is a hidden gem that rarely appears in catalogues of the composer’s works. The origins of the piece are relatively unknown, but it is possible that Gluck may have written it while he was still a student and developing his style. The strength of the composer's instrumental writing can be heard in the flute’s sparkling melodic line.
5. Symphony in G major
While in Milan, Gluck studied under the composer and symphonist Sammartini where he would have observed the development of the symphony from Baroque opera overture into something approaching the conventional classical form we are familiar with today. The symphony is written in the gallant style, which favoured simple melodies and harmonic progressions over the complex polyphony of the Baroque period.