is being upgraded. Visit our new video service.

Alceste : Work information

Christophe Willibald Gluck ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Georges Thill (Tenor), Eugéne Bigot (Conductor)

This work

Work name
Work number
1767-00-00 02:00:00

This recording

Forlane CI
Recording date
1930-01-01 00:00:00

The Composers

Christophe Willibald Gluck

Born in Erasbach, Christoph Willibald Gluck's family moved to Reichstad and then Kreibitz, where he received his first musical tuition.  His father wanted him to follow him into forestry, but Gluck wished to become a musician and ran away to Prague.  There he studied philosophy at the university, possibly with financial assistance from Prince Lobkowitz.  Largely self taught, the operas of Vivaldi and Albinoni were likely formative influences.  Travelling to Vienna and then Milan, it is possible he received tuition from Sammartini.  His first opera, Artaserse, was put on in Milan in 1741 to great success; Gluck included an aria in the local style to ameliorate the local audiences.  After several further Milan operas, Gluck travelled to England in 1745 where he was performed and published to scant acclaim, although he received plaudits for his playing of the musical glasses.  He also met Handel , who although less than complimentary about his counterpoint helped to get his works performed.

Leaving England the following year he travelled around Europe wherever commissions were forthcoming.  Marrying in 1750, he settled in Vienna in 1752 in the household of the Prince of Saxe-Hildburghausen.  He was also involved in composing and adapting the works of other composers for the Burgtheater.  A long string of opéras-comiques was interrupted by Gluck's most famous work, Orfeo ed Eurydice (1762).  Its innovative unity of dramatic structure and intent led to it being the first of Gluck's works to be labelled "reform operas".  Using orchestra instead of continuo to accompany the recitatives gave it greater continuity than previous works, and Gluck began the trend of allotting a single setting to each libretto - previously libretti by poets such as Metastasio were set in as many as 50 different versions, diminishing the relative status of the music.

Acceptance at court of Gluck's ideas led to further reform operas such as Alceste (1767), the score of which included a lengthy preface outlining his new aesthetic.  In 1770 he gave work and instruction to Mozart's rival Salieri, already a promising operatic composer.  In 1773 he travelled to Paris, seeking the patronage of Marie Antoinette.  There he gave Iphigénie en Aulide (1774) and Orfée, a French version of his earlier success.  Gluck's controversial works won over the Parisian audiences only sporadically, and he returned to Vienna in 1779 to retire.  After several strokes, he died in 1787.

MIDI file -Dance of the blessed spirits (2'05'')

MIDI file -Addio, addio o miei sospiri (4'19'')

Track listing

  • Bannis la crainte et les alarmes 4:12 min


Gluck's Alceste exists in two versions: the original 1767 Italian version with a libretto by Ranieri de' Calzabigi, and a revised French version dating from 1776 with a new libretto by Roullet. Both are based on Euripides' Alcestis but Roulet's is generally thought to be the better drama of the two.

The original version was first performed on 26 December 1767 at Vienna's Burgtheater and was tremendously successful with over 60 Viennese performances alone. The second of Gluck's so-called 'Reform operas', it contains the famous preface in which Gluck and Calzabigi outline their new approach to opera. The opera's noble simplicity can perhaps be best appreciated when compared with Lully's florid treatment of the same subject written a hundred years previously.

The French revision was made in 1776 and almost constitutes a separate opera. It was first peformed at Paris's Académie Royale de Musique on 23 April 1776 and is the version generally performed today. Among other changes, the new libretto introduced a new character (Hercules) and altered the order of scenes to improve the dramatic flow. Musical changes included the extension of the final divertissement, though some of this music had to be written by Gossec when Gluck was forced to return to Vienna upon hearing the news of his adopted daughter's death.