Iphigénie en Aulide : Work information

Christophe Willibald Gluck ( Music, Images,)
Performed by
Symphonic Festival Orchestra, Dragomir Divisek (Conductor)

This work

Work name
Iphigénie en Aulide
Work number
1773-01-01 02:00:00

This recording

Recording date

Track listing

  • Ouverture 10:38 min


Iphigenie en Aulide was the first of seven operas that Gluck wrote for Paris and one that had the support of the future queen of France, Marie Antoinette, Gluck's former pupil. The story relates the dilemma of Agamemnon who has offended the goddess Diana by killing her favourite stag. He is told by the oracle that he must sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, if he wants a fair wind to take his ships to Troy. A divine change-of-heart ensures all ends happily.

An operatic adaption of Racine's Iphigenie was first suggested to Gluck in 1771 when the composer was living in Vienna. He was still working on it when he reached Paris in November 1773 and the work had its first performance on 19 April 1774 at the Opera. Its success was still not guaranteed when the death of Louis XV interrupted performances.

A revised version was presented later in 1774 with substantial alterations to the ballets and a clarified conclusion that included the appearance of Diana herself. The overture and divertissements are particularly attractive, and the argument between Agamemnon and Achilles provides moments of great operatic drama.

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'')