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A guide to Gluck’s style…
09.04.2021 Michael Beek
Music
Christoph Willibald Gluck

Widely travelled and cosmopolitan, Christoph Willibald Gluck’s determination to make opera simpler and free of frills would reform the art form far beyond his own works. Here’s a guide to his style and some recommended recordings…

Word-setting

In the famous Alceste preface, Gluck claims to have taken care ‘not to halt a singer in the heat of his dialogue to make him wait through a boring ritornello, nor stop him in mid-word on a favourable vowel’. In other words, his ‘reform’ word-setting is generally syllabic in character, allowing the text to come through clearly and with natural emphases.

Overtures

Gluck advocated a closer connection between an opera’s overture and the subsequent drama, as vividly demonstrated in his Alceste or Iphigénie en Aulide. The introduction depicts a calm sea and then an orchestral storm, which leads into the action.

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