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Cherubini, (Maria) Luigi (Carlo Zenobio Salvatore)

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Cherubini, (Maria) Luigi (Carlo Zenobio Salvatore), famous Italian composer and teacher; b. Florence, Sept. 14, 1760; d. Paris, March 15, 1842. He first studied music with his father, the maestro al cembalo at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence, and then composition with Bartolomeo Felici and his son Alessandro and with Bizarri and Castrucci. In 1778 he received a grant from the Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany, which enabled him to continue his studies with Sarti in Milan. By this time he had composed a number of works for the church and also several stage intermezzi. While studying with Sarti, he wrote arias for his teacher’s operas as well as exercises in the early contrapuntal style. His first operatic success came with Armida abbandonata (Florence, Jan. 25, 1782). In the autumn of 1784 he set out for London, where he was commissioned to write an opera for the King’s Theatre. La finta principessa was given there on April 2, 1785, followed by II Giulio Sabino (March 30, 1786), which brought him public acceptance and the admiration of the Prince of Wales. He made his first visit to Paris in the summer of 1785, where he was introduced to Marie Antoinette by the court musician Giovanni Battista Viotti; in the spring of 1786 he made Paris his home. He made one last visit to Italy to oversee the production of his opera Ifigenia in Aulide (Turin, Jan. 12, 1788). His first opera for Paris, Démophon (Paris Opera, Dec. 2, 1788), was a failure, due largely to J.F. Marmontel’s inept libretto and Cherubini’s less than total command of French prosody. In 1789, Leonard, a member of the Queen’s household, assisted by Viotti, obtained a license to establish an Italian opera company at the Tuileries (Théâtre de Monsieur); Cherubini became its music director and conductor. After the company moved to a new theater in the rue Feydeau, he produced his opera Lodoiska (July 18, 1791), with notable success; with this score, he effectively developed a new dramatic style, destined to have profound impact on the course of French opera. The increased breadth and force of its ensemble numbers, its novel and rich orchestral combinations, and its generally heightened dramatic effect inspired other composers to follow his lead, particularly Méhul and Le Sueur. With the French Revolution in full swing, the Italian Opera was disbanded (1792). Cherubini then went to Normandy, but returned to Paris in 1793 to become an inspector at the new Inst. National de Musique (later the Cons.). His opera Médée (March 13, 1797), noteworthy for its startling characterization of Medea and for the mastery of its orchestration, proved a major step in his development as a dramatic composer. With Les Deux Journées, ou Le Porteur d’eau (Jan. 16, 1800), he scored his greatest triumph with the public as a composer for the theater; the opera was soon performed throughout Europe to much acclaim.

In 1805 Cherubini received an invitation to visit Vienna, where he was honored at the court. He also met the foremost musicians of the day, including Haydn and Beethoven. He composed the opera Faniska, which was successfully premiered at the Kàrnthnertortheater on Feb. 25, 1806. After Napoleon captured Vienna, Cherubini was extended royal favor by the French emperor, who expressed his desire that Cherubini return to Paris. When Cherubini’s opera Pimmalione (Nov. 30, 1809) failed to please the Parisians, Cherubini retired to the château of the Prince of Chimay, occupying himself with botanizing and painting. At the request to compose a Mass for the church of Chimay, he produced the celebrated three-part Mass in F major. He subsequently devoted much time to composing sacred music. In 1815 he was commissioned by the Phil. Soc. of London to compose a sym., a cantata, and an overture; he visited London that summer for their performances. In 1816 he was appointed co-superintendent (with Le Sueur) of the Royal Chapel, and in 1822 became director of the Paris Cons., a position he held until a month before his death. In 1814 he was made a member of the Inst. and a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur, and in 1841 he was made a Commander of the Légion d’honneur, the first musician to be so honored. He was accorded a state funeral, during which ceremony his Requiem in D minor (1836) was performed.

Cherubini was an important figure in the transitional period from the Classical to the Romantic eras in music. His influence on the development of French opera was of great historical significance. Although his operas have not found a permanent place in the repertoire, several have been revived in modern times. He also played a predominant role in music education in France during his long directorship of the Paris Cons. His influence extended beyond the borders of his adoptive homeland through his valuable treatise Cours de contrepoint et de fugue (with Halévy; Paris, 1835; Eng. tr., 1837). As the all-powerful director of the Paris Cons., he established an authoritarian regimen; in most of his instruction of the faculty he pursued the Italian type of composition. He rejected any novel deviations from strict form, harmony, counterpoint, or orchestration, regarding Beethoven’s Ninth Sym. as an aberration of a great composer’s mind. He rejected descriptive music and demonstratively refused to attend rehearsals or performances of the Symphonie fantastique by Berlioz, who was then a student at the Paris Cons.

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