LUIGI CHERUBINI (1760 - 1842)
Luigi Cherubini was born in Florence in 1760, the tenth of the twelve children of the theatre harpsichordist at the Teatro della Pergola, his first teacher. As a child he had further instruction from leading Florentine composers and had an early composition, a Mass, performed in 1773. He continued in adolescence to write further church music and a smaller number of secular dramatic works. In 1778, after the performance of his cantata La pubblica felicità (Public Happiness) in honour of the Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany, the future Emperor Leopold II, he was awarded by the Grand Duke the means of further study with the well known opera composer Giuseppe Sarti, a former pupil of Padre Martini. Cherubini’s period from 1778 to 1781 with Sarti in Bologna and from 1779 in Milan, where his teacher was maestro di cappella at the Cathedral and distinguished at the Teatro della Scala, brought the chance to compose operas for Florence and other Italian cities. In 1784 and 1785 he was in London, where he won success in the theatre, and from there he travelled to Paris. It was through the violinist and impresario Viotti, established in that city, that Cherubini was presented to Queen Marie Antoinette, and in 1786 he settled in France, collaborating with Viotti under the patronage of the King’s brother at the Théâtre de Monsieur at the Tuileries, before his great success with the opera Lodoïska at Viotti’s new Théâtre Feydeau, a venture curtailed by the Revolution, when Viotti took refuge in London and the wine-trade.
After a period of retirement to the countryside, Cherubini returned to Paris in 1793, eventually finding employment as an inspector at the new Institut National de Musique, the future Conservatoire. The decade brought settings of texts approved by the new, secular régime and operatic success with what remains his best known opera, Médée (Medea), and with Les deux journées (The Two Days), an opera that had its effect on Beethoven’s own later Fidelio, the first performance of which Cherubini attended in 1805 during a successful visit to Vienna at the invitation of the director of the court opera, Baron Peter von Braun in 1805. Here he met Haydn, Beethoven and others and saw to the staging of his opera Lodoïska and of a new opera, Faniska. Napoleon’s occupation of the city in that year brought Cherubini unexpected if perhaps grudging favour, and Napoleon took advantage of Cherubini’s presence in Vienna to make him his director of music in Vienna late in 1805 until early in 1806, responsible for concerts at Schönbrunn, where Napoleon had taken up residence. After this Cherubini returned to Paris, where he retained his position as inspector at the Conservatoire but now wrote relatively little, finding occupation in the study of botany and in painting. As time went on he was able to return to composition, with the one-act opera Pimmalione (Pygmalion) staged at the Tuileries in 1809 and with an Ode à l’Hymen the following year for Napoleon’s second marriage. The restoration of the monarchy after Napoleon’s defeat brought him appointment in 1816 as a superintendent of the King’s music under his former patron, now Louis XVIII. Further official honours followed, with significant appointment in 1822 as director of the Conservatoire, a position he held with distinction until a few weeks before his death in 1842.