Personalities | Luigi Cherubini | Early Romantic | Opera
The Italian composer Luigi Cherubini studied in Florence, Bologna and Milan, first writing church music, and then, in 1779, producing his first operas. By 1787, when he settled in Paris, he had written 13 operas, but nothing, as yet, that was innovatory. This changed when his Démophon (1788) signalled a new direction, towards the pioneering of opéra comique and grand opéra. With his Loidoïska (1791), Cherubini introduced richer orchestration, more powerful ensemble music, stronger, more compelling drama, more realistic characters and a new ingredient – the contribution to the action made by natural forces, in this case a fire.
Gradually, as more operas followed, Cherubini displayed more of the early symptoms of Romantic opera, with arias for subordinate characters or peasants depicted as simple but virtuous in accordance with the social principles of Rousseau. Musique d’effet – effect music – entered the equation, with Cherubini increasing the importance of the orchestra and accompanying the voice with horn or clarinet obbligati. These Romantic elements were poignantly on display in Cherubini’s Médée (‘Medea’, 1797) – a tragedy of elemental passion based on Greek legend. However, Cherubini was just as sure-handed with the simpler characters of opéra comique and the suspense of ‘rescue operas’, such as the work Faniska (1806).
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