See article on “Gluck,”
in “The Great German Composers”
(a companion volume to this), in which his connection with
French music is discussed.
One of the most accomplished of historians and critics, Oulibischeff, sums up the place of Cherubini in musical art in these words: “If on the one hand Gluck’s calm and plastic grandeur, and on the other the tender and voluptuous charm of the melodies of Piccini and Zacchini, had suited the circumstances of a state of society sunk in luxury and nourished with classical exhibitions, this could not satisfy a society shaken to the very foundations of its faith and organization. The whole of the dramatic music of the eighteenth century must naturally have appeared cold and languid to men whose minds were profoundly moved with troubles and wars; and even at the present day the word languor best expresses that which no longer touches us in the operas of the last century, without even excepting those of Mozart himself. What we require for the pictures of dramatic music is larger frames, including more figures, more passionate and moving song, more sharply marked rhythms, greater fullness in the vocal masses, and more sonorous brilliancy in the instrumentation. All these qualities are to be found in ‘Lodoi’ska’ and ‘Les Deux Journees’; and Cherubini may not only be regarded as the founder of the modern French opera, but also as that musician who, after Mozart, has exerted the greatest general influence on the tendency of the art. An Italian by birth and the excellence of his education, which was conducted by Sarti, the great teacher of composition; a German by his musical sympathies as well as by the variety and profundity of his knowledge; and a Frenchman by the school and principles to which we owe his finest dramatic works, Cherubini strikes me as being the most accomplished musician, if not the greatest genius, of the nineteenth century.”
Again the English composer Macfarren observes: “Cherubini’s position is unique in the history of his art; actively before the world as a composer for threescore years and ten, his career spans over more vicissitudes in the progress of music than that of any other man. Beginning to write in the same year with Cimarosa, and even earlier than Mozart, and being the contemporary of Verdi and Wagner, he witnessed almost the origin of the two modern classical schools of France and Germany, their rise to perfection, and, if not their decline, the arrival of a time when criticism would usurp the place of creation, and when to propound new rules for art claims higher consideration than to act according to its ever unalterable principles. His artistic life indeed was a rainbow based on the two extremes of modern music which shed light and glory on the great art-cycle over which it arched.... His excellence consists in his unswerving earnestness of purpose, in the individuality of his manner, in the vigor of his ideas, and in the purity of his harmony.”