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Length: c. 10 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes (2nd = piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: November 19, 1931, Artur Rodzinski conducting
The name of the Italian-born (in 1760), French-naturalized Luigi Cherubini has survived less for his music than having received the admiration of other, more celebrated composers during and after his long career. Most notably, he lives through the widely quoted Beethoven opinion of him as the “greatest of my contemporaries,” and Beethoven makes further positive references to him in his letters. At least one masterwork by Cherubini, his Requiem in C minor (1816), was highly regarded not only by Beethoven, but by Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms – and, closer to our time, by the conductors Arturo Toscanini and Carlo Maria Giulini, both of whom revived it with considerable success and made memorable recordings of it. Then, too, there is Cherubini’s appearance as the composer of one of Maria Callas’ great vehicles, the opera Medea – in fact a bowdlerized Italian version of his French-language Médée (1797).
During his long residence in Paris, where he died after holding the post of director of the Paris Conservatoire for 22 years, Cherubini also became friends with Rossini, Chopin, and the painter Ingres, whose portrait of the dour-visaged composer hangs in the Louvre. And it was at the Conservatoire that he aroused the contempt of Hector Berlioz, who regarded the older man as stuffy, unimaginative, etc., etc.
The opera Anacréon, involving the eponymous Greek poet in a fanciful love affair, received its premiere at the Paris Opéra on October 4, 1803, running for only four performances. The dashing overture, however, was praised by Weber and even Berlioz (because of its presentiments of Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, and perhaps even the “Eroica”?) and taken up during the last century by Toscanini as a frequent program opener. It has never completely disappeared from the concert hall, and recordings of it are not uncommon.
Herbert Glass, after serving on the administrative staffs of the New York Philharmonic and the San Francisco Opera, was for 25 years a critic / columnist for the Los Angeles Times. He recently completed his 15th season as English-language editor / annotator for the Salzburg Festival.