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Gluck’s Armide and the Creation of Supranational Opera – by Annalise Smith

by Luca

Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera Armide (1777) is an anomaly within the context of his eighteenth-century operatic reform. While all of Gluck’s other libretti had been written as an embodiment of the operatic reform, including his Italian works Orfeo ed Euridice (1762) and Alceste (1767) in addition to the French operas Iphigénie en Aulide (1774) and Iphigénie en Tauride(1779), Armide was based upon the seventeenth-century libretto that Phillippe Quinault had written for Jean-Baptiste Lully, the founder of French tragédie lyrique. The use of Quinault’s libretto drew a direct comparison not only between Gluck and Lully, but also between Gluck and traditional French opera. Setting Armide also required Gluck to incorporate many traditional elements of tragédie lyrique absent in the operatic reform, such as divertissement and ballet.Armide’s departure from the tenets of the reform were so significant that they were criticized by Gluck’s French librettist François-Louis Gand Le Bland Du Roullet, who found particular fault with the opera’s lack of dramatic veracity.
It is the very incongruity of Armide—its utilization of an antiquated libretto—that makes it key to understanding Gluck’s conception of eighteenth-century opera. Armide provides the best opportunity to explore how Gluck amalgamated the traditional forms and styles of French opera with the goals of Viennese operatic reform. Drawing out connections between tragédie lyrique and the precepts of his reform, Gluck demonstrated the composer’s role in strengthening and clarifying the reform qualities as expressed by the libretto. Through musical analysis, this thesis demonstrates that Armide maintains the musical characteristics and dramatic musical construction of Gluck’s earlier reform operas. It also illustrates that while Gluck honoured Lully’s conception of tragédie lyrique, he did not hesitate to improve what he saw as the faults of the earlier operatic style. Gluck’s juxtaposition of theItalian and French operatic traditions in Armide elucidates his creation of supranational opera. Superseding and encompassing both the French and Italian national styles, Gluck enlivened the operatic traditions of both countries while remaining true to his own dramatic and musical conception of opera.

Introduction: The Enigma of Armide.

Armide is an enigma in the works of Christoph Willibald von Gluck (1714-1787).
Of all his operatic successes, Gluck singled out Armide as the culmination of his career, stating in a 1776 letter to his French librettist François-Louis Gand Le Bland Du Roullet: “I have used all the little power that remains to me to complete Armide, and in doing so I have tried to be more painter and poet than musician … I confess I should like to end my career with this opera. ”Gluck also conceived of Armide as the culmination of his operatic reform. His desire to be both poet and painter was an indication of the import given to text and scenic effects in the opera, as well as his perceived role in creating the entire operatic experience. Armide was a successful and controversial opera. Even before its 1777 premiere in Paris, the opera sparked a pamphlet war that rivalled the Querelle des bouffons of the mid-century, in which Gluck’s supporters and detractors exchanged heated polemics over the merits of the opera and Gluck’s Italianate musical style. Armide was similarly a popular opera at the turn of the twentieth century duet the connections drawn between Gluck’s operatic reform and the music dramas of Richard Wagner.
Research on Armide, however, has been limited to short articles or passing mentions in monographs dedicated to Gluck’s reform. The most in-depth studies focus on specific comparisons to Lully, in particular the famous monologue “Enfin il est en ma puissance,” without considering the larger aims of the opera. Study of Armide remains eclipsed by not only Gluck’s Italian reform operas, primarily Orfeo ed Euridice (1762) and Alceste (1767), but also his other French operas, most notably Iphigénie en Tauride (1779).
Despite this lack of recent scholarship, Armide is vital for an understanding of Gluck’s conception of French opera and his application of the tenets of Viennese reform opera to a new audience. Gluck’s Armide used the Philippe Quinault librettofirst set to music in 1686 by Jean-Baptiste Lully, the founder of French opera.This work was considered Lully’s masterpiece and “the perfect expression ofFrench operatic tradition.”
Yet Armide was not Gluck’s first experience in French opera. In addition to writing
numerous opéras comiques, Gluck revised Orfeo and Alceste for the Parisian stage in the early1770s. He also composed the French opera Iphigénie en Aulide (1774) while still living in Vienna. Armide, however, was the first opera Gluck composed with a full knowledge and understanding of the traditional French operatic style and the expectations of the French audience. Scholars such as Jeremy Hayes consider Armide to be Gluck’s most French work, and in no other opera does Gluck so directly confront Lully and the tragédie lyrique, the foundation of all French opera.
Armide thus provides the best opportunity to explore how Gluck amalgamated the traditional forms and styles of French opera with the goals of Viennese operatic reform.
This thesis argues that in Armide Gluck reconciled the eighteenth-century operatic reform ofItalian opera seria with the aesthetics of traditional French opera. Many of these compromises were necessitated by Gluck’s use of Quinault’s French libretto, which, while bearing some relation to the goals of Gluck’s reform, differed from the typical dramatic schema of his earlier operas in both content and aesthetics. Gluck, however, poured his Italianate music—his harmonic language, melodic style, and musical forms—into Armide, assuring that the opera fulfilled the goals of his operatic reform regardless of differences in content or formal structure. This melding of styles was a deliberate choice on Gluck’s part, undertaken with the goal of producing “a music fit for all nations and to do away with the ridiculous differentiation between national music styles.
”The exploration of the relationship between Quinault’s libretto, the expectations of the French stage, and Gluck’s musical operatic style reveal how Gluck, in melding the Italian and French operatic traditions,superseded both in Armide to create a “supranational” style.
Gluck’s participation in eighteenth-century operatic reform is a well-established and recognized fact. The actual goals of the reform, however, are often much more obscure,reduced to broad generalities that border on cliché. In order to understand how Armide embodies the operatic reform, the precepts of the reform must be clearly defined in relation to their manifestation in Gluck’s operas. The first chapter of my thesis thus lays out the historical context of the reform, using Alceste as a model for Gluck’s operatic practices. Particular attention will be given to the French influence on Italian operatic reform, as well as Gluck’s experience with French opera before Armide, both establishing a context for Gluck’s concept of and experience with French opera.
An operatic analysis cannot be strictly musical, but must, as Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parkerargue, “simultaneously [engage], with equal sophistication, the poetry and the drama.
”Keeping in mind Gluck’s desire to be the “poet” of Armide, the second chapter of my thesis focuses on Quinault’s libretto, from which so many of the unique characteristics in Armide stem. Tragédie lyrique borrowed many characteristics from French classical tragedy, including elements of formal organization, the sources of the plot, and the perceived purpose oft he drama to both entertain and teach. However the dramatic content of the libretto, especially the three unities of times, place, and action (les trois unités) are more indicative of the nature of French tragedy than these structural elements, and consequently take greater precedence in this analysis. As a tragédie lyrique, a genre characterized by its use of scenic effects and spectacle, Armide valued the “merveilleux more than verisimilitude.
”Requiring the dramatic integration of ballets, divertissements,and special effects, the merveilleux had a significant impact on the over all organization of acts and the progression of the drama that are unique to this genre.
The obviouslyFrench characteristics of Armide do not preclude the presence of reform characteristics in the libretto. Nonetheless, Armide differs significantly from Gluck’s previous libretti. In his 1776 critique of Armide in Lettre sur les drames-opéra, Gluck’s librettist Du Roullet charged that Armide lacks dramatic action, introduces “episodic and ineffective characters,” and contains superfluous divertissements, facilitating a discussion of the challenges that Quinault’s libretto created for Gluck and his conception of the reform.
These dramatic criticisms are balanced by my analysis of Armide’s formal organization, which bears considerable likeness to Gluck’s previous reform works. In particular, the scene-complex found in Quinault’s libretto, a mixture of solo and choral singing underpinned by continuous orchestral accompaniment, bears a strong relationship to the tableau construction of Gluck’s reform operas. In addition, Gluck’s concern fordramatic realism in his opera resembles the verisimilitude so prized in Frenchclassical tragedy.
Gluck’s desire to be “painter” does not indicate a desire for the composer to have direct control over the visual aspects of his operas, but an attempt to represent the action and emotion of the drama through the music. Chapters three and four of this thesis therefore focus on the musical content and aesthetic goals of Armide. In chapter three, I will first compare Armide to Gluck’s previous reform operas with the goal of elucidating the continuity of the reform between his Italian and French works. Given the fixed nature of the libretto, I aim to demonstrate how Gluck expressed the reform through musical means. This includes the continuity in the style and placement of arias, airs, and recitative, as well as the continued use of tableaux as the primary scenic construct throughout the opera. In addition to explicating how Armide expresses the principles of Gluck’s operatic reform, this chapter will also outline the various methods used to reduce the impact of incongruities, especially the prominence of secondary characters,that result from Quinault’s libretto.
Chapter four finally compares Gluck’s Armide to the tradition of tragédie lyrique.
Gluck claimed that in Armide he hoped “not only to express [the opera’s] great beauties, but also to improve its faults.
”Modern scholars such as Carl van Vechten often find Gluck’s opera superior to Lully’s, judgments frequently made on the comparison of single scenes such as the dramatic monologue “Enfin il est en ma puissance.
”While comparisons of specific scenes in Lully and Gluck’s versions of Armide form a component of my analysis, the tonal organization, progression of musical forms, and function of the orchestra are all used to differentiate the approaches of the two composers. This analysis does not attempt to prove the superiority of either version, but to demonstrate in which ways Lully served as a model for Gluck, and in which areas the musical developments of the eighteenth century had the greater influence.
In its coalescing of the Italian and French traditions, Armide is far greater than the sum of its parts. Recognizing the elements of the eighteenth-century operatic reform inherent in Quinault’s libretto, Gluck engaged the musical prowess he had developed in his earlier operas to create a world whose characters are as powerfully depicted in the music as they are in the text. The reconciliation of these two national styles required concessions from both operatic traditions. Yet through this exchange of dramatic and musical traits, both traditions were revitalized and once again made relevant to the contemporary audience. In the creation of this supranational opera, Gluck preserved the best features of both operatic traditions while remaining true to his own dramatic and musical conception of opera. Gluck rightly regarded Armide as the culmination of his career. It is the ultimate goal of this thesis to ensure that Armide is finally given the recognition it deserves as one of Gluck’s finest works.

Bachelor of Music History, University of Calgary, 2008
A Master’s Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree of
Master of Arts in Musicology
in the School of Music
Annalise Smith, 2010
University of Victoria

All rights reserved. This thesis may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by photocopy
or other means,without the permission of the author.

Bachelor of Music History, University of Calgary, 2008.
Supervisory Committee Dr. Michelle Fillion, School of Music.
Supervisor Dr. Susan Lewis Hammond, School of Music Departmental Member.

1 Gluck to Du Roullet, Vienna, summer 1776, inAnnée littéraire 7 (1776): 322–3, quoted in Patricia Howard, Gluck: An Eighteenth-Century Portrait in Letters andDocuments (Oxford: Clarendon Press,1995), 165.
2 One such example being G. Buschmeier, “Glucks Armide-Monolog, Lully und die ‘philosophes,’” in
FestschriftKlaus Hortschansky zum 60. Geburtstag (Tutzing: H. Schneider, 1995), 167-180.
3 Mario Armellini, Jacket notes to ChristophWillibald Gluck, Armide (Les Musiciensdu Louvre/Marc Minkowski, Archiv Produktion, 459 616-2, 1999), 15.
4 Jeremy Hayes, “Armide: Gluck’s Most FrenchOpera?” The Musical Times 123, no. 1672(1982): 415.
5 Gluck, “Letter to the Editor of the Mercure deFrance ,” Vienna, 1 February 1773, in François Lesure, ed., Querelle des Gluckistes et des Piccinnistes: Textes des pamphlets avec introduction, commentaires, et index (Geneva: Minkoff Reprint, 1984), 8-10, in Howard, Gluck:An Eighteenth-Century Portrait, 106-107.
6 Donald Jay Grout and Hermine Weigel Williams, A Short History of Opera , 4th ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 270.
7 Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker,“Introduction: On Analyzing Opera,” in Analyzing Opera: Verdi and Wagner , ed. by Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker (Berkeley: University of California Press,1989), 4.
8 James R. Anthony, French Baroque Music from Beaujoyeulx to Rameau , rev. and expanded edition (Portland:Amadeus Press, 1997), 96.
9 François Gand LeBland Du Roullet, Lettre sur les drames-opéra (Amsterdam–Paris 1776,S. 50-53),
quoted in Klaus Hortschansky, “Vorwort,” in Armide , Vol. 8, Sämtliche Werke (Basel and Kassel: Bärenreiter,1991), X.
10 Anonymous, “Annonce de l’opéra d’Armide,”Journal de Paris (24 September 1777), in Gaspar Michel Le Blond, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de la révolutiono pérée dans la musique par M. le chevalier Gluck (Amsterdam: Antiqua, 1967), 258.
11 Carl van Vechten, “Notes on Gluck’s Armide,”Musical Quarterly 3, no. 4 (1917): 545.