Luigi Cherubini

Last updated
Luigi Cherubini as member of the Institut Royal de France, Academie des Beaux-Arts, c. 1820. Luigi Cherubini3.jpg
Luigi Cherubini as member of the Institut Royal de France, Académie des Beaux-Arts, c. 1820.

Luigi Cherubini ( /ˌkɛrʊˈbni/ KERR-uu-BEE-nee, Italian:  [luˈiːdʒi keruˈbiːni] ; 8 or 14 September [1] 1760 – 15 March 1842) was an Italian Classical and pre-Romantic [2] [3] composer. His most significant compositions are operas and sacred music. Beethoven regarded Cherubini as the greatest of his contemporaries. [4]

Classical period (music) genre of Western music (c.1730-1820)

The Classical period was an era of classical music between roughly 1730 and 1820.

Romantic music is a stylistic movement in Western classical music associated with the period spanning the nineteenth century, commonly referred to as the Romantic era. It is closely related to the broader concept of Romanticism—the intellectual, artistic and literary movement that became prominent in Western Europe from approximately 1800 until 1850.


Early years

Cherubini was born Maria Luigi Carlo Zenobio Salvatore Cherubini in Florence in 1760. There is uncertainty about his exact date of birth. Although 14 September is sometimes stated, evidence from baptismal records and Cherubini himself suggests the 8th is correct. Perhaps the strongest evidence is his first name, Maria, which is traditional for a child born on 8 September, feast-day of the Nativity of the Virgin. [1] His instruction in music began at the age of six with his father, Bartolomeo, maestro al cembalo ("Master of the harpsichord", in other words, ensemble leader from the harpsichord). Considered a child prodigy, Cherubini studied counterpoint and dramatic style at an early age. By the time he was thirteen, he had composed several religious works.

Florence Capital and most populous city of the Italian region of Tuscany

Florence is a city in central Italy and the capital city of the Tuscany region. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with 383,084 inhabitants in 2013, and over 1,520,000 in its metropolitan area.

Harpsichord musical instrument played by means of a keyboard

A harpsichord is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. This activates a row of levers that turn a trigger mechanism that plucks one or more strings with a small plectrum.

Child prodigy person who, at an early age, develops one or more skills at a level far beyond the norm for their age

A child prodigy is defined in psychology research literature as a person under the age of ten who produces meaningful output in some domain to the level of an adult expert.

Adulthood and first operas

In 1780, he was awarded a scholarship by the Grand Duke of Tuscany to study music in Bologna and Milan. [1] Cherubini's early opera serie used libretti by Apostolo Zeno, Metastasio (Pietro Trapassi), and others that adhered closely to standard dramatic conventions. His music was strongly influenced by Niccolò Jommelli, Tommaso Traetta, and Antonio Sacchini, who were the leading composers of the day. The first of his two comic works, Lo sposo di tre e marito di nessuna, premiered at a Venetian theater in November 1783. [1]

{{Infobox royalty |name =Leopold II |image =Mengs, Anton Raphael - Pietro Leopoldo d'Asburgo Lorena, granduca di Toscana - 1770 - Prado.jpg |caption =Leopold in 1770, by Anton Raphael Mengs. |succession =Holy Roman Emperor
King in Germany |reign =30 September 1790 – 1 March 1792 |coronation = 9 October 1790, Frankfurt |predecessor =Joseph II |successor =Francis II |birth_date =5 May 1747 |birth_place =Vienna, Austria, Holy Roman Empire |death_date =1 March 1792 (aged 44) |death_place =Vienna, Austria, Holy Roman Empire |spouse =Maria Luisa of Spain

Bologna Comune in Emilia-Romagna, Italy

Bologna is the capital and largest city of the Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy. It is the seventh most populous city in Italy, at the heart of a metropolitan area of about one million people.

Milan Italian city

Milan is a city in northern Italy, capital of Lombardy, and the second-most populous city in Italy after Rome, with the city proper having a population of 1,395,274 while its metropolitan city has a population of 3,250,315. Its continuously built-up urban area has a population estimated to be about 5,270,000 over 1,891 square kilometres. The wider Milan metropolitan area, known as Greater Milan, is a polycentric metropolitan region that extends over central Lombardy and eastern Piedmont and which counts an estimated total population of 7.5 million, making it by far the largest metropolitan area in Italy and the 54th largest in the world. Milan served as capital of the Western Roman Empire from 286 to 402 and the Duchy of Milan during the medieval period and early modern age.

Feeling constrained by Italian traditions and eager to experiment, Cherubini traveled to London in 1785 where he produced two opere serie and an opera buffa for the King's Theatre. In the same year, he made an excursion to Paris with his friend the violinist Giovanni Battista Viotti, who presented him to Marie Antoinette and Parisian society. Cherubini received an important commission to write Démophoon to a French libretto by Jean-François Marmontel that would be his first tragédie en musique. Except for a brief return trip to London and to Turin for an opera seria commissioned by King Victor Amadeus III, Cherubini spent the rest of his life in France [1] where he was initiated into Grand Orient de France "Saint-Jean de Palestine" Masonic Lodge in 1784.

Her Majestys Theatre theatre in London

Her Majesty's Theatre is a West End theatre situated on Haymarket in the City of Westminster, London. The present building was designed by Charles J. Phipps and was constructed in 1897 for actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree, who established the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art at the theatre. In the early decades of the 20th century, Tree produced spectacular productions of Shakespeare and other classical works, and the theatre hosted premieres by major playwrights such as George Bernard Shaw, J. M. Synge, Noël Coward and J. B. Priestley. Since the First World War, the wide stage has made the theatre suitable for large-scale musical productions, and the theatre has accordingly specialised in hosting musicals. The theatre has been home to record-setting musical theatre runs, notably the First World War sensation Chu Chin Chow and the current production, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, which has played continuously at Her Majesty's since 1986.

Giovanni Battista Viotti Italian composer

Giovanni Battista Viotti was an Italian violinist whose virtuosity was famed and whose work as a composer featured a prominent violin and an appealing lyrical tunefulness. He was also a director of French and Italian opera companies in Paris and London. He personally knew Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Marie Antoinette Last Queen of France prior to the French Revolution

Marie Antoinette was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution. She was born an Archduchess of Austria and was the penultimate child and youngest daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor. She became Dauphine of France in May 1770 at age 14 upon her marriage to Louis-Auguste, heir apparent to the French throne. On 10 May 1774, her husband ascended the throne as Louis XVI and she assumed the title Queen of France and Navarre, which she held until September 1791, when she became Queen of the French as the French Revolution proceeded, a title that she held until 21 September 1792.

French assimilation

Title page of the first edition of Cherubini's Medee, full score, 1797 Medea Cherubini titelblad.jpg
Title page of the first edition of Cherubini's Médée , full score, 1797

Cherubini adopted the French version of his name, Marie-Louis-Charles-Zénobi-Salvador Cherubini; this appears in all extant documents that show his full name after 1790, [1] though his Italian name is favored nowadays. Performances of Démophon were favorably received at the Grand Opéra in 1788. With Viotti's help, the Théâtre de Monsieur in the Tuileries appointed Cherubini as its director in 1789. Three years later, after a move to the rue Feydeau and the fall of the monarchy, the company became known as the Théâtre Feydeau. This position gave Cherubini the opportunity to read countless libretti and choose one that best suited his temperament.

Cherubini's music began to show more originality and daring. His first major success was Lodoïska (1791), which was admired for its realistic heroism. This was followed by Elisa (1794), set in the Swiss Alps, and Médée (1797), Cherubini's best-known work. Les deux journées (1800), in which Cherubini simplified his style, was a popular success. These and other operas were premièred at the Théâtre Feydeau or the Opéra-Comique. Feeling financially secure, he married Anne Cécile Tourette in 1794 and began a family of three children.

<i>Eliza</i> (Cherubini) opéra-comique

Eliza, ou Le voyage aux glaciers du Mont St Bernard is an opéra comique in two acts by Luigi Cherubini with a French libretto by Jacques-Antoine de Révéroni Saint-Cyr. It was first performed at the Théâtre Feydeau, Paris on 13 December 1794.

Swiss Alps Portion of the Alps that lies within Switzerland

The Alpine region of Switzerland, conventionally referred to as the Swiss Alps, represents a major natural feature of the country and is, along with the Swiss Plateau and the Swiss portion of the Jura Mountains, one of its three main physiographic regions. The Swiss Alps extend over both the Western Alps and the Eastern Alps, encompassing an area sometimes called Central Alps. While the northern ranges from the Bernese Alps to the Appenzell Alps are entirely in Switzerland, the southern ranges from the Mont Blanc massif to the Bernina massif are shared with other countries such as France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein.

<i>Les deux journées</i> opera in three acts

Les deux journées, ou Le porteur d'eau is an opera in three acts by Luigi Cherubini with a libretto by Jean-Nicolas Bouilly. It takes the form of an opéra comique, meaning not that the subject matter is humorous, but that the piece is a mixture of spoken dialogue and musical numbers. Bouilly claimed he took the story from a real-life incident during the French Revolution but, for fear of censorship, he moved the action back to 1647 and the time of Cardinal Mazarin. The opera was first performed on 16 January 1800 at the Théâtre Feydeau in Paris.

The fallout from the French Revolution affected Cherubini until the end of his life. Politics forced him to hide his connections with the former aristocracy and seek governmental appointments. Although Napoleon found him too complex, Cherubini wrote at least one patriotic work per year for more than a decade. [1] He was appointed Napoleon's director of music in Vienna for part of 1805 and 1806, whereupon he conducted several of his works in that city.

In 1808 Cherubini was elected an associated member of the Royal Institute of the Netherlands. [5]

Portrait by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (Louvre). The crowning Muse displeased Cherubini and is blacked out in some copies. Ingres cherubini.JPG
Portrait by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (Louvre). The crowning Muse displeased Cherubini and is blacked out in some copies.

From opera to church music

After Les deux journées, Parisian audiences began to favor younger composers such as Boieldieu. Cherubini's opera-ballet Anacréon was an outright failure and most stage works after it did not achieve success. Faniska , produced in 1806, was an exception, receiving an enthusiastic response, in particular by Haydn and Beethoven. Les Abencérages (1813), an heroic drama set in Spain during the last days of the Moorish kingdom of Granada, was Cherubini's attempt to compete with Spontini's La vestale ; it received critical praise but few performances.

Disappointed with his lack of acclaim in the theater, Cherubini turned increasingly to church music, writing seven masses, two requiems, and many shorter pieces. During this period (under the restored monarchy) he was appointed Surintendant de la Musique du Roi, a position he would hold until the fall of Charles X (1830). In 1815 London's Royal Philharmonic Society commissioned him to write a symphony, an overture, and a composition for chorus and orchestra, the performances of which he went especially to London to conduct, increasing his fame.

Cherubini's Requiem in C minor (1816), commemorating the anniversary of the execution of King Louis XVI of France, was a huge success. The work was greatly admired by Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms. In 1836, Cherubini wrote a Requiem in D minor to be performed at his own funeral. It is for male choir only, as the religious authorities had criticised his use of female voices in the earlier work.

Old age and legacy

Luigi Cherubini in old age wearing a Legion d'Honneur medal, lithograph by Marie Alexandre Alophe Luigi Cherubini2.png
Luigi Cherubini in old age wearing a Légion d'Honneur medal, lithograph by Marie Alexandre Alophe
Cherubini's grave at Pere Lachaise with a bas relief by Augustin Dumont Pere-Lachaise - Division 11 - Cherubini 04.jpg
Cherubini's grave at Père Lachaise with a bas relief by Augustin Dumont

In 1822, Cherubini became director of the Conservatoire and completed his textbook, Cours de contrepoint et de fugue, in 1835. His role at the Conservatoire brought him into conflict with the young Hector Berlioz, who portrayed the old composer in his memoirs as a crotchety pedant. Some critics, such as Basil Deane, maintain that Berlioz's depiction has distorted Cherubini's image with posterity. There are many allusions to Cherubini's personal irritability among his contemporaries; Adolphe Adam wrote, "some maintain his temper was very even, because he was always angry." Nevertheless, Cherubini had many friends, including Szymanowska, Rossini, Chopin and, above all, the artist Ingres. The two had mutual interests: Cherubini was a keen amateur painter and Ingres enjoyed practising the violin. In 1841, Ingres produced the most celebrated portrait of the old composer.

Although chamber music does not make up a large portion of his output, what he did write was important. Wilhelm Altmann, writing in his Handbuch für Streichquartettspieler (Handbook for String Quartet Players) about Cherubini's six string quartets, stated that they are first rate and regarded Nos. 1 and 3 as masterworks. His String Quintet for two violins, viola and two cellos is also considered a first rate work.

During his lifetime, Cherubini received France's highest and most prestigious honors. These included the Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur (1814) and Membre de l'Académie des Beaux-Arts (1815). In 1841, he was made Commandeur de la Légion d'honneur, the first musician to receive that title. [6]

Cherubini died in Paris in 1842 at age 81 and is buried at Père Lachaise Cemetery, just four metres from his friend Chopin. His tomb was designed by the architect Achille Leclère and includes a figure by the sculptor Augustin-Alexandre Dumont representing "Music" crowning a bust of the composer with a wreath.


Orchestral music

  • Overture in G (1815)
  • Symphony in D major (1815)
  • Marche funèbre (1820)

Chamber music

  • String Quartet No. 1 in E-flat (1814)
  • String Quartet No. 2 in C (1829) - transcription of Symphony in D major with new second movement
  • String Quartet No. 3 in D minor (1834)
  • String Quartet No. 4 in E (1835)
  • String Quartet No. 5 in F (1835)
  • String Quartet No. 6 in A minor (1837)
  • String Quintet (2 violins, viola, 2 cellos) in E minor (1837)

Masses and sections of the mass

  • Five masses (written 1773–1776, lost)
  • Messe solennelle brève in B-flat (1805, dubious)
  • Credo a capella for eight voices and organ (1806)
  • Mass in A for three voices (1809, dubious)
  • Messe de Chimay in F (1809)
  • Missa solemnis in D minor (1811) per il Principe Esterházy
  • Mass (4th messe solennelle) in C (1816)
  • Credo in D (1816)
  • Requiem in C minor for mixed chorus (1816) in memory of Louis XVI
  • Missa solemnis in E (1818)
  • Mass in G (1819) for the Coronation of Louis XVIII
  • Mass in B-flat (1821, dubious)
  • Messe solennelle in A for the Coronation of Charles X (1825)
  • Requiem in D minor for male chorus (1836) written for his own funeral [7]

Motets and other choral works

  • Cantata Amphion (1786)
  • Cantata Circé (premiered 1789)
  • Trois chœrs: Incidental music for the play La Mort de Mirabeau by Jean-Baptiste Pujoulx (1791)
  • Cantata Clytemnestra (1794)
  • Cantata Hymne au printemps ("Hymn to Spring") (1815)
  • Hymne du Panthéon (1794) [8]
  • 38 motets


Teaching manuals

Related Research Articles

This is a list of music-related events in 1816.

François-Joseph Gossec French composer of operas

François-Joseph Gossec was a French composer of operas, string quartets, symphonies, and choral works.

Étienne Méhul French opera composer

Étienne Nicolas Méhul was a French composer, "the most important opera composer in France during the Revolution". He was also the first composer to be called a "Romantic".

Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga Spanish composer

Juan Crisóstomo Jacobo Antonio de Arriaga y Balzola was a Spanish Basque composer. He was nicknamed "the Spanish Mozart" after he died, because, like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, he was both a child prodigy and an accomplished composer who died young. They also shared the same first and second baptismal names; and they shared the same birthday, January 27.

Ignaz Pleyel

Ignace Joseph Pleyel was an Austrian-born French composer and piano builder of the Classical period.

Ferdinand Hérold

Louis Joseph Ferdinand Hérold, better known as Ferdinand Hérold, was a French operatic composer of Alsatian descent who also wrote many pieces for the piano, orchestra, and the ballet. He is best known today for the ballet La fille mal gardée and the overture to the opera Zampa.

Józef Elsner Polish composer

Józef Antoni Franciszek Elsner was a composer, music teacher, and music theoretician, active mainly in Warsaw. He was one of the first composers in Poland to weave elements of folk music into his works.

Félicien David French composer

Félicien-César David was a French composer.

Louis Théodore Gouvy French composer

Louis Théodore Gouvy was a French/German composer.

Joachim Nicolas Eggert

Joachim Nicolas Eggert was a Swedish composer and musical director.

François Benoist French musician

François Benoist was a French organist, composer, and pedagogue.

Théâtre Feydeau former theater company in Paris

The Théâtre Feydeau, a former Parisian theatre company, was founded in 1789 with the patronage of Monsieur, Comte de Provence, and was therefore initially named the Théâtre de Monsieur. It began performing in the Salle des Tuileries, located in the north wing of the Tuileries Palace, then moved to the Salle des Variétés at the Foire Saint-Germain, and finally, beginning in 1791, settled into its own custom-built theatre, the Salle Feydeau located on the rue Feydeau. The company was renamed Feydeau after the royal family was arrested during the French Revolution.

Désiré-Alexandre Batton French composer

Désiré-Alexandre Batton was a French composer. A student of Luigi Cherubini at the Conservatoire de Paris, he composed operas and cantatas; a number of his operas were seen at the Théâtre Feydeau and the Opéra-Comique. In 1817 he took first place in the Prix de Rome competition for his cantata La Mort d'Adonis.

Joseph-Aimé-Paul Noyon was a French organist and composer of classical music.

Claude-François Fillette-Loraux (1753–1821) was an 18th–19th-century French playwright and librettist for operas and opéras comiques.

Antoine Elwart French composer

Antoine Elwart was a French composer, musicologist and musicographer.

Paul Fauchet was a French composer and organist.

Désiré Beaulieu French composer

Marie-Désiré Martin-Beaulieu was a French composer and concert organizer.



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Willis, in Sadie (Ed.), p. 833
  2. "There are clearly Romantic characteristics in his opera Médée, e.g. in many daring harmonic progressions." Sohlmans Musiklexikon
  3. Holden, p. 174
  4. "Marie Louis Charles Zenobie Salvator Cherubini (1760 - 1842)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 5 October 2016.
  5. Willis, in Sadie (ed.), p. 834
  6. Deane p.30
  7. Hymne du Panthéon: Grand Chœur à la gloire des martyrs de la liberté et de ses défenseurs, lyrics by Marie-Joseph Chénier, composed in 1794 in to celebrate Marat's death (Cf. Cherubini in Dictionnaire de la musique, by Gérard Pernon, page 57).


  • Altmann, Wilhelm, Handbuch für Streichquartettspielers, Amsterdam: Hinrichtshofen, 1972
  • Cherubini, Luigi (with Fromental Halévy, Cours de contrepoint et de fugue, Paris: M. Schlesinger, 1835 OCLC 11909698
  • Deane, Basil, Cherubini (Oxford Studies of Composers, 1965)
  • Cobbett, W.W. (Ed.), Cobbett's Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music, Oxford University Press, 1963.
  • Holden, Amanda (Ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001. ISBN   0-14-029312-4.
  • Willis, Stephen C., "Cherubini, (Maria) Luigi (Carlo Zanobi Salvadore)" in Sadie, Stanley (Ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. 1, A-D, New York: MacMillan, 1994. ISBN   0-935859-92-6.