Luigi Cherubini

Luigi Cherubini (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]

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

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.

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]

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.

French assimilation

Medea Cherubini titelblad
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.

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]

Ingres cherubini
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 Cherubini2
Luigi Cherubini in old age wearing a Légion d'Honneur medal, lithograph by Marie Alexandre Alophe
Père-Lachaise - Division 11 - Cherubini 04
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 life, 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



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Willis, in Sadie (Ed.), p. 833
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ "There are clearly Romantic characteristics in his opera Médée, e.g. in many daring harmonic progressions." Sohlmans Musiklexikon
  4. ^ Holden, p. 174
  5. ^ "Marie Louis Charles Zenobie Salvator Cherubini (1760 - 1842)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 5 October 2016.
  6. ^ Willis, in Sadie (ed.), p. 834
  7. ^ Deane p.30
  8. ^ 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.

External links

Ali Baba (Cherubini)

Ali Baba, ou les quarante voleurs is a tragédie lyrique in four acts plus a prologue, with libretto by Eugène Scribe and Mélesville and music by Luigi Cherubini. The story is based on the tale Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (One Thousand and One Nights). It was premiered by the Paris Opera in the Salle Le Peletier on 22 July 1833. It was Cherubini's last opera, though he lived for nearly a decade longer. It is also his longest opera, lasting for about three and a half hours at the premiere.Some of the music was adapted and rewritten from his Koukourgi (written in 1793, but unproduced; first performed in 2010).

Anacréon (Cherubini)

Anacréon, ou L'amour fugitif is an opera-ballet in two acts by Luigi Cherubini with a French libretto by C. R. Mendouze. It was premiered on 4 October 1803 by the Paris Opéra at the Salle Montansier. The choreography was by Pierre-Gabriel Gardel. The work proved to be a complete failure, ending its run on 1 January 1804 after only seven performances. The subject matter, a love affair of the Ancient Greek poet Anacreon, was completely alien to the spirit of the time. One critic complained that in his protagonist Cherubini had represented "un vieux debauché déguisé en héros d'opéra" ("an old debauchee disguised as an opera hero").

The overture was praised by Weber and Berlioz and has frequently been recorded. The complete opera was revived by the Italian radio company RAI in 1973 and on stage at La Scala in 1983 with Gianandrea Gavazzeni conducting.

Conservatorio Luigi Cherubini

The Conservatorio Luigi Cherubini is located in piazza delle Belle Arti in Florence.


Démophoon (sometimes spelt Démophon) is an opera by the composer Luigi Cherubini, first performed at the Académie Royale de Musique (the Paris Opera) on 2 December 1788. It takes the form of a tragédie lyrique in three acts. The libretto, by Jean-François Marmontel, is based on Demofoonte by Metastasio.

Eliza (Cherubini)

Eliza, ou Le voyage aux glaciers du Mont St Bernard (Eliza, or The Journey to the Glaciers of 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.

Cherubini made great use of local colour in his music for Eliza. Its setting in the Swiss Alps was probably inspired by the contemporary popularity of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The score includes a ranz des vaches, a traditional melody played by Swiss herdsmen. Eliza marked an important stage in the development of French Romanticism and was also popular in Germany. Cherubini's musical evocation of nature (nightfall, the storm) influenced Carl Maria von Weber, who was particularly fond of the opera.Beethoven's Fifth Symphony finale includes a long chord sequence - a pattern that was borrowed from Cherubini, whom Beethoven "esteemed the most"" among his contemporary musicians. Cherubini employed this pattern consistently to close his overtures, which Beethoven knew well. The ending of his Fifth Symphony (1804–1808) repeats almost note by note and pause by pause the conclusion of Cherubini's overture to Eliza, presented in Vienna in 1803.


Faniska is an opéra comique in three acts by Luigi Cherubini. The German libretto, by Joseph Sonnleithner, is based on Les mines de Pologne by René Charles Guilbert de Pixérécourt.


Koukourgi is a 1792 French-language comic opera by Cherubini to a libretto by Mélesville père, which was not performed in Cherubini's lifetime. The music was laid up for nearly forty years till four numbers were re-used in Ali Baba; ou, les Quarante Voleurs of 1833, to a libretto by Mélesville fils, Eugène Scribe, and with additional new music by the then elderly Cherubini. The opera was reconstructed and premiered in celebration of the composer's 250th anniversary at the Stadttheater Klagenfurt in 2010.

L'hôtellerie portugaise

L'Hôtellerie portugaise is an opéra comique in 1 act by composer Luigi Cherubini. The opera uses a French language libretto by Étienne Aignan. The work premiered on 25 July 1798 in Paris at the Théâtre Feydeau.

Le crescendo

Le crescendo (The Crescendo) is a comic opera (opéra-buffon imité de l'italien) in one act by Luigi Cherubini with a libretto by Charles Augustin [de Bassompierre] Sewrin.

The libretto is based on the opera buffa L'Angiolina ovvero Il matrimonio per sussurro with music by Antonio Salieri (Vienna, 1800) and by Valentino Fioravanti (Lisbon, 1803).

Les Abencérages

Les Abencérages, ou L'étendard de Grenade (English: The Abencerrages, or The Standard of Granada) is an opera in three acts by Luigi Cherubini with a French libretto by Etienne de Jouy, based on the novel Gonzalve de Cordoue by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian. It was first performed on 6 April 1813 by the Académie Impériale de Musique (Paris Opera) at the Salle Montansier, with Napoleon and his wife, the Empress Marie-Louise, in the audience. The opera was initially a success but its popularity waned after the fall of Napoleon.

Because of its use of large choruses, spectacle and extensive dance music as well as its story line of a love affair played out against the background of major historical events, Les Abencérages is considered an important precursor of French grand opera. Almanzor's tenor aria, Suspendez de ses murs, was admired by composers such as Berlioz and has been recorded by singers including Georges Thill and Roberto Alagna. The ballet music in the first act contains variations on the popular melody La Follia (known in French as Les folies d'Espagne).

Les deux journées

Les deux journées, ou Le porteur d'eau (The Two Days, or The Water Carrier) 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.

Les deux journées is sometimes considered Cherubini's most successful opera, though revivals have been rare in the past hundred years. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Ludwig van Beethoven both felt that Bouilly's libretto was one of the best of its day; Beethoven kept Cherubini's score on his desk and copied out passages from it while composing Fidelio.

List of operas by Luigi Cherubini

This is a complete list of the operas of the Italian-born composer Luigi Cherubini (1760–1842) who spent much of his working life in France.

In terms of genre, Cherubini's output included 11 opere serie and 10 opéras comiques, as well as three intermezzi, three tragédies lyriques, two opere buffe, and one each of the following: comédie héroïque, comédie lyrique, comédie mêlée d'ariettes, drame lyrique, dramma lirico, opéra bouffon, and opéra-ballet.


Lodoïska is an opera by Luigi Cherubini to a French libretto by Claude-François Fillette-Loraux after an episode from Jean-Baptiste Louvet de Couvrai’s novel, Les amours du chevalier de Faublas. It takes the form of a comédie héroïque (a type of opéra comique) in three acts, and was a founding work of rescue opera. It has also been called one of the first Romantic operas, though Cherubini's work was basically classical.Stephen Willis has explained the importance of the work:

"With Lodoïska Cherubini turned his back on his training as an Italian composer of opera seria, choosing the freer form of opéra comique over the more stilted and confining tragédie lyrique and embarking on a course of development of opéra comique which was to lead to the eradication of almost all differences between the two genres, except for the spoken dialogue."Basil Deane has called the opera "entirely original in its depth of psychological insight, dramatic tension, and musical depth."

Médée (Cherubini)

Médée is a French language opéra-comique by Luigi Cherubini. The libretto by François-Benoît Hoffman (Nicolas Étienne Framéry) was based on Euripides' tragedy of Medea and Pierre Corneille's play Médée. It is set in the ancient city of Corinth.The opera was premiered on 13 March 1797 at the Théâtre Feydeau, Paris. It met with a lukewarm reception and was not immediately revived. During the twentieth century, it was usually performed in Italian translation as Medea, with the spoken dialogue replaced by recitatives not authorized by the composer. More recently, opera companies have returned to Cherubini's original version.

The long-lost final aria, which Cherubini appears to have elided from his original manuscript, was discovered by researchers from the University of Manchester and Stanford University by employing x-ray techniques to reveal the blackened out areas of Cherubini's manuscript.

Overture in G major (Cherubini)

The Overture in G major by Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842) is an orchestral work written for concert use in early 1815. It is unusual among Cherubini's overtures in that his other, better known overtures (such as those to Anacreon, Médée, Les deux journées and Ali Baba), were intended to introduce stage works. Although born in Italy Cherubini had been living in France since 1784, and had earned world fame through a series of operas composed for the Paris stage. In the first decade of the nineteenth century the vogue for his dramatic works began to wane, and he turned increasingly to sacred music.


Pimmalione (Pygmalion) is an opera in one act by Luigi Cherubini, first performed at the Théâtre des Tuileries, Paris on 30 November 1809. The libretto is an adaptation by Stefano Vestris of Antonio Simone Sografi's Italian translation of the text Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote for his scène lyrique Pygmalion (1770). It is based on the Classical legend of the sculptor Pygmalion.

Pimmalione was specially commissioned by the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte to show off the talents of two of his favourite singers, the famous castrato Girolamo Crescentini and the contralto Giuseppina Grassini (who had been Napoleon's lover). It was first given in a private performance at the emperor's palace, Les Tuileries. Napoleon was delighted with the work and offered Cherubini a large reward and a commission for another piece.

Requiem in C minor (Cherubini)

The Requiem in C minor for mixed chorus was written by Luigi Cherubini in 1816 and premiered 21 January 1817 at a commemoration service for Louis XVI of France on the twenty-third anniversary of his beheading during the French Revolution.The work was greatly admired by Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms.

Épicure (opera)

Épicure (Epicurus) is an opera in three acts with music by the composers Étienne Méhul and Luigi Cherubini. The libretto is by Charles-Albert Demoustier. It was first performed at the Opéra-Comique, Paris on 14 March 1800. It was a complete failure, enjoying only three performances. For the third and final performance on 20 March the opera was reduced from three acts to two. Cherubini wrote the overture, the first act and half of the third; Méhul the second act and the rest of the third.

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