La Punition, overture
(born Florence 14th September 1760 – died Paris, 15 March 1842)
Luigi Carlo Zanobi Salvadore Maria Cherubini was born in Florence in 1760. There were several musicians in his family, his father was Maestro al cembalo at the Teatro alla Pergalo. So it is not surprising that at an early age Luigi turned to music and that he was taught by his father. At the age of nine, he studied counterpoint under Bartolomeo Felici (1695-1776) and at thirteen he had already composed his first large mass for four voices. He was lucky in that the Grand Duke of Tuscany gave him a bursary that enabled him to study under Guiseppe Sarti (1729-1802) in Bologna and later in Milan. At this time works of Cherubini were already regularly performed in Italy. He mainly composed church music and by 1778 there were already 36 compositions. In 1780, his first opera Quinto Fabio appeared. After a period in London in 1784/1785, he settled in Paris after persuasion by Viottis (1755-1824), where he became a teacher at the National Institute of Music (later the Conservatoire) in 1794 and wrote a number of operas. During the regency of Napoleon Cherubini resigned from his official posts, as Napoleon did not appreciate his music: ”My dear Cherubini, You are certainly an excellent musician, but Your music is so loud and complicated, that I can not do anything with it.” Cherubini countered: “My dear General, You are certainly an excellent soldier, but as far as music is concerned, I beg to be excused when I do not consider it necessary to adapt my compositions to Your understanding.” The relationship improved somewhat in 1805, as Cherubini was invited to Vienna, in order to compose a new opera (“Faniska”). Napoleon also visited Vienna and requested Cherubini to direct in Schloss Schönbrunn (Napoleon’s new residence) and appointed him Master of the Vienna Court Concerts. Napoleon now showed his appreciation and asked Cherubini to return to Paris. Back in Paris, their relationship deteriorated again to such an extent that Cherubini gave up all musical activities, moved to Belgium and devoted himself to botanical studies and painting.
After Napoleon’s abdication in1814, Cherubini’s life suddenly changed. The new king, Ludwig XVIII, nominated him Knight of the Legion of Honour. After the Paris Conservatoire was reopened in 1816, Cherubini accepted a post of professor of composition there. His pupils included, amongst others, Fétis (1784-1871) and Berlioz (1803-1869). In 1821 he became director of the Conservatoire. He subsequently composed little and concentrated on his teaching. Cherubini died in Paris in 1842.
During his lifetime Cherubini was highly respected and compared with Mozart (1756-1791) and Haydn (1732-1809). We know that Beethoven very much appreciated Cherubini, particularly his Requiem in c-minor. When asked, whom he considered the greatest living composer, apart from himself, Beethoven replied in 1817: “Cherubini”. In common with these composers Cherubini has his sure grasp of the structure, his gift for melody, and his strong interest in the polyphonic style of the old masters. In addition to his church music it is mainly his overtures that have remained in the repertoire. These overtures show skill in the instrumentation and its economic use. In these he is able, within a few bars, to catch the essence of the opera. Cherubini’s music exists on the threshold between classic and romantic.
Also the subsequent generation of composers such as von Weber (1786-1826) (“One of the few heroes of art in our time, who, as a classical master and creator of new, individual paths, will eternally shine brightly in the history of art”) honoured him. However his works became increasingly marginalized, so that R. Wagner (1813-1883) was in 1841 horrified to determine that in Paris works of Cherubini were no longer performed.
After the awful events of the revolution, which shook the French nation at the end of the 19th century, there was a desire for lighter entertainment. Cherubini met the wish for diversion in the year 1799 with his second comic opera, The one act La Punition. The libretto came from Jean-Louis Brousse Desfaucheres. Although this is only a one act opera, Cherubini places a long running overture at the beginning. In comparison to his later overtures the orchestration is smaller.
Duration: ca. 8 Minutes
Translation: John Conrad
For performance material please contact Ediziono Suvini Zerboni, Milan
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