Do We Still Admire Gluck’s Theory of Integration?
We are fascinated by the nature of change in musical composition. We see eras come and go; schools of thought come and go. Clinging to any one era or style of music is about the same as clinging to any one composer. Both are born; rise to prominence; then fade and finally die. Rather than mourn the passing of period or person, we might want to concentrate on preserving the legacy we still retain. By retaining the best of each era or composer, we can understand the next era and the next composer of note.
When we look at Christoph von Gluck and his legacy, he didn’t leave us with a robust musical inventory. Instead he left us with a goal and vision of what opera can be and should become. He didn’t limit his ideas to one country or one school of composition. The composers who followed him came from many countries and believed in many, diverse forms of musical composition. We will trace out the history of European musical composition in a number of different Sections: for opera, we cover most in this Section, How Opera Became Grand Opera; but for all genres, we examine the trends in the Sections on Cultural Influences and European Musical Training. Here in opera, we will examine the paths taken by composers, from Gluck to Giacomo Puccini.
Our most important conclusion from the study of opera comes as something of a surprise to us: great music comes in many forms, from many composers and countries and carries with it many descriptive labels.
Similarly, we will examine in the Section dealing with Broadway’s history and evolution, How Broadway Became Broadway, the many composers and trends in musical theatre composition. We clearly came from a starting point that was steeped in European form and structure, but we also took an abrupt turn in the 1920’s into a compositional form that was based on African-American forms and rhythms. As we note the evolution from Victor Herbert to Richard Rodgers (from the 1890’s to the 1940’s and 50’s), we are both surprised by the richness of the forgotten past and the heights experienced in the golden era of musical theatre.
Great music may find its genesis in a particular time and place, but it really achieves its greatness when it is able to transcend both time and place. Great music is both timeless and homeless. It is universal and speaks in its own tongue to any listener, anywhere in the world.
When we use the term “grand,” perhaps we should use it to address vocal, musical forms (whether they are labeled operas, operettas or shows) that create, in the cores of our being, a profound effect.
We raise these issues now so that you can use this website as a resource for learning without feeling obligated to fit everything you read and hear into some fixed matrix. Leave genre or form to much later in your musical education, when your body of study permits you to make informed, personal choices. If any of us try to make choices too early in our acquisition of knowledge, we may never achieve a full understanding the subject matter.
In fact, if you are young enough, you may be best acquainted with movie soundtracks, not opera or Broadway scores. Considering the amount of compositional output for the stage and screen since the 1970’s, we may all be wiser if we look to movie soundtracks to answer our initial question: Do we still admire Gluck’s theory of integration; for it is in movies where we currently see the most tightly integrated art forms of word, sight and sound, all of which are intended to move us, persuade us, liberate us or depress us.
In fact, we suggest that you pick out some of your favorite movies. Play them again, carefully listening this time to the soundtrack. Then ask yourselves this question: Can you imagine watching great cinema without the music soundtrack?
Your answer will determine how you respond to the question posed at the outset: Do We Still Admire Gluck’s Theory of Integration.