Composers Datebook®

Gluck and Glass in the Underworld

Composers Datebook for August 2, 2016


In Greek mythology, Orpheus was a priest of Apollo and a fabulous musician, who attempted to bring his dead wife Eurydice back from the underworld.

On this day in 1774, in Paris, the first performance of the French version of the opera “Orpheus and Eurydice” by Christoph Willibald Gluck took place. Gluck originally wrote the opera in Italian, but for the French version in 1774, he added some new instrumental music, including a serene interlude depicting the “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” —an excerpt that has become one of Gluck’s most famous and best-loved works.

Over the centuries, more than 60 operas have been written on the theme of Orpheus and Eurydice. In fact, two of the very FIRST operas ever written are based on this legend, both by Italian composers of the late Renaissance: one by Jacopo Peri performed in 1600 and another by Claudio Monteverdi from 1607.

One of the more recent operas based on the Orpheus legend is by the American composer Philip Glass, based on a libretto he adapted from the 1950 movie, “Orpheus,” by the surrealistic French poet and film director Jean Cocteau. The American Repertory Theatre and the Brooklyn Academy of Music commissioned Glass’s version in 1993.

Music Played in Today's Program

Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) Dance of the Blessed Spirits, fr Orphée Academy of Ancient Music; Christopher Hogwood, cond. L'oiseau Lyre 410 553

Philip Glass (b.1937) Act 2 Interlude, fr Orphée Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra; Dennis Russell Davies, cond. Nonesuch 79496-2

On This Day


  • 1891 - English composer Sir Arthur Bliss, in London;

  • 1905 - German composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann, in Munich;

  • 1936 - British composer Anthony Payne, in London;


  • 1827 - English-born early American composer James Hewitt, age 57, in Boston;

  • 1945 - Italian opera composer Pietro Mascagni, age 81, in Rome;

  • 1945 - Austrian composer Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek, age 85, in Berlin;

  • 1978 - Mexican composer and conductor Carlos Chavez, age 79, in Mexico City;


  • 1774 - Gluck: opera, "Orphee" (2nd version) in Paris at the Academie Royale; This is the French version of his Italian opera "Orfeo ed Euridice," which had premiered in Vienna in 1762;

  • 1964 - Persichetti: Piano Concerto, at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire;

  • 1990 - David Matthews: Romanza for cello and small orchestra (Mstislav Rostropovich, soloist); Patrick Gowers: Suite for solo violin and chamber orchestra (José-Luis Garcia soloist) and Patrick Doyle "The Thistle and the Rose" (soprano Maria McLaughlin soloist), at the ballroom of Buckingham Palace in London, by the English Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Raymond Leppard; All three works were specially written for a concert celebrating the 90th birthday of HM Queen Elisabeth (aka the Queen Mother);

  • 1993 - John Harbison: "Three City Blocks" for symphonic band, in Fort Smith, Ark., by the U.S. Air Force Band, Lt. Col. Alan Bonner conducting;


  • 1921 - Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, age 48, dies in Naples;

  • 1923 - First festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Salzburg, Austria, offering chamber music by Schönberg, Berg and Bartók; Even though the Berg String Quartet, Op. 3 had premiered it Vienna on April 24, 1911, it was the 1923 Salzburg performance by the Havemann Quartet that established Berg's worldwide reputation in musical circles.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®