Is Cherubini worth discovering?

Is Cherubini worth discovering?


norman lebrecht

January 26, 2020

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

… Cherubini did his best to sound great by imitating everything Beethoven did around the time of his first and second symphonies. Trouble is, Beethoven moved ahead in giant strides while Cherubini got stuck. The D major symphony has big gestures and a few half-tunes, but nothing nutritious for the audience mind that Beethoven was awakening….


Read on here.

And here.


  • fflambeau says:

    Yes, he is worth “discovering.”

    Note too that there are quite a few excellent recordings of this already including plus the ones mentioned in the article: The Vienna Symphony with Bertrand de Billy; the Orchestra delle Toscana with Donato Renzetti; Sergiu Celibidache with the Orchestra del Teatro La Fenice di Veneziarchestra; Orchestra Sinfonica di Sanrem with Piero Bellugi and others.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    I think our notions about Cherubini are colored by the quasi-comic anecdotes about him in Berlioz’s Memoirs, or Brahms’s lament, late in life: “I have gone far: I am respected both by my friends and my opponents. Even though I am not loved by all — I am respected and that is the main thing. I ask for no more. I know very well what my position in the history of music is going to be: the position that Cherubini had, and still has today. That is my lot, my fate ….”

    Still …

    I am aware that the edition of Medea that Callas among others sang and recorded and made famous is a corrupt one, and I have yet to hear the correct and authentic Médée, but there are glories in that work that do not sound like imitation Beethoven, or even particularly influenced by or indebted to Beethoven. (It’s his only stage work I am familiar with.)

    The Anacreon overture does have a certain Beethoven power to it but no more than one hears in Méhul or other followers of Gluck. It is an entertaining and crowd-pleasing work that more conductors should explore.

    I remember a day when a very casual string quartet I played in decided to read through some of the Cherubini quartets. They are really difficult and we just felt we could not devote the time to them that they deserved; nor were we as a group up to the technical demands (as opposed to Beethoven op. 18). I’ve always felt a bit bad about that. And again I did not hear any imitation of Beethoven. Foretastes of Schumann perhaps.

    That may not be much to go on but I’d say Cherubini is worth exploring in more depth than I have been able to do.

    • Stuart says:

      My first experience of Cherubini was the six quartets recorded by the Melos Quartet. Great scores. Beethoven struggled in one area where Cherubini was prolific: opera. Try Lodoiska or Les deux journees – good recordings exist of both of these. A truly satisfying recording of the French 1797 Medee has yet to be produced.

  • Nijinsky says:

    I’m going to have to disagree about the comparison between Ludwig and Cherubino, because I don’t think that the ninth symphony as we know it would exist without Cherubino and his positivity, given what Beethoven suffered from his failure to see that what he was doing wasn’t working for his nephew, who happens to be as close to me as my father, presently.

    I think that without Cherubino Beethoven might, albeit in his later years, have ended up as morbid, as fixated on political, no worse than he might have been would be someone like Lera Auerbach with her morbid fixations, the kind of people that had such high regard for societal games that they gave who knows what a bad name (gypsies having the four thieves knowledge of germ killing agents that for all I know Fermat had to get out of them, that still isn’t used in hospitals and thus we have terrorist bacteria, instead from chemical company take overs, which might have been prevented with sharing) but at least Beethoven turned over a new leaf after the troubles with his nephew, and didn’t lock himself up in the society he could have easily stayed in.

    Why I ever referred to things caged in museums.

  • David Oberg says:

    In his music room located at Karlsgrasse 4 in Vienna, Brahms kept a bust of Beethoven and a portrait of Cherubini.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    I had always understood that Beethoven was more influenced by Cherubini than Cherubini by Beethoven. Beethoven was over Cherubini’s head. Still, Cherubini composed some music worth listening to, though he’s no Beethoven.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Cherubini was and remained a typical 18C composer, nothing wrong with it.

    • Herbert Pauls says:

      That makes sense. Cherubini (born 1760) may have outlived Beethoven but we must not forget that he was 10 years older than Beethoven (born 1770). Beethoven very much looked up to Cherubini, whose sound and gravitas in turn probably had a deep influence on his younger contemporary. The same can be said for Clementi, who was born in 1752 and whose piano textures and Italian style helped shape Beethoven’s (see for example the Sonata Op 2 No 3).

  • fflambeau says:

    You are shortchanging him.

    Beethoven considered him the greatest musician of his contemporaries. He was friends with Chopin, Rossini, and Maria Szymanowska, another huge piano talent. His works were admired not only by Beethoven but by Brahms and Schumann. His talents lay in the area of the opera (he wrote more than 10) and in choral and sacred music (his Requiem is stunning and has been recorded by Muti) and his chamber music is very good too.

    • Olassus says:

      Credo a capella for 8 voices and organ, 1806
      Credo in D, 1816
      Mass in F “Chimay,” 1809
      Mass in C, 1816
      Missa solemnis in d (for Prince Esterházy), 1811
      Missa solemnis in E, 1818
      Messe solennelle in G (for Coronation of Louis XVIII), 1819
      Messe solennelle in A (for Coronation of Charles X), 1825
      Requiem in c (in memoriam Louis XVI), 1816
      Requiem in d for Men’s Voices, 1836

  • John Borstlap says:

    Someone wrote about Cherubini: ‘His mood is always very even: he’s is always angry.’

  • fflambeau says:

    Beethoven admired Cherubini’s Requiem so much he requested that it be played at his funeral.

    Here’s a wonderful presentation and recording by Das Neue Orchester, Christoph Spering conductor (it has also been recorded by Muti and Haitink and Boston Baroque, among others):

    • BrianB says:

      Toscanini championed the c minor Requiem as well. Berlioz, not a fan of Cherubini the man, was a great admirer of it.

  • Amos says:

    Your access to Riccardo Muti, and his lifetime performing both, would be informative in addressing this question.

  • Novagerio says:

    Beethoven admired Cherubini – who by the way was 10 years older than Beethoven…

  • Jack says:

    I had a music history professor in college, a scholar who contributed numerous articles to the 1980 Groves, (and of course many obscure scholarly publications) who would regularly champion the work of minor composers while we students would be off debating different aspects and works of “The Majors”. I can still hear Gwynn McPeek saying “Now don’t sell Anton Filtz short!” And because of him I always sought out those ‘lesser’ names and found many treasures.

    OK, I’m off to enjoy some Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and some new Pleyel discoveries.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Cherubini and Mehul are very much worth knowing and hearing. Muti and Toscanini believed in Cherubini’s masses and symphony, and Beecham in Mehul’s operas and overtures. Others have played Mehul’s first symphony in G minor with its startling resemblances to Beethoven particularly in the finale. Mehul’s other three symphonies also have points of interest.

    Furtwaengler, Toscanini and Karajan recorded the Anacreon overture.

  • BrianB says:

    Sorry, but you have it backward. It was Beethoven who was influenced by Cherubini and not the other way round. Beethoven improved on his model, no denying, but the Coriolan and Leonore overtures are clearly influenced and modeled after Cherubini, Anacreon and Medea and Fatinitza overtures in particular. Cherubini’s quartets are also masterpieces,minor perhaps but some can shine next to Haydn.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Cherubini had to write two requiem masses, one for male voices only so it could be sung in church at that time.

    When Cherubini himself died, the story goes that Meyerbeer was in charge of the music and was nervous about it. He met Rossini afterward on the steps of the church and asked how he thought it went. “Not bad,” Rossini assured him, “but it would have been better if you died and Cherubini did the music.” Probably our old friend Ben Trovato again.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Muti is scheduled to conduct Cherubini’s coronation mass for Charles X in Chicago in March 2021.