"Some maintain his temper was very even, because he was always angry" - that's what the composer Adolphe Adam said about Luigi Cherubini, the man Beethoven named when asked the question, "who is the greatest composer in Europe - apart from you?" Italian by birth, from a modest background, he was singled out early by his prodigious talent, and by 18 he was completing his studies with Giuseppe Sarti, one of the leading Italian opera composers of the day. Operatic commissions followed, and before long he had won enough recognition to receive an invitation to become house composer at the King's Theatre in London's Haymarket. From here it was a short step to Paris, where Cherubini settled at the age of 25; he would remain there for the rest of his life, during which he came to bestride Parisian music like a colossus.
All week, Donald Macleod investigates the life and work of the man often spoken of as "an Italian composer writing German opera for a French audience". He begins by examining Cherubini's Italian roots, with two early choral pieces written under Sarti's tutelage. Then we follow him to London, where he discovers that the title "house composer" really means "house composer of pasticcios" - operatic patchworks stitched together from well-known arias. His one original opera for London, Il Giulio Sabino, was not a success - "murdered in its birth for want of the necessary support of capital singers", as Dr Burney put it. But his first international success was just five years away; Lodoïska was an instant smash in that most momentous of years, 1791, and went on to play to sell-out houses throughout Europe before eventually crossing the Atlantic to New York in 1826.