Author Topic: Étienne Méhul  (Read 8214 times)

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Offline zamyrabyrd

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Étienne Méhul
« on: December 19, 2008, 11:48:20 PM »
Étienne Méhul (1763-1817), friend of Napoleon, towed the political line by writing patriotic compositions in the Revolutionary period. Caught in a short lived heroic style (as the turn of the 1800's showed a preference for the lighter works of Rossini, to Beethoven's dismay as well), he was however, deemed the first Romantic in 1793. His dissonant and dramatic style was a definite influence on Berlioz.

Here's where my knowledge of him ends. I am doing a bit of research into French Romanticism and feel that his work is one of the keys to open its doors as well as to understand the subsequent developments in Europe. I thought that some of you PhD's might be able to enlighten us about this period and Méhul in particular.

I also became fascinated while reading that Schiller's "Ode to Joy" was harmonized by Revolutionaries before Beethoven. This gives me the impression that using this poem already in the 1820's for the 9th Symphony was a bit outdated.

zamyrabyrd, always willing to learn
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Offline knight66

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Re: Étienne Méhul
« Reply #1 on: December 20, 2008, 02:12:03 AM »
When I start this post by saying that I did not know what this composer's first name was, you know you are not about to learn much from me. I have been in a concert performance of Mehul's opera Uthal. It is one of the pieces that did indeed kick off the Romantic movement; based on the Ossian poems, recently discussed here....

http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,555.msg252398/topicseen.html#msg252398

When we got to the orchestral rehearsals, it was startling to hear the orchestrational fingerprints of Berlioz, but predating Berlioz. I seem to recall that Mehul taught Berlioz, (though at present I can't track that down as a fact), but I was surprised to hear so much of the teacher in the work of the pupil. We always think of Berlioz as being such an original.

Mehul is set in Scotland and at the time of the writing of the opera, Scotland was a land of myth, of romanticism in its wider sense. A land of mists, mystery, heather. A dark place. I assume because of that, Mehul excluded violins from the orchestration, to darken the soundworld.

It was a piece I found went in one ear and out of the other.

Mike
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Offline val

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Re: Étienne Méhul
« Reply #2 on: December 20, 2008, 02:40:12 AM »
The only thing I heard was the famous aria from the opera Joseph. I have it performed by Simoneau and Tauber.

But I have been told that his Symphonies are very intersting. Minkowski recorded the first two.

Offline Grazioso

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Re: Étienne Méhul
« Reply #3 on: December 20, 2008, 05:15:58 AM »
The only thing I heard was the famous aria from the opera Joseph. I have it performed by Simoneau and Tauber.

But I have been told that his Symphonies are very intersting. Minkowski recorded the first two.

The complete symphonies are available on Nimbus. I own but have not heard them yet.
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Offline zamyrabyrd

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Re: Étienne Méhul
« Reply #4 on: December 20, 2008, 10:52:56 AM »
When I start this post by saying that I did not know what this composer's first name was, you know you are not about to learn much from me. I have been in a concert performance of Mehul's opera Uthal. It is one of the pieces that did indeed kick off the Romantic movement; based on the Ossian poems, recently discussed here....

http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,555.msg252398/topicseen.html#msg252398

Mike

Funny, remembering your comments, Mike, I did a few searches here on "Mehul", accented and unaccented, also together with Berlioz but nothing came up.  I was always wondering who or what was "Ossian".
Now that is settled.  :)

I was intrigued by the composer as political apologist. The 1790's must have been a heady period with populist cantatas, odes to freedom and brotherhood, melodramatic serious operas but fizzling out almost immediately, deferring to the preferred taste for the light operas of Rossini. That's why Beethoven to some extent (I might be wrong) seems to be an anachronism in his own time. His Eroica and Fidelio (translated from a French play no less) are from 1804 and 1806, OK, also not the standard German fare.  But why wait until 1824 to set the "Ode to Joy" (although he had ideas to do this years before and sketches that apparently disappeared)?

The lasting qualities of Beethoven's work over the others have certainly to do with his superior musical talent but  also because of his sincerity. It seems he really did believe in those ideals, and not just paying lip service to the powers that be.

I still am interested in what in Mehul impressed Berlioz so much.
And of course, his Harold in Italy was a viola...

ZB

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.”

― Charles MacKay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

Offline knight66

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Re: Étienne Méhul
« Reply #5 on: December 20, 2008, 02:43:10 PM »
I can't track down a proper connection between Mehul and Berlioz. My recollection was that the concert programme claimed the elder taught the younger.

Mike
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Re: Étienne Méhul
« Reply #6 on: December 20, 2008, 03:26:03 PM »
I can't track down a proper connection between Mehul and Berlioz.

Maybe this could help:
http://www.hberlioz.com/Predecessors/mehul.htm

Mehul symphonies can be streamed from website of conductor Michel Swierczewski (Nimbus recordings), quick time is necessary though.


Offline knight66

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Re: Étienne Méhul
« Reply #7 on: December 21, 2008, 01:53:12 AM »
Drasko, Thanks for that. I had looked through a couple of Berlioz sites. I think it confirms that there never was a teacher/pupil relationship.

Whatever Berlioz later thought about Mehul, his soundworld was most certainly heavily influenced by Mehul. It was startling to hear what sounded like watered down Berlioz produced half a generation before Berlioz was active. I am quoting part of the article you linked us to. It shows Berlioz opinion on Mehul. This is the mature Berlioz, now not nearly so impressed as he once had been. It also gives a taste for what a superb writer Berlioz was.

Mike

"his style, more studied and polished, and more academic than that of the German master, was also much less grandiose, less striking, and less pungent. You will find there far fewer of those immense shafts of light which penetrate to the depth of the soul. And then, if I may make this confession, I find Méhul rather short of ideas. The music he wrote was excellent, truthful, pleasant, beautiful, and moving, but cautious to the point of austerity. His muse shows intelligence, spirit, warmth and beauty; but she preserves the looks of a housewife, her dress is grey and lacks fullness, and she cherishes parsimony. […] In Joseph also, as in the majority of his other scores, the orchestra is handled with perfect tact and a highly respectable common sense. There is not one instrument too many, and not a single note is out of place. But this same orchestra’s studied soberness lacks colour and even energy. You miss movement and that indefinable element which generates life."
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Offline Gabriel

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Re: Étienne Méhul
« Reply #8 on: January 30, 2009, 04:59:21 AM »
Méhul was a first-rate composer, who (as Cherubini) has been mostly forgotten by history because they focused in writing operas in French during a period that has never interested opera houses, musicologists and musicians in general. It is a real pity: I have never listened to a dull composition by Méhul.

Mike, you were really lucky to attend Uthal, which I have never listened to but of which I have read some comments.

In my opinion, the best introduction to Méhul's music would be an overtures CD in the ASV label, conducted by Sanderling. In spite of technical mistakes, the music shines perfectly. La Chasse du Jeune Henry, a "winner" that I hope to listen to in a concert hall some day, is a small proof of his great resources: among them, Méhul was particularly fond of playing with timbre. "Experimental sound", I would sometimes say.

Other works, as his symphonies, are impeccably crafted, and rank among the lost jewels of classicism. Méhul, independent from Beethoven, arrived sometimes to similar results, and other times to ways totally different from the great genius from Bonn.

I have listened to those of his operas whose recordings I have been lucky to find: Stratonice, Joseph, L'Irato. They are as different as they could be, and all excellent. Stratonice, for example, includes one the most hysterical overtures in classical literature, being powerful as Cherubini's Médée, but providing a sense of instability reinforced by strange harmonic irresolutions and some excessive dynamic contrast. L'Irato, as an Italian parody, has totally sparkling, light, ingenious music. And Joseph has a strange purity, a feeling of maximum simplicity that is difficult to find if not in late Mozart.

An EMI CD of music from the French Revolution includes another astonishing work by Méhul, the Chant National for the 14th July 1800. A monumental piece, it plays with stereophonic effects based on three (if I am not mistaken) orchestras and choirs, plus soloists.

Finally, Méhul is the composer of the Chant du Départ, on a text by Joseph-Marie Chénier (brother of André Chenier), and that was the second most popular song of the French Revolution, naturally after La Marseillaise.

Drasko

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Re: Étienne Méhul
« Reply #9 on: January 30, 2009, 05:05:38 AM »
Stratonice, for example, includes one the most hysterical overtures in classical literature, being powerful as Cherubini's Médée, but providing a sense of instability reinforced by strange harmonic irresolutions and some excessive dynamic contrast.

Good. I was considering getting Stratonice (that would be William Christie on Erato?). Definitely will give it a shot now.

Offline Gabriel

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Re: Étienne Méhul
« Reply #10 on: January 30, 2009, 05:08:31 AM »
Good. I was considering getting Stratonice (that would be William Christie on Erato?). Definitely will give it a shot now.

It's Christie, indeed. Unfortunately there's no other choice. Not even Sanderling includes it in his selection.

Offline SonicMan46

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Re: Étienne Méhul
« Reply #11 on: January 30, 2009, 07:15:22 AM »
Just for the record, some of the recordings of Méhul discussed above are on disc - not sure about their current availability; the Swierczewski recordings are a 2-CD set w/ 4 Symphonies & 2 Overtures (the latter also on the other recording shown); have both and need to give them a listen!  -  :)

 

robnewman

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Re: Étienne Méhul
« Reply #12 on: June 30, 2009, 02:24:27 AM »
Méhul, Etienne-Nicolas (1763-1817). French composer. One of the leading composers in Paris during the Revolution, Consulate and Empire. The striking originality of his works for the Opéra-Comique increased the range in subject and tone of the theatre’s repertory; the serious lyric dramas, in particular, were influential models for his contemporaries and he was praised by a string of later composers such as Weber, Berlioz and Wagner. Some of Mehul's music was known to Napoleon Bonaparte who befriended him.

Etienne-Nicolas Méhul
Operatic Overture
''The Two Blind Men of Toledo''  
(Comic Opera in 1 Act)
January 1806 - Paris

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-M-PJ2OgDDM&feature=related

« Last Edit: June 30, 2009, 02:27:11 AM by robnewman »

Drasko

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Re: Étienne Méhul
« Reply #13 on: June 30, 2009, 03:53:25 AM »

robnewman

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Re: Étienne Méhul
« Reply #14 on: June 30, 2009, 04:29:39 AM »
Have you ever tried search function?

http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,10349.0.html

Yes, it's interesting. In fact, I always use it when I am searching for something. But not when I've found something worth sharing.  ::). Nor do I watch television when I am sleeping, nor write when I am swimming.

Have you ever tried -

Etienne-Nicolas Méhul
Operatic Overture
''The Two Blind Men of Toledo''  
(Comic Opera in 1 Act)
January 1806 - Paris

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-M-PJ2OgDDM&feature=related

?



« Last Edit: June 30, 2009, 04:42:23 AM by robnewman »

Offline Sylph

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Re: Étienne Méhul
« Reply #15 on: March 19, 2011, 07:11:30 AM »
Certain passages in his opera are relevant for the study of orchestration.