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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Monday, June 22

Mehul's "interesting" times and tunes

Synopsis

There is an ancient curse, popularly attributed to the Chinese, "May you live in INTERESTING times!" The French composer Etienne-Nicolas Mehul, who was born on this date in 1763, certainly lived and worked in an "interesting" time, politically and musically speaking.

His creative life spanned both the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire, and since Mehul live and worked in Paris, he found himself at the epicenter of some extremely "interesting" events. As one of the leading French composers of his day, he was commissioned to write patriotic works for state occasions, and had friends and supporters in high places, including Napoleon himself.

His operas, both dramatic and comic, were greatly admired by his contemporaries, although sometimes these proved too "politically incorrect" for the Parisian censors.
Beethoven (not always "P-C" himself) was a Mehul fan, and borrowed some striking theatrical effects from one of Mehul's operas to use in his own opera, "Fidelio."

Apparently this admiration—and the borrowing—was reciprocated. The last movement of Mehul's First Symphony (in g minor) shows the impact of Beethoven's dramatic Fifth Symphony (in c minor) of a few years earlier.

Even after Mehul's death in 1817, his works continued to be admired, studied, and imitated by later composers like Weber, Berlioz, and Wagner. These days, sad to say, Mehul's works are only occasionally heard in performance or on recordings.

Music Played in Today's Program

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul (1763 - 1817) Symphony No. 1 Les Musiciens du Louvre; Marc Minkowski, cond. Erato 45026

Additional Information

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