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Méhul, Etienne-Nicolas
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Méhul, Etienne-Nicolas

(Born; Givet, 22 June 1763; Died; Paris, 18 Oct 1817). French composer. Trained as an organist, he was taken to Paris in 1778 or 1779, where he became a pupil of J. -F. Edelmann; he published keyboard sonatas in 1783 but worked mainly on setting opera librettos, developing the opéra comique tradition of Grétry and Dalayrac. Euphrosine (1790) and Stratonice (1792) made him famous throughout France. In 1793 he joined the staff of the Institut National de Musique and began producing civic pieces in the republican vein, notably the Chant du départ ; from1795 he was an inspector of the new Conservatoire. Although the failure rate of his operas after 1800 increased, their overtures were successful (La chasse do jeune Henri incorporates hunting-calls) and many numbers became popular. He turned to symphonic writing: the two published symphonies (1808-9) are, with the tuneful Joseph (1807 ; his most famous opéra comique and last important stage work), the climax of his achievement. In structure they resemble Haydn's, but in rhythmic drive and unity the G minor symphony is comparable to Beethoven's Fifth. As an opera composer Méhul is important for his exploitation of the orchestra - he expanded the cello's role and made extensive use of stopped horn notes and subdivided strings (his opera without violins, Uthal, 1806, is well known) - and for his use of the reminiscence-motif and chromaticism to convey psychological or atmospheric description. Beethoven's trumpet-calls in Fidelio and Weber's scoring and use of reminiscence-motifs are alike indebted to Méhul.

Dramatic music Euphrosine (1790); Stratonice (1792); Le jeune Henri (1797); Ariodant (1799); Uthal (1806); Joseph (1807); Les amazones (1811); La journée aux aventures (1816); Circa;25 others; ballet music

Vocal musicMass, AFlat; (?1804); cantatas, incl. Chant national du 14 juillet 1800 (1800); patriotic hymns, songsInstrumental music4 syms.; music for wind ensemble; chamber pieces; 6 keyboard sonatas

(c)Groves Dictionaries, MacMillan Publishers Limited, UK

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