In 2017 we will celebrate the bicentenary
of the death of Étienne-Nicolas Méhul
(1763-1817), an avant-garde composer
who introduced the notion of musical
Romanticism to France.
The Palazzetto Bru Zane will devote
a fil rouge thematic programme to him
between January and June.

Born in Givet, Méhul received a basic grounding in music from the German organist, Hanser. He arrived in Paris in 1779 with a letter of recommendation for Gluck, and continued his training with the Alsatian harpsichordist, Jean-Frédéric Edelmann, who probably introduced him to the music of Mozart and Carl Philip Emanuel Bach. It was under this teacher’s influence that he composed his first two sets of keyboard sonatas. Because the Académie Royale de Musique took so long to stage his first opera, Cora, Méhul turned to the Opéra-Comique, in 1789, which was to be the scene of his greatest successes. Euphrosine was the first example of a new type of opéra comique characterised by the heroic style, a “music of steel” which was perfectly in keeping with the new expectations of audiences during the French Revolution. Stratonice, Mélidore and Ariodant were all works which broke out of the narrow confines of the former comédie mêlée d’ariettes (comedy mixed with short arias) and transformed the opéra comique into the crucible that spawned the French Romantic opera. Méhul’s quest for ever-greater dramatic expressivity made an orchestral virtuoso of him, as can be seen from Uthal, an Ossianic opera composed without violins during the French Empire. It was during this period, between 1808 and 1810, that he also composed his five symphonies. However, it was his biblical opera, Joseph, which was to establish his reputation in Europe in the 19th century. Like the painter David, the development of Méhul’s style reflected the political upheavals in France; during the Restoration, he composed La Journée aux aventures, an opéra comique with an “Ancien Régime” flavour, which could have been written by a composer such as Beaumarchais. Méhul died of tuberculosis in 1817.

There is in his music at once grace,
refinement, splendour, a great deal
of dramatic movement, and explosions
of passion of terrifying violence and authenticity. Hector Berlioz

First modern performance of ‘Mass in A flat major (formerly attributed to Méhul)’
September 29, 2016 – Festival de Laon (France)
October 1, 2016 – Beethovenfest, Bonn (Germany)
January 24, 2017 – MC2, Grenoble (France)
March 10, 2017 – Théâtre de Nîmes (France)
March 11, 2017 – Chapelle Royale du Château de Versailles

The so-called ‘Mass for the Coronation of Napoleon’, attributed to Méhul for almost two centuries, appears in the light of the most recent research to have been written by the Austrian composer Franz Xaver Kleinheinz (1765-1832). But the reason for this apparent hoax is still unknown . . . It will be recreated by the orchestra Les Siècles and the Flemish Radio Choir under the direction of François-Xavier Roth.

Méhul Gala in London
February 10, 2017
St John’s Smith Square

This programme will present Méhul the master of pre-Romantic opera in all its forms, through numerous excerpts from his stage works juxtaposed with contemporary pieces by Gluck, Kreutzer, Mozart, Salieri and Beethoven. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment will perform them on period instruments, accompanying the tenor Michael Spyres.