Saturday, October 26, 2013

Mehul - Le Jeune Henri Overture

The composer Étienne Méhul has been called the most important opera composer in Revolutionary-era France. He followed the reforms of opera as instituted by Christoph Willibald Gluck and is considered one of the first Romantic composers.  He used the leitmotif, music that associates itself with a character or idea in the opera, a device made more well known by Richard Wagner years later.  Berlioz was influenced by Mehul's complete music aesthetic and wrote:
"...In truly dramatic music, when the importance of the situation deserves the sacrifice, the composer should not hesitate as between a pretty musical effect that is foreign to the scenic or dramatic character, and a series of accents that are true but do not yield any surface pleasure. Méhul was convinced that musical expressiveness is a lovely flower, delicate and rare, of exquisite fragrance, which does not bloom without culture, and which a breath can wither; that it does not dwell in melody alone, but that everything concurs either to create or destroy it..."
Méhul had a great feel for orchestral color and changed his orchestration to help convey the action or mood. In the Le Jeune Henri (Young King Henri) Overture he expanded the usual pair of horns in the orchestra to four to depict the young king out in the field hunting with his barking dogs and hunting horns. The overture was written in 1797 is taken from the opera of the same name that was based on an incident in the life of King Henri IV of France. While the opera itself was a failure, the overture was received very well and had to be encored at the first performance. The music depicts the hunt from its beginning in the early morning to the signaling of the horns and the chase of the stag. The overture is also known as La chasse du jeune Henri, Young Henri's Hunt.

Méhul's influence began to wane in the early years of the 19th century, and after years of intrigues against him and the failure of his latest operas, his popularity in France was over. He continued to compose with some of his operas becoming popular in Germany. But his health declined and he died of tuberculosis in 1817.

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