Étienne-Nicolas Méhul – La chasse du jeune Henri
(b. Givet, 22. June 1763 – d. Paris, 18. October 1817)
There is a saying that timing is everything. This is true in music as it is in life, and doubly so in the case of Étienne Méhul’s concert overture La chasse du jeune Henri.
La chasse du jeune Henri (“The Young Henri IV’s Hunting Expedition”) is an early piece of program music by Méhul. It began its life as an opera overture, and has continued to have great success as a standalone piece in the concert hall due to its stirring and evocative score. The opera for which it was composed, however, has slipped into the dustbin of history – victim, among other things, of poor timing.
When the French Revolution began in 1789, the 26-year-old Méhul was just beginning his career as an opera composer. He had written one opera, Alonzo et Cora, which was initially accepted by the Académie Royale de Musique (the famous Paris Opèra). However, the Académie was also in dire financial straits, and decided to shelve the work in favor of surer box office hits. With no proven operatic success to his name, Méhul could not be picky about his collaborators as he looked for his next project. He soon decided to set an opera libretto by another up-and-coming artist, Jean-Nicolas Bouilly (1763-1842). Bouilly had first offered this libretto about Henry IV (1553-1610) – the first Bourbon king of France – to André Ernest Modeste Grétry (1741-1813), arguably France’s most successful living opera composer. Grétry rejected the libretto, but Méhul accepted it. …
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