Méhul, Etienne Nicolas


Méhul, Etienne Nicolas

Symphony No. 4 in E-Major

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Étienne-Nicolas Méhul – Symphony No. 4 in E Major

(b. Givet, 22. June 1763 – d. Paris, 18. October 1817)

Étienne-Nicolas Méhul was one of the most important and influential composers of revolutionary and Napoleonic France. Arthur Pougin, in his 1889 biography (Méhul: sa vie, son génie, son caractère) stated that Méhul was not only one of France’s greatest musicians, but was “one of the most noble and purest geniuses that France has produced.” Boris Schwarz, in French Instrumental Music Between the Revolutions (1789-1830), wrote that Méhul was “one of France’s truly great composers . . . . [he is] the most characteristic representative of the ‘revolutionary’ style [and] . . . one of the main sources of 19th century musical Romanticism.” Today, however, Méhul’s music is rarely performed. The BBC Proms archive shows no performances of Méhul’s music since 1922 and no performances of symphonies. The Boston Symphony performed Méhul regularly from 1881-1919, once in 1928, but not again until 1991 (though also as recently as 2018). None of these performances featured symphonies either: they were either pieces drawn from opera (especially the tenor aria “Vainement Pharaon … Champs paternels, Hébron, douce vallée!” from Joseph et ses frères), or opera overtures.

Méhul was born on 22 June 1763 in Givet, located in the Ardennes region of northern France. Givet lies on the Meuse River and is surrounded on three sides by Belgium. In 1793, the population was just over 4,000. His father, Jean-François Méhul, was maître d’hôtel for the Count of Montmorency and, after the Count’s death, a wine merchant. Méhul had three sisters and was the second oldest of the siblings.

Méhul began his musical education with an unnamed “old organist, poor and blind” who played the organ at Récollets, a Franciscan convent established in Givet. By age ten, Méhul was perfoming on this same organ, possibly after the death of his mentor. Pougin quotes the musicologist and composer François-Joseph Fétis (1784-1871): “In the absence of masters, Méhul possessed instinct, which guided him . . . . Without being a strong or skillful artist, Givet’s organist at least had the wit to discern the genius of his pupil, to make him foresee his intended destiny, and to prepare him for better lessons than the ones he could give him.” …


Full preface / Ganzes Vorwort > HERE

Score No.



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210 x 297 mm





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