Méhul was born in Givet and was first taught by the German organist Hanser. He came to Paris in 1779 with a letter of recommendation for Gluck. He studied further with the Alsacian harpsichordist Jean-Frédéric Edelmann, who probably introduced him to the music of Mozart and C. P. E. Bach; under this influence, he composed his first two opus numbers of keyboard sonatas. The delay with which the Académie royale staged his first opera, Cora, in 1789, made Méhul turn to the Opéra-Comique, where he would have his greatest triumphs. Euphrosine is the first example of a new genre of opera-comique, characterized by the heroic style, that “iron music” meeting so well the new expectations of the audience during the French Revolution. Stratonice, Mélidore, Ariodant are as many examples of works bursting out the narrow framework of the former comédie with its many ariettas, and transforming the opéra-comique into the crucible of the future romantic opera. Méhul’s strive to ever greater dramatic expressivity made him a master in orchestration, as he proved it during the imperial period with Uthal, an ossianic drama written without violins. Between 1808 and 1810 he also wrote his five symphonies. But with Joseph, a biblical drama, his glory was ensured throughout Europe in the 19th century. Like David, the painter, Méhul’s style changed with the French political upheavals; during the Bourbon Restoration, he wrote La Journée aux aventures, an opéra-comique with Ancien Régime accents, very much worthy of Beaumarchais. He died of tubercolosis in 1817.
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