Departmental Honors Project Title
Date of Award
College of Liberal Arts
Although Etienne Nicolas Méhul is relatively unknown today, he was greatly respected by his contemporaries, including Beethoven, Cherubini and Berlioz. He rose to popularity and notoriety during the most turbulent years of the French Revolution, when most intellectuals fled for their lives, and yet he managed to maintain his status as a favorite of the people. From an examination of some of his operas - Euphrosine (1790), Ariodant (1799), Adrien (1792, 1799), and Horatius Coclès (1794) - it is apparent that Mehul used thinly veiled allegories to express his views. His heroes in these operas were Romans, Scottish nobles, and Crusaders; his libretti referred to France's history, but they represented political figures and scenes of his time. Mehul was also famous for his revolutionary anthems, which might have protected him from harsh critiques from the censor. While musicologists like M.E.C. Bartlet and David Charlton studied Mehul's works mainly for his musical innovations, my research uses an historian's lens to examine the libretti, scores, and the reviews of these operas. My findings reveal that Mehul was not only an excellent composer, but also a critic of the regime who sometimes knew how to overcome censorship through allegorical expression in libretti and musical themes.
Dotson, Savannah J., "French Opera and the French Revolution, Etienne Nicolas Mehul" (2014). Departmental Honors Projects. Paper 25.