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Symphony no. 5 unfinished

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Andante – Allegro

Mainly known for his operas and revolutionary songs, Méhul was unbelievably successful, almost despite himself, in the Parisian concert hall after 1797, when the overture to Jeune Henri was added to the repertoire. After an initial phase of composing instrumental works largely to address the needs of Republican celebrations in 1797 and 1798, he turned away from this genre and only returned to it at the end of the first decade of the 19th century. Emboldened by his position at the Conservatoire and the success of his ballets, he put on performances of four new symphonies which—unlike his earlier ones—were numbered and published. A fifth, in Amajor, probably sketched from 1810, remained unfinished. Méhul was distracted from his work by official commissions arising from the wedding of Napoleon and Marie Louise. Then, ill with tuberculosis and hard hit by disputes in the Paris theatres, he probably lacked enough energy to complete a score that was never to comprise more than an Andanteand an Allegro. Like the rest of his symphonic output, this work follows in the footsteps of Joseph Haydn, while showing an awareness of the arrival of Beethoven’s symphonies in Paris. Méhul tended to adopt a more spirited, lively style: evidenced as much by the intelligence of the Andante’s orchestration as by the rhythmic workings of the Allegro (with its pronounced use of timpani). The musicologist David Charlton warns us that this symphony, like all symphonies by this composer, is not a light work by a famous opera composer wanting to turn his back briefly on his own particular field—we have here some important passages of instrumental writing alternating both charm and vigour.



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