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ClassicsOnline Home » MAYR, J.S.: Concerto Bergamasco / Keyboard Concerto in C Major / Trio Concertante (Bavarian Classical Players, Hauk)
Though revered as ‘the father of Italian opera’, Simon Mayr also wrote large-scale instrumental and orchestral music. His 1820 Concerto in D minor has an ingenious trick up its sleeve: it introduces each of the four soloists in turn with the flute, for example, soloing in the first movement and the clarinet in the second. This elegant, lyrical work hints at Beethoven but also at folklore in a winning way. The assured Keyboard Concerto reveals the influence of Haydn on the German-born Mayr whilst the Trio Concertante is imbued with Mayr’s vivid operatic impulses.
Simon Mayr (1763–1845)
Concerto bergamasco • Keyboard Concerto in C major • Trio Concertante
Simon Mayr, who was born in Mendorf near Ingolstadt, received his early music education from his father, a schoolteacher and organist. The young Simon received further encouragement at the Weltenburg monastery and from the Jesuits in Ingolstadt, before going to Italy around 1790 with the help of Thomas von Bassus and his son Dominicus. Carlo Lenzi in Bergamo and Ferdinando Bertoni, maestro di cappella at St Mark’s in Venice, who was famous at that time, taught the young Bavarian composition and furthered his career. Mayr became so well known in Venice through his oratorios, opera and countless works for the church that he was regarded as a “celebrated maestro”. In 1802 he was appointed maestro di cappella at Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo. He founded a music school there, the Lezioni Caritatevoli di Musica, based on the model of the monastery conservatories which had been largely dissolved, and he attracted distinguished musicians and teachers to Bergamo, which became his adopted city. His most celebrated pupil was Gaetano Donizetti. About seventy operas, which were heard in major opera houses throughout Europe, established Mayr’s reputation as “the father of Italian opera”. In addition to opera, he produced an enormous body of music for the church, Lieder and also several larger-scale instrumental compositions including two completed piano concertos, the Concerto in D minor for Flute, Clarinet, Basset Horn, Piccolo and Orchestra and a Terzetto in A minor for Three Violins and Orchestra.
In his memoirs the violinist, music director and composer Louis Spohr, one of the leading representatives of early German romanticism, gives a personal view of Simon Mayr. Mayr was certainly: “…deeply immersed in the Italian manner and disowned the German almost completely. His way of highlighting and orchestrating the singing line is pure Italian. One really should not be surprised at this, since he lived in Italy from the age of fourteen [in fact from the age of 24] and wrote solely for Italian listeners. I believe that, notwithstanding his inborn talent, he merely thereby raised himself above the others, that he sought always to get hold of superior German works, studied and used them, and indeed the last very often too much. He is much loved and appreciated throughout Italy and especially here [in Naples] and in all respects he deserves to be so, yet as a man he is still a virtuous, modest and humble German. He is very fond of his fatherland and seems only to regret the fact that fate did not allow him to make a career as a composer in Germany. In his adopted Bergamo, where he is maestro di cappella, he wants now (1817) to retire completely and write only for his church.”
The Concerto per Flauto, Clarinetto, Corno bassetto ed Ottavino, as the title on the autograph score has it, dates from 1820. An original feature of this work is that the four solo instruments take it in turns to play. Mayr wrote this concerto “for Sig. Gio:[vanni] Sangiovanni”, who evidently was able to play all four instruments and with this work took the opportunity publicly to show his versatility. The work first appeared in print in 1978 under the title Concerto bergamasco, with some retouching by Heinrich Bauer. The first movement, which begins in D minor but ends in D major, is devoted to the flute alone. Time and again the music-lover can hear in Mayr’s music thematic allusions to the work of other composers, for example Beethoven. The second movement, which begins with atmospheric string pizzicati, is given to the clarinet, which is joined from time to time by a cheerfully sighing solo cello. After an introduction in D minor, which is extended by the solo basset horn, the brief third movement presents a folk-like theme in the relative major before leading with barely a pause into the last movement, Tema con variazioni. The basset horn takes the lead up to the second variation and again in the fifth variation. In the second, fourth and seventh variations the basset horn soloist takes a breather while the remaining orchestral instruments divide up the music between them-selves. In the third variation the flute makes a return with boisterous trills and leaping figures while the clarinet takes the sixth variation con espressione in a sombre F minor. Finally the piccolo also joins in with the abbreviated and, as it were, impatient seventh variation and introduces the Finale with a variant of the original variation theme. All the solo instruments appear once again, playing in order, in a lively 6/8 rhythm while the orchestra follows and joins in dialogue.
Simon Mayr’s Concerto in C major is usually described as a piano concerto. The autograph score, which is housed in the Library of the Donizetti Institute in Bergamo, refers to the solo instrument as a harpsichord. It goes without saying that performances of it on a fortepiano, an instrument which was gaining ground in the last decades of the eighteenth century, and which gradually displaced the harpsichord, cannot be ruled out. The work was probably written around 1800, possibly in Venice. Unfortunately, no title-page has survived, but it can certainly be presumed that the work, like Mozart’s Piano Concertos K 413, 414, 415 and 449, can be performed with a string quartet or with oboes and horns as ad libitum instruments. The solo part plays along in the orchestral ritornelli, in the style of a basso continuo, and Mayr has written out the relevant parts. Something similar occurs, for example, in Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C major, K 246. Stylistically however Mayr’s concertos are closer to those of Haydn, whom Mayr, especially in his early years, much revered. The cadenzas in the first and third movements are by Mayr himself.
Mayr probably wrote the Trio Concertante for Three Violins and Orchestra around 1820, although it is not known for what occasion. What is certain is that the work was first heard under the auspices of the Lezioni Caritatevoli di Musica or of the Unione Filarmonica which was founded in 1823. The Trio begins with an introduction in A minor, sluggishly at first, and interrupted by pauses, rather like an operatic scena. The following Andantino gives the three soloists the opportunity to introduce themselves one after another in an expressive manner. A variation movement follows, whose theme is introduced by the soloists in a bright A major. In the following variations each of the soloists is allowed to shine with his own individual virtuoso figures before they all embark on the Finale and indulge once more in a communal and entertaining dialogue.
English translation by David Stevens
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MAYR, J.S.: Concerto Bergamasco / Keyboard Concert...