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ClassicsOnline Home » MAYR, J.S.: Samuele [Oratorio] (A.L. Brown, Bernhard, Trost, Hamann, Simon Mayr Choir, Ingolstadt Georgian Chamber Orchestra, Hauk)
Influential, popular and prolific in his day, Bavarian born Simon Mayr left his mark in providing a bridge between Northern classicism and the bel canto of Italy, his adopted country of residence. The oratorio Samuele deals with the calling of Samuel as a prophet, and was written in 1821 for the consecration of Pietro Mola as Bishop of Bergamo. Mayr set his oratorio to the Poesia of one of his pupils, Bartolomeo Merelli, the collaboration resulting in a fascinating work which combines theology with dramatic innovation such as the use of ‘melodrama’ or spoken text.
By Göran Forsling
By Henry Fogel
By Raymond J Walker
Simon Mayr (1763–1845)
Azione Sacra in Due Parti
Libretto by Bartolomeo Merelli
Samuele – Andrea Lauren Brown, Soprano
Anna – Susanne Bernhard, Soprano
Elcana – Rainer Trost, Tenor
Eli – Jens Hamann, Bass
Simon Mayr Chorus
Figlia/Figlio 1 – Nelli Born, Soprano I
Figlia/Figlio 2 – Julia Chalfin, Soprano II
Figlia/Figlio 3 – Tizia Hilber, Alto I
Figlia/Figlio 4 – Dorothea Spilger, Soprano II
Harald Thum, Tenor I • Gintaras Vysniauskas, Tenor II
Haukur Haraldsson, Bass • Gedvidas Lazauskas, Bass
Ingolstadt Georgian Chamber Orchestra
Born in the Bavarian town of Mendorf, near Ingolstadt, in 1763, Simon Mayr was the son of a schoolteacher and showed some early ability as a musician. He was a pupil at the Jesuit College in Ingolstadt, before entering the university to study theology, while continuing to demonstrate great versatility as a musician. His musical training, however, only began in earnest in 1787, when a patron, noticing his talent, took him to Italy. There, from 1789, he studied with Carlo Lenzi, master of the music at Bergamo Cathedral. There followed, through the generosity of another patron, a period of study with Bertoni in Venice. His early commissioned compositions were largely in the form of sacred oratorios, but in 1794 his opera Saffo was staged in Venice. His turning to opera owed much to the encouragement he received from Piccinni and Peter von Winter, and other operas followed for Venice and then for La Scala, Milan, and for other Italian theatres, with an increasingly large number of performances abroad. In 1802 he followed Lenzi as maestro di cappella at the cathedral of Sta Maria Maggiore in Bergamo, becoming director of the cathedral choir school three years later. Mayr held these positions until his death in 1845. As a teacher he won the particular respect of his pupil Gaetano Donizetti. He did much to promote the knowledge of the Viennese classical composers, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, in Italy. His own style reflects something of this, but essentially in an Italian context. He was, needless to say, immensely prolific as a composer, with nearly seventy operas to his credit between 1794 and 1824, and some six hundred sacred works.
Bartolomeo Merelli and the Libretto of Mayr’s Samuele
SAMUELE / AZIONE SACRA / ESPRESSAMENTE COMPOSTA / PER L’ARRIVO / DELL’ILLUSTRISSIMO E REVERENDISSIMO / MONSIGNOR / PIETRO MOLA / VESCOVO DI BERGAMO / DA CANTARSI / NELL’ACCADEMIA DEGLI ALLIEVI DELLE LEZIONI CARITATEVOLI / DI MUSICA / ADDETTI ALLA CAPPELLA DI SANTA MARIA MAGGIORE / SOTTO LA DIREZIONE / DELLA / CONGREGAZIONE DELLA CARITÀ / BERGAMO / DALLA TIPOGRAFIA CRESCINI / 1821
The libretto by Bartolomeo Merelli for Samuele with music by Simon Mayr is provided with 66 footnotes, and at first glance it seems more like a short scholarly treatise than a work of poetry, which it claims to be, Poesia di Bartolomeo Merelli. Bartolomeo Merelli was born in 1794 in Bergamo, and died in 1879 in Milan. He is remembered as an opera librettist, providing texts for Simon Mayr, Nicola Vaccaj, Gaetano Donizetti, Francesco Morlacchi, and Paolo Brambilla, and also as a theatre director, especially for his work in Milan and Vienna. His son Eugenio followed in his father’s footsteps as an impresario in Venice, Vienna and Paris. Bartolomeo Merelli was a pupil of Mayr and a good friend of Donizetti. To understand the Poesia, the poem that Merelli wrote for Samuele, with all its footnotes, one has to consider the occasion for which the oratorio was conceived, the appointment of the new bishop Pietro Mola in Bergamo in the spring of 1821. On 8 April 1821 the bishop’s consecration took place in Milan cathedral, on 12 May Mola arrived in Bergamo, and on 2 June Samuele was performed in the great hall of the Congregazione della Carità MIA during a concert by pupils of the Lezioni caritatevoli. Pietro Mola was not a stranger to Bergamo. As a priest he was known for his previous work at the city’s cathedral and with the conductor Mayr. In his honour the calling of Samuel is portrayed, and the composition could well be described as a ‘tribute oratorio’. Through his footnotes Merelli supports his contention that the text is based on Holy Scripture and its accepted interpretation. The libretto for Samuele thus becomes a theological text, worthy of the clergy.
What are Merelli’s sources? First, he mentions in his preface il divino Ecclesiastico, referring to the Book of the Wisdom of Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, which numbers among the so-called Deuterocanonical books. Much of the Wisdom of Jesus Sirach has become proverbial, for instance ‘Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein’ (compare Ecclesiasticus 27, 26). Merelli’s first note concerns the prophet Samuel in the Book of Sirach, c. 46, vv.16–23. Merelli’s verse citations correspond to those in the Vulgate.
Samuel, the prophet of the Lord, beloved of his Lord, established a kingdom, and anointed princes over his people.
By the law of the Lord he judged the congregation, and the Lord had respect unto Jacob.
By his faithfulness he was found a true prophet, and by his word he was known to be faithful in vision.
He called upon the mighty Lord, when his enemies pressed upon him on every side, when he offered the sucking lamb.
And the Lord thundered from heaven, and with a great noise made his voice to be heard.
And he destroyed the rulers of the Tyrians, and all the princes of the Philistines.
And before his long sleep he made protestations in the sight of the Lord and his anointed, I have not taken any man’s goods, so much as a shoe: and no man did accuse him.
And after his death he prophesied, and shewed the king his end, and lifted up his voice from the earth in prophecy, to blot out the wickedness of the people.
Ecclesiasticus is cited several more times by Merelli. For the most part, however, he refers to the most obvious source, the first Book of Samuel, as, for example in Hannah’s hymn of thanks (Annae Canticum), which provides the idea and model for the text of the aria and chorus ‘Di gioja il cor mi palpita’ CD 1 . The first Book of Samuel c.2, vv. 1–11, begins as follows: ‘My heart exults in the Lord, / My strength is exalted in the Lord […]’. Several psalms are paraphrased, such as Psalm 91 (in the Vulgate’s numbering), corresponding to Psalm 92 in the King James Bible, in the hymn of the chorus ‘Delle tue glorie’ CD 2 . Merelli refers to the Book of Leviticus, the Book of Isaiah and the Book of Deuteronomy. He interprets names, saying that Anna means ‘full of grace’ and Samuele ‘given by God’, and he explains facts, for instance that infertility was perceived as humiliating by Jewish women; he comments on Jewish customs, and apart from the study of the scriptures, he refers to music teachings and musical practice for the praise of God with voices and instruments. In this respect Merelli does not restrict himself to the Bible, but names authors of whom he has personal knowledge, Giovanni Granelli, Saverio Mattei, and Augustin Calmet. Apart from all these cross-references, which mostly pertain to theological ideas, one specific annotation reads like a definition from a musical encyclopedia—the one by Pietro Lichtenthal had not been published at this time. I am referring to the explanation of the ‘Melodramma’ on page 31f, note 2: Samuel’s prophesy is set to music as what the French and Germans call melodrama. The intention seems to be to claim that Mayr is now discovering this form for Italy. Merelli finds that this genre, with speech interrupting the music, is the most appropriate for emphasizing the word of God at special moments, so that it is exposed in all its purity and force. Mayr experiments with this form in the Melodramma CD 2 , where a monophonic choir of soprano voices divides the melodrama, which is initially shaped with alternating music and speech, and then is transformed into speech to music.
English translation by Bernd Müller
Samuele and its Sources
Samuele was written for the celebrations of the installation of the new Bishop Pietro Mola in May 1821. Mola (1755–1829) was already a canon and priest at the Cathedral of Bergamo, and well acquainted with Mayr. The commission for the work came from the Congregazione della Carità MIA (Consorzio della Misericordia Maggiore), and the first performance took place on 2 June 1821 in the course of an Academy in the great hall of the Congregazione in Bergamo, with the students of the Lezioni caritatevoli. Giovanni Corini appeared in the principal rôle of Samuel, Giacomo Cantù as Elcana, Girolamo Forini as the High Priest Eli and Giovanni Battista Rossi as Anna.
In 1824 Mayr sent a score of the oratorio, with a dedication, to Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma and Piacenza. The apparently missing accompanying letter was first delivered a year later, so that the score would first have been passed on to the Duchess in 1827. As a reward Mayr received a gold casket.
The election of Pietro Mola was announced in the press on 14 September 1820. Pierangelo Pelucchi raises doubts as to whether Mayr could have prepared such a substantial work in such a relatively short time and suspects an earlier occasion for the composition¹. Norbert Dubowy establishes ‘that Mayr set a special value on his Samuele, composed in 1821’², an opinion later accepted also by Anja Morgenstern³. These writers were certainly not aware that a considerable part of this oratorio consists of parodies. The duet Or più cara CD 1  comes from the opera Atar (1814) with the text Più ridente, the chorus Ah! qual fragor! CD 2  from the opera Fedra (1820) with the same text, and the quartet Ah, madre CD 2  from the opera La rosa bianca (1814) on the text Ah di gioia. From the oratorio Atalia, that was performed in Naples in 1822, but had already been written in 1820/1821, Mayr took several numbers: the chorus Chi di sì was adapted to Chi di purpurea chioma CD 1 , the accompanied recitative O sol to Delle festose turbe CD 2 , the duet Che sento to Che tento! CD 2 . The F major Marcia CD 1  comes from Alonso e Cora (1803), and the Marcia religiosa CD 2  also from Atalia.
¹ P. Pelucchi, L’oratorio Samuele, in: Giovanni Simone Mayr: L’opera teatrale e la Musica Sacra, Atti del Convegno Internazionale di Studio 1995, hrsg. von F. Bellotto, Bergamo1997, S. 380ff.
² N. Dubowy, Mayr und das Oratorium—das Beispiel Samuele, in: Beiträge des 1. Internationalen Simon-Mayr-Symposiums vom 2. bis 4. Oktober 1992 in Ingolstadt, hrsg. von K. Batz, Ingolstadt 1995, S.115.
³ A. Morgenstern, Die Oratorien von Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845). Studien zu Biographik, Quellen und Rezeption (Mayr-Studien 6), München 2007, S. 175.
Biblical narrative (I Samuel, c. 1–3): The childless Anna, second of the wives of Elcana, prays for a child. She promises to dedicate a male child to the Lord. God hears her prayer and Samuel is born (I Samuel, c. 1, vv. 1–20). After her son has been weaned, she brings him to Shiloh and dedicates him to the Lord (I Samuel, c. 1, vv. 21–28). Anna prays in thanksgiving. Samuel is entrusted to the priest Eli (I Samuel, c. 2, vv. 1–12). Samuel’s parents come each year to offer sacrifice and see their son grow (I Samuel, c. 2, vv. 12–26). A man of God prophesies the fall of the house of Eli. His sons are guilty of desecrating the sacrifical offerings (I Samuel, c. 2, vv. 27–36). Samuel receives the first revelation of the Lord and is called as a prophet (I Samuel, c. 3).
The libretto of the oratorio adheres strictly to the biblical narrative of the Old Testament. Samuel’s parents with their children and followers are on their annual journey to Shiloh. The oratorio opens with a general hymn . In the following duet Elcana and Anna rejoice at their coming meeting with Samuel and sing of their love for their child . The climax of the first part is the song of Anna, an aria with chorus , a paraphrase of the biblical song of thanksgiving (I Samuel, c. 2, vv. 1–12). The following march symbolizes the journey of the Israelites to the Temple . A general hymn , praise of the Creator, ends the first part.
The second part of the oratorio concentrates on the calling of Samuel as a prophet. It begins in the chambers of the priest Eli. The foreboding of the revelation prevents him sleeping. Three times has Samuel been called. Eli understands that it is the voice of the Lord. In his prayer  Eli seeks grace (on account of God’s anger against his sons) and a sign of God’s will. In the subsequent duet  Samuel tells Eli of the divine prophecy, his calling and the threatened destruction of the sons of Eli. The next day the sacrifice takes place. This makes Samuel’s calling public. The beginning of the festival is marked by a march of the young priests and Levites, Marcia religosa  and the chorus Delle tue glorie . Mayr tries to give the song scriptural authenticity: “Giovani istruiti a cantar le Lodi al suono di musicali strumenti, i quali profetavano, ossia cantavano co’ salterj, coi timpani, colle tibie, e colle cetere. (Lib. Reg. I cap. x. c. 5)” (Young men taught to sing praises to the sound of musical instruments and who prophesied or sang with psalteries, with drums, with trumpets, and with citherae). Now Samuel meets his parents . Then he stands alone at the centre of events. Eli invites Samuel to start the rite and to light the sacrifical flame. The scene begins with a prayer, Dio immortal, benefico . Then Samuel speaks in a prophetic ecstasy, set as a melodrama . The text is spoken, accompanied by a small instrumental ensemble, solo violin, solo cello and harp. The finale of the oratorio is in several parts. The Levites doubt the prophesied divine punishment . A storm breaks and thunder and lightning stupefy the doubters . In conclusion they sing of the new prophet, Samuel , but he disclaims the praise: the glory belongs to God alone.
English translation by Bernd Müller
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MAYR, J.S.: Samuele [Oratorio] (A.L. Brown, Bernha...