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ClassicsOnline Home » MAYR: L'Armonia / Cantata sopra la morte di Beethoven
Born near Ingolstadt in Bavaria, Simon Mayr spent the greater part of his career in Bergamo, a flourishing cultural and economic centre in the early nineteenth century. An important figure in the promotion of Viennese classicism in Italy, he combined, in his own style, the legacy of Vienna with the dramatic and melodic genius of Italy, and held a dominant position in Italian opera before the emergence of Rossini. Mayr’s L’Armonia was written in 1825 for a visit to Bergamo by the Emperor, followed in 1827 by his Cantata for the Death of Beethoven, a work which contains allusions to Wellington’s Victory, the Sixth Symphony, the Mass in C major and the oratorio Christus am Ölberg, which Mayr had performed in 1826 in Bergamo.
Simon Mayr (1763-1845)
L'Armonia • Cantata for the Death of Beethoven
L'Armonia – Azione drammatica per soli, coro ed orchestra
(Harmony – Dramatic Cantata for Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra)
Testo dell'abate Giovanni Battista Baizini (Baisini)
(Text by Giovanni Battista Baizini (Baisini)
Da eseguirsi in occasione che la sacra Cesarea Apostolica Maestà di Francesco I Imperatore e Re onorerà di Sua Augusta presenza la Regia Città di Bergamo, il XXX giugno MDCCCXXV
(To be performed on the day on which His Sacred Imperial Apostolic Majesty Franz I, Emperor and King, honours with his noble presence the Royal City of Bergamo, 30 June, 1825)
Leader of the Bards - Talia Or, Soprano
Leader of the Soldiers - Altin Piriù, Tenor
Leader of the People - Nikolay Borchev, Bass
Bards, Soldiers, People - Simon Mayr Choir
(Soloists: Anne Borchers, Angelika Huber, Miriam Galonska,
Valer Georg, Barna Sabadus, Bastian Ziegler, Christian Eberl, Ivan Orescanin)
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 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.
L'Armonia: A state visit: Bergamo, 1 July to 2 July 1825
A full programme awaited Emperor Franz I (II), Empress Caroline Augusta and Archduke Viceroy Franz Karl, son of the Emperor, with his wife Sophie, a Bavarian Princess and step-sister of the Empress, during their two day visit to Bergamo. The official state visit began on 1 July 1825 at eight o'clock in the morning with both boys' and girls' schools being visited. The Emperor visited the new workshop built by the seminary, followed by the Santa Grata Monastery, the higher schools, lycées and secondary schools. The Empress paid a visit to the Accademia Carrara, the famous educational school of painting and to the Ursuline Convent and also the orphanage for girls, the so-called Conventino, founded by Giovanni Battista Piazzoni, was visited. The illustrious guests went to Mass in the Cathedral, and afterwards to the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore and the Colleoni Chapel. The Emperor was particularly interested in the manufacturing industry and economy of Bergamo, and in the silk spinning of Messrs Carissimi. The grand market, a trade fair starting traditionally not before 22 August, was "brought forward" for the time of the imperial visit. The most important merchants were ordered to attend so that the Emperor might be given a good impression of the flourishing economic life of Bergamo. In particular new machinery was proudly presented at this occasion. The collector and garden enthusiast Franz I examined the great botanical collections in the Maffei house and garden. A musical presentation then awaited the Emperor, performed by the pupils of the Simon Mayr Music School. In fact the entire city of Bergamo presented itself in all its splendour and glory. At the end of the imperial visit Simon Mayr's cantata L'Armonia was performed on 2 July 1825 at the Riccardi Theatre. On 7 July Bergamo's newspaper Il Giornale d'Indizi Giudiziari, N° 27, reported:
"The Riccardi Theatre was honoured by the presence of the Imperial Couple, the Archduke Franz Karl and Archduchess Sofia, the Archduke Viceroy and the Archduchess Vicereine on this evening [of 2 July]. They visited an azione drammatica entitled L'Armonia, which was expressly presented by the city especially for this happy occasion. For this purpose the acclaimed Mayr composed the music. The extremely talented Sanquirico provided the stage design. The presence of Their Majesties and their illustrious company was a source of exceptional delight to the assembled audience, manifesting itself in the expressions of enthusiasm of the public. The proceeds of this performance were donated to charity and thus charity and popular tribute were brought together into one of the happiest occasions our city can boast".
Simon Mayr's biographer, Girolamo Calvi, reports that Mayr's L'Armonia, "his last composition for theatre", was very successful and was very much enjoyed, especially the chorus for soprano and alto voci bianche, "Scendi de' cantici alma custode". Emperor Franz and his wife were said, according to his biographer, to have praised Mayr so highly that the composer returned to his house on this happy evening with tears of joy in his eyes.
The Political Message of L'Armonia
L'Armonia as an azione drammatica means a musical play enacted on stage with stage setting and scenery. It is in the spirit of a Serenata or Licenza, a homage to the sovereign and thus symbolic in character.
The harmony of the spheres made use of by Baizini and Mayr contains an implicit political message which was surely recognised by the audience of the time. Baizini proves to be an erudite librettist, as he knows how to insert Latin quotations into his poetry. He refers to Ovid (Epistulae ex Ponto II, 9, 48) adde, quod ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes emollit mores nec sinit esse feros (Truthful learning of the noble arts renders the character gentle nor allows wildness). A quotation from Virgil in connection with the flute-playing shepherd appears (P. Vergilius Maro, Ecloga I, 6-10: Tityrus): O Meliboee, deus nobis haec otia fecit (Meliboeus, a god created for us this leisure). The first scene also makes reference to the merchants of Bergamo (Orobia), to wine, maize and to Carissimi's silk, all of which the Emperor surely enjoyed during the fair given in his honour.
The Characters in L'Armonia
Bards, not unknown in contemporary literature, were part of the cast of L'Armonia. In the Dictionnaire de musique moderne of Castil-Blaze we read the following: "Bards were respected men among the Germans, Britons, Caledonians and Gauls; they were judges, musicians and warriors at the same time. The most famous of these were Fingal and his son Ossian, who lived about 260 AD. Fergus, a contemporary of Fingal and Ossian, was just as famous a poet as they were. Ossian was in a duel and growing weak; Fergus saw this from his place and urged him on anew with his songs, thus inflaming him to victory". For the German poet Klopstock, musical performance was a weapon for the bard that could become dangerous for the adversary. In this respect, in addition to song, the bards' instrument, the harp (which Simon Mayr knew well how to include in his compositions as a special instrument) also came into play.
Rudolf I of Habsburg
Rudolf I is deemed to be the first prominent member of the Habsburgs. He was born on 1 May 1218 at Limburg castle in the Breisgau area and died on 15 July 1291 in Speyer. He was elected Roman-German King on 1 October 1273 and his coronation took place later in Aachen on 24 October in the presence of the electors. Almost a year later on 26 September 1274 Pope Gregory X gave his papal approval recognising him as King. The third scene of L'Armonia says: Rodolfo onor de' Cesari, invitto Eroe (Rudolf, honour of Emperors, undefeated hero). Otto von Habsburg describes the "statesmanship of Rudolf as a powerful policy of peace", and the first scene of L'Armonia refers to the peace "Europe enjoys". "I am the Rudolf von Habsburg of my family", is said to be a statement of Napoleon's.
King Ottokar of Bohemia
King Ottokar II Pfimysl was born around 1230 and died in 1278 at Dürnkrut. He ruled from 1251 to 1278. Ottokar opposed Rudolf's election as he himself strove for the kingship. In 1275 he was deprived of the fiefdom of Bohemia and Moravia and fell under the ban of the Empire. In 1276 he lost Austria and on 26 August 1278 he was defeated and slain by enemies on the run at Dürnkrut in the Marchfeld region. Ottokar showed great affinity for music and the arts and made Prague a cultural centre.
A Concession for Emperor Franz and Empress Caroline Augusta
On the night of the performance there were some remarkable departures from the libretto, such as in the last scene, where Emperor Franz is called by his name, and a section which is dedicated to the Empress. It was well known in Bergamo that Karoline Augusta was charitable. The money which she personally had at her disposal was mostly used for charity, schools, orphanages and hospitals. The honoured guests as well as the public were unprepared for this direct homage as the official printed libretto made no mention of the changes. It was a surprise which surely did not fail to have an effect.
The Religious Message of L'Armonia
The above-mentioned quotation of Virgil O Meliboee, deus nobis haec otia fecit could also be interpreted in a Christian sense. The harmony of the spheres, the divine order, became present on earth and brought about a kind of Golden Age which was then destroyed by war but was renewed by restored peace. The divine glory shines on the sovereign and therefore forces him continuously to seek peace and prosperity and to cultivate and promote the arts. The religious message is transformed into a moral and political one, a plea to the sovereign. The librettist not only refers to antiquity but also to the Old Testament: "Isacide", Jesse's son, in the libretto of the fourth scene of the first act, where reference is made to the harpist King David. In the opening chorus of L'Armonia, Mayr offers another text, a hymn to St Cecilia, who represents Fair Harmony. This Hymn to St Cecilia is found in the autograph copy in Bergamo and in the copy in Venice, suggesting the popularity of the hymn. The last scene of L'Armonia is set in a sacred place, a temple, and raises a hymn to holy harmony (Inno all'Armonia sacra). The connection between the music of the spheres and divine harmony appears in Mayr as in the sonnet by Angelo Mazza dedicated to St Cecilia, Versi sull'Armonia (Verses on Harmony), a poem by which the composer set much store.
Cantata for the Death of Beethoven
Simon Mayr and Beethoven
Simon Mayr performed the works of Beethoven in Bergamo and was one of the leading figures furthering the acceptance in nineteenth-century Italy of Viennese classical music.
The Cantata for the Death of Beethoven was composed in Bergamo for the Unione filarmonica in 1827. A more exact date is not known. Mayr presumably wrote the composition in a rush as it contains parts of Mayr's cantata written for Haydn's death and Luigi Cherubini's Chant sur la mort d'Haydn, of which Mayr made a transcription. Mayr presumably wrote the libretto himself. The first part deals with mourning on the death of Beethoven. The second part deals with the appreciation of his works, the finale being a cheerful song of praise. Text and music allude to compositions by Beethoven: Wellington's Victory, the Sixth Symphony, the Mass in C major and the oratorio Christus am Ölberg, which Mayr had performed in 1826 in Bergamo.
Beethoven was for Simon Mayr the Dante of music "Dante della musica". The composer notes in his records, the Zibaldone:
"A study of Beethoven undeniably proves that he dedicated himself with constant perseverance to two years study of theory and probably knew all the rules and requirements, yet in the aftermath his genius freed itself from these chains of slavery. His creative genius - far ahead of present and past - defied many a thing anchored in norms of antiquated origin."
Sung texts with English translations can be found at www.naxos.com/libretti/l'armonia.htm
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