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ClassicsOnline Home » MAYR, J.S.: David in spelunca Engaddi (David in the Cave of Engedi) [Oratorio] (Hauk)
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. His oratorio David in spelunca Engaddi (David in the Cave of Engedi), with a Latin text, was written in 1795 for the Ospedale dei Mendicanti in Venice, one of the four great charitable institutions there, known for the musical achievements of its members. The oratorio deals with the conflict between David and Saul, and the refusal of David to harm the Lord’s anointed, in spite of the opportunity offered him.
By John W. Freeman
American Record Guide
By Göran Forsling
The German-born, Italian-trained Simon Mayr is little known today but about a year and a half ago I had for review another Naxos issue with two of his cantatas written in the 1820s. There I also gave a thumbnail biography to which I refer readers. He is not in the class of Rossini or Donizetti, who were his juniors by about a generation – Donizetti was actually his pupil. His music has, however, a distant similarity with theirs but he is at the same time influenced by the Viennese school of Gluck, Haydn and Mozart. This gives his compositions a certain individuality, even though some of the arias here seem to be almost copied from Mozart.
The oratorio David in spelunca Engaddi is from his relative youth and is the last of four such works that he wrote for the Ospitale dei Mendicanti in Venice. The texts were by Giuseppe Maria Foppa, with whom he also collaborated in several operas. This particular libretto has survived in two languages: one in Latin, printed for the performance at the Ospitale and one in Italian. There are also various version of the musical score, one – in Mayr’s hand – with female chorus. There are also sketches and a copy with the chorus scored for mixed voices. Franz Hauk has based this recording on the original autograph but added the sinfonia that opens part two, from the other copy and arranged the final chorus for female voices, since the chorus was missing from the autograph. The Ospitale dei Mendicanti was intended for girls showing musical talent. There they were obliged to undertake ten years of training in the choir. This also explains why all the solo parts are for female voices. It feels initially a bit strange to have King Saul sung by a soprano but the convention of the day was different from our time. Vivaldi half a century earlier also had only women at his disposal and baroque opera featured castrati for male roles. For more variation of sound it wouldn’t have come amiss top have had a couple of lower voices but, as so often, one gets used to it.
The Biblical story is taken from Samuel I, xvi-xxiv. Samuel has anointed David King of Israel. Saul is tormented by an evil spirit and David plays his harp to calm him. David defeats the Philistine, Goliath, in combat and presents Saul with his head. Saul retains David as a member of his household and makes him his chief warrior. Jonathan, Saul’s son, becomes friendly with David. The people’s love of David makes Saul jealous and suspicious. David falls in love with Saul’s younger daughter Michal. Saul then demands the foreskins of a hundred Philistines, thinking that, in attempting this feat, David will be caught by the enemy. David however delivers the required quantity and gets Michal as his wife. Saul’s anger increases and he plans to kill David but Jonathan helps David to flee. Eventually he reaches the mountains of Engedi where Saul catches up with him. Saul falls asleep and David finds him but instead of killing him he cuts a piece from Saul’s robe and then wakes him up by playing his harp. When Saul sees that his life has been spared they are reconciled and the chorus sings: O joyful happy day … all are joined in peace and love.
Being an oratorio it has to be said that Mayr’s version displays little in the way of sacred feeling. There is much overt operatic drama and rather showy virtuosity, and since the chorus has fairly little to do the impression of secular music is further emphasised. True, Handel’s oratorios, also dealing with mainly Old Testament subjects, are also operatic in a way but the important choruses still lend them a veneer of solemnity. This is, however, more a description of the approach than criticism. I found the music very attractive throughout and the drama unfolds without too many preliminaries. The oratorio is in two parts and the structure is quite simple: a sinfonia opens each part, there are recitatives and arias sandwiched with a few ensembles and a couple of duets in between. The recitatives are mostly accompagnato - with orchestra - and they are surprisingly expressive. Melodically and dramatically there are riches in the musical numbers and, just as with the cantatas, I became really fond of this oratorio and will certainly want to hear more of Simon Mayr.
A distinctive Mayr fingerprint is his habit of featuring solo instruments and groups of instruments, not only in the purely instrumental sections but also quite often as obbligato to the singing. In the sinfonia to Part one we hear some charming woodwind; in David’s pastoral first aria (CD 1 tr. 8) we hear an English horn; the long sinfonia to Part Two has a prominent part for harp and Saul’s arioso (CD 2 tr. 18) also features the harp. The oratorio opens with festive music acclaiming David having defeated Goliath and in the final chorus the festive mood returns.
The performance is spirited and full of life. David in spelunca Engaddi was performed in the Assam Church in Ingolstadt on 24 September 2006 and then recorded in the same venue over the following three days. This is a method that has very often proved to be the closest to the ideal recording situation: the participants are well prepared and deeply involved, inspired by contact with an audience. They have all experienced the continuity of the work and are in the same environment. Where the live recording can often be marred by external noises and occasional mistakes by the musicians, in this case there are possibilities of mopping up defects through a second take. The chorus and orchestra, certainly well rehearsed by the enthusiastic Franz Hauk are splendid and the young soloists are truly inspired. Claudia Schneider is a dramatically intense Abner in his only aria (CD 1 tr. 6), which is one of the best things here, Merit Ostermann’s David goes through numerous moods and feelings and is at his/her finest in the trio in Par Two (CD 2 tr. 11) and in the noble aria a bit later (CD 2 tr. 15). Saul is brilliantly portrayed by Cornelia Horak, who has some really virtuoso moments. In the aria (CD 1 tr 11) the coloratura is breathtaking as is the aria in Part two with a very Mozartean first half and a stunningly dramatic second. Jonathan is sung by the bright, glittering and agile Sibylla Duffe who also doubles as the King’s advisor Phalti (CD 2 tr 9), where she glitters even more. The only singer who actually performs as a woman is the Japanese soprano Ai Ichihara as Michal. Her recitative and aria (CD 2 tr. 3-4), where she pleads for her beloved is lyrical and beautiful – another high-spot.
The recording cannot be faulted. There are a total of 46 cue-points on the two discs which facilitates when one wants to return to one’s favourite moments. There are also good notes and a synopsis. The libretto with translations is available on the internet but to get it on paper the printer needs 28 sheets. The stories about Saul and David have been hot stuff for several composers. Marc-Antoine Charpentier wrote an opera in 1688, David et Jonathas, Handel wrote the oratorio Saul in 1739, Carl Nielsen wrote the opera Saul og David in 1902 and Honegger composed his dramatic psalm Le roi David in 1921. Now Simon Mayr’s David in spelunca Engaddi can be added to that list and, though less illustrious than the other names, Mayr need not feel ashamed in their company. Lovers of Italian opera from the latter half of the 18th century and the early 19th century should ponder a purchase. They will be richly awarded.
Simon Mayr (1763-1845) David in spelunca Engaddi (David in the Cave of Engedi)
David in spelunca Engaddi: A swansong for the Ospedale dei Mendicanti in Venice
David in spelunca Engaddi (1795) is the last of four oratorios written by Simon Mayr for the Ospedale dei Mendicanti at the beginning of his career in Venice. The others are Jakob a Labano fugiens (1791), Sisara (1793), and Tobiae matrimonium (1794). The texts of these four oratorios were written by the Venetian Giuseppe Maria Foppa, with whom Mayr was to continue to collaborate for quite some time also in the field of opera. The text has come down to us in bilingual form: a version in Latin is documented by the libretto that was printed for the performance at the Ospedale along with Foppa’s handwritten Italian translation; in addition, there is a version written entirely in Italian. This “bilingualism” is indicative of varying circumstances of performance also suggested by the available sources for the music. A score in Mayr’s hand of the Latin version for female chorus is found in the Civica Biblioteca in Bergamo, although there is a sketch for the Italian version at the end using a mixed chorus (soprano, alto, tenor and bass): the final movement of the original Latin version is missing; it was most probably removed by the composer himself as his draft for the finale in Italian is substituted for it. An additional primary source for the music is held in the Milan Conservatory, where a copy of the score is to be found in its Latin version by Mayr’s principal copyist in Venice as well as the parts copied from it, arranged for a mixed scoring with the Italian text – a significant piece of circumstantial evidence for performance out with the lagoon city since Venice was unique in cultivating a rich musical tradition of competing “female conservatories” where the Latin oratorio had also been fostered. In addition to the sinfonia with a part for the harp preceding the second half of the oratorio or ‘altra pars’, the Milan score contains autographs of two pieces composed later for the Italian version: the additional closing chorus mentioned above; and a new aria for Abner, “Arma l’invidia invano”, in place of Phalti’s only aria “Gaudete o sponsi amantes”; his minor rôle was cut in the Milanese version. Sufficient research has not yet been undertaken into performance conditions in Milan at the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth for anything further to be said in addition to these few facts concerning the transmission of the work.
Franz Hauk has taken the original autograph of the Latin version for female chorus as a basis for the performance of Mayr’s David in spelunca Engaddi at the Assam church, Maria de Victoria. The Milanese version also provided the additional sinfonia to the second part, in which the harp is given a prolific part to play, and arranging the final chorus for women’s voices proved relatively straightforward. Although a linguistic split is apparent, the Italian does not seem too far removed from the Latin libretto: although versed in Ovid and Virgil, the Venetian Giuseppe Maria Foppa’s Latin is the Latin of the late eighteenth century. In the end the librettist undertook the adaptation of the oratorio text for the Italian version himself, thereby altering “David” to “Davidde” in the process.
Four female conservatories developed in Venice as charitable institutions along the same lines as the boys’ conservatoires in Naples. These were: the Ospedali della Pietà, the oldest; S. Lazzaro dei Mendicanti; gli Incurabili; and the Ospedaletto. In all four a teaching model developed more or less along the following general lines with a few variations between the institutions:
Following the ideas of the Order of Somaschi [founded by St Jerome Emiliani at Somasca], the children - boys as well as girls – received instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic as well as training for various professions. The Ospedale dei Mendicanti was associated with the Somascan convents and monasteries as well as the Filippini. Girls who showed signs of musical talent were given the opportunity to join the choir. As choir members, they were obliged to undertake ten years of training. They were also to look after the younger trainees and were each assigned to train one or two of them. Vivaldi made the girls and women of the Pietà famous just as they in turn did the same for him.
This particular coro provided more than just the music for mass on Sundays, oratorios on certain feast days, and vespers: on official occasions and state visits it represented the City of Venice itself. It is also possible that all four Ospedali competed to perform at these occasions. The music provided by the four Ospedali was among the attractions of the lagoon city.
Since the end of the seventeenth century, the Ospedali had endeavoured to operate like banks, which finally led to a major financial crisis following a drop in donations in 1777. This hit the Ospedali hard and maintaining musical establishments became especially difficult for them. Later, through Napoleon’s intervention, musical competition between the Ospedali ceased altogether. With some difficulty, the Pietà alone succeeded in upholding its distinctive musical tradition into the nineteenth century.
David, a shepherd, son of Jesse from Bethlehem; Saul, first king of Israel; Michol/Michal, his daughter; Jonathas/Jonathan, his son; Abner, commander of the king’s army; Phalti, adviser to the king
The Biblical story is taken from Samuel I, xvi-xxiv: Samuel has anointed David king of Israel (xvi, 1-13). Saul is tormented by an evil spirit and has David play his harp to calm him (xvi, 14-23). David defeats the Philistine, Goliath, in combat and presents Saul with his head (xvii). Saul retains David as a member of his household and makes him his chief warrior. Saul’s son, Jonathan, forms a deep friendship with David (xviii). The people love and give David acclaim, thus provoking Saul’s envy and suspicion (xviii, xix). David falls in love with Michal, Saul’s younger daughter. Saul demands the foreskins of a hundred Philistines so that he falls into the hands of the enemy. David delivers the required bridal gift and receives Michal as his wife. Saul’s envy increases (xviii, 10-30) and he plans to kill David. Jonathan intervenes and finally helps David flee (xix-xx). David passes through various places pursued by Saul (xxi-xxiii) before he finally reaches the mountains of Engedi where Saul catches up with him. While Saul is relieving himself in a cave, David spares his life, but secretly cuts off the end of Saul’s robe as proof of his faithfulness and respect. Saul is reconciled with David – temporarily (xxiv).
David has defeated the Philistines. The people acclaim him in the chorus Voces festivae sonent  which aggravates Saul’s anger and envy. Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, attempts to calm him; but in his allegorical aria Adversi fremunt venti  he foresees the danger that threatens the shepherd David. Announced by Jonathan and Michal, the victorious David now appears in humility before his king - En pastor humilis . Saul can scarcely conceal his resentment and hesitates to award David the prize he has promised. In the aria Vade superbe o fortis  he already sees himself triumphing over David who is astonished at Saul’s conduct. Jonathan conveys Saul’s request to Michal that she make her way to the palace. Before doing so she takes her leave of David, and together they declare their love in a duet . Jonathan also assures David of his deep affection - Ah cor meum tu vide o chare. In the royal palace, Saul has again fallen into a rage. David throws himself at his feet and asks for Michal as his bride. But Saul tricks David as he wishes to give him his elder daughter, Merob, instead: Michol Victori non promisi, sed dixi: Filiam victori dabo, et Merob filiam Davidi donabo. David desperately asks for the woman he loves in the aria Tu spernis precantem . In the finale to the first act, all those involved thus far attempt to persuade Saul, but in vain. Finally, commenting on the ominous situation is all that is left to them in the quintet Vos furiae lacerate cor meum in tanto angore .
At the beginning of the second part Michal pleads for her beloved in the aria Sponsum dona pater chare . Saul pretends to yield to her but has long since resolved to kill David - Patri amanti amplexus dona . Michal blithely asks the king’s advisor, Phalti, after David. Phalti comments on the (allegedly) fortunate turn of events - Gaudete o sponsi amantes . Michal, Jonathan and David meet and hesitantly - in versi spezzati - Jonathan informs them that Saul has just ordered that David be put to death. This forewarning causes David to have horrific visions. In a large-scale solo scene followed by a trio largely dominated by David -, he vividly depicts his hopeless fate. He sees a horrible hand writing gruesome characters in blood signifying death and horror. Brother and sister attempt to calm David with oaths of allegiance and together they seize on the idea of escape. Spelunca Engaddi [The Cave at Engedi]. David has reached the cave at Engedi exhausted together with his retinue - solo with chorus Ah quonam vado... / Taciti... incerti... . They hear their pursuers in the distance. Saul himself then enters the cave and falls asleep . David notices him. While his companions ask David to kill Saul, he decides to spare him . David cuts off a piece of Saul’s robe as proof of his loyalty . Then, to wake the king, he plays his harp. As he wakens and becomes aware of David, Saul is again inflamed with anger. He will not be convinced by the token of allegiance, nor is any reconciliation achieved in the heated duet that follows - Ab quaeso serenum / Rebellis ab vade . Only after his children, Jonathan and Michal, renew their pleas does Saul relent - Ratio vincat. A brief chorus of rejoicing O plena jubilo amica dies!  closes the work; in the Italian version, this appears as Oh qual grato mormorio.
English translations: Neil Coleman
The Latin libretto, as well as English and German translations, may be accessed at www.naxos.com/libretti/570366.htm
John Stewart Allitt devoted himself for many years to the recognition of the works of Donizetti and Mayr, with publications on both. In 1992 he instigated and inspired the Symposium on Simon Mayr in Ingolstadt. On 24th Sepember 2006 he attended the performance of David in spelunca Engeddi. Then he bade farewell. On 1st March 2007 this great Mayr scholar died.
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