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8.570752-53 - MAYR, J.S.: Tobia, o Tobiae matrimonium [Oratorio] (Simon Mayr Choir and Ensemble, Hauk)
Simon Mayr (1763–1845)
Oratorio for soloists, choir and orchestra
Raguel, the father - Judith Spiesser, Soprano
Simon Mayr Chorus and Ensemble
As far as the sacred drama Tobiae matrimonium is concerned, only the year of its performance, 1794, is known, but neither the exact date nor the specific occasion on which it was performed. The Gazzetta urbana veneta reports on an oratorio by Anfossi which was given at the beginning of Lent in the Ospedale dei Mendicanti: Domenica della scorsa settimana nella Chiesa di quest’Ospitale de’ Mendicanti si cantò con applauso un Oratorio del celebre Sig. M. Anfossi, […] (Last Sunday [9 March], in the Church of the Ospitale de’ Mendicanti a performance of an Oratorio of the renowned Sig. M. Anfossi, […] was received with applause.)
The oratorio Tobiae matrimonium was performed perhaps at Easter or Whitsun. It cannot be determined in which order Mayr wrote this oratorio and the Passion for Forlì which also dates from 1794. A letter from Mayr of 5 July 1794 to his pupil Angiola Venturali, whom he married in 1796, contains a vague clue. In it the composer mentions work on an oratorio: Il mio oratorio s’avvanza a passo lento, poichè per dire il vero, non ho troppo voglia a travagliare intorno ad esso; il perchè Lei sà. (My oratorio is progressing slowly, since, truth to tell, I’m not very keen on going to a lot of trouble over it; you know the reasons why.) If this letter referred to Tobiae matrimonium this passage could be interpreted as being a reference to Mayr’s personal relationship with Angiola Venturali and as a clue to the period of the oratorio’s origin. In this letter Mayr also mentions work on an arrangement of his ‘last symphony arranged for harpsichord’. It seems reasonable to suppose that this is the Sinfonia to Tobias.
The source is the Biblical story of Tobit (Chapters 1–14). The impoverished and blind Tobit, because of his compassion for his tribal brothers, is derided by his wife Hannah, so he turns to God in prayer (Chapters 1–3). At the same time, in Ecbatana in Media, Raguel’s daughter Sara is praying to God. She too is being reproached, but by her maids, because a demon has already killed seven of her husbands on their wedding night. Tobit, concerned for the well-being of his family, sends his son Tobias to Rages in Media to demand the return of some money once lent in trust (Chapter 4). On the journey Tobias is accompanied by the Archangel Raphael—under the name of Azariah (Chapter 5). At the River Tigris Tobias catches a fish. Raphael asks him to set aside its liver, heart and gall-bladder (Chapter 6, 1–9). In Ecbatana Raphael helps him to achieve a happy marriage with Sara by roasting the fish’s liver and heart (Chapter 6). The couple return to Tobit’s homeland (Chapter 10, 8–14). With the help of the gall-bladder Tobias heals his father (Chapter 11). Azariah reveals himself to be a messenger of God (Chapter 12). Tobias starts to sing a hymn of praise in honour of God (Chapter 13).
Simon Mayr’s work Tobiae matrimonium is just one of countless oratorios on the subject of Tobias dating back to the seventeenth century. Although it is thought by Jews and reformed Christians to be apocryphal it is considered by Catholics to be part of the deutero-canonical books of the Bible and it has enjoyed considerable popularity in art.
Tobias oratorios were also written for the ospedali of Venice. The subject seems to have been especially popular in the Ospedale dei Mendicanti. From this institution alone four libretti have come down to us: Tobias (1723, by an unknown composer), Tobias (1773) by Bertoni, Tobias reditus ad patrem (1780) by Anfossi and Mayr’s Tobiae matrimonium (1794). Another oratorio, Tobias redux, written in 1716 by an unknown composer for the Ospedale della Pietà, has survived. On the occasion of the visit to Venice by Pope Pius Vl in 1782 Galuppi set the Italian libretto of Carlo Gozzi’s Il ritorno di Tobia. The cantata was sung at the Ospedale degl’Incurabili by girls chosen from all four of Venice’s ospedali. The choice of this subject-matter can be understood as a reference to the Pope’s return to Rome.
In many of the Tobias oratorios Tobias’s return and the healing of his father Tobit are central to the action, as for example in Joseph Haydn’s Il ritorno di Tobia (1775/1784). In Haydn’s oratorio the wedding is merely referred to in a short recitative sung by Raphael after the return from Ecbatana. In contrast Mayr’s oratorio has the wedding of Tobias and Sara as its sole subject—the only one among the ospedali works to do so. All the characters are taken from the Biblical source. But from time to time Foppa, the librettist, certainly changed freely the names of the characters as they appeared in the Biblical story. So Raguel’s wife is here called Anna, not Edna, as in the original. Anna was actually the name of Tobit’s wife but she does not appear in the oratorio.
The libretto is based on only a part of the Tobias story. Foppa adapted his text from Chapters 3, 7–15 and 6–8 from the Book of Tobit, as it appears in the Vulgate. He uses some narrative themes for large dramatic scenes, such as the fish episode by the River Tigris or the wedding night scene with the expulsion of the devil. All the characters in the libretto are taken from the Biblical source.
The action of the oratorio opens in Raguel’s house (Domus Raguel). A chorus laments Sara’s fate. Although her father has given up any hope of his daughter’s being delivered from the demon (“spes est vana”), Sara trusts in God: “Non omnes, Deo favente, peribunt Sponsi mei”. Her mother too is god-fearing (“faciat Deus”) and comforts Sara and promises her happier days. Her optimistic attitude corresponds to the relevant verses in the Bible: “Her mother dries her tears and comforts her: have faith, my daughter…” (Tobit 7, 17).
Then comes a change of location: Tobias and his companion find themselves by the River Tigris. (Amoenissimus ager; ubi fluvium Tigris). The reason for the journey (old Tobit’s blindness and worries) plays no part in Mayr’s oratorio and was assumed to be well-known by the public. As Tobias goes to bathe in the river he is startled by a huge fish. Raphael asks Tobias to catch it. Tobias’s horror and fear at the appearance of the creature are expressed in such vividness only in the Vulgate (Tobit 6, 3). The passage in the libretto sticks closely to the verse in the Vulgate. After a general rejoicing to God Raphael orders Tobias to keep the fish’s innards and explains to him the reason for doing so: the aroma given off by smoking the fish’s heart and liver will drive out demons. At this point the two threads of the action, which up to now have been running independently of each other, come together. Tobias and Raphael meet Sara and her father at Domus Raguel. Tobias and Sara fall in love and he asks for her hand in marriage. Raguel places Sara’s fate in Tobias’s hands and entrusts his daughter to him, if she will consent to it. Tobias is unafraid and woos Sara successfully. At the end of Part 1 of the oratorio Raguel carries out the marriage. With mixed emotions Tobias and Sara wait for nightfall.
At the beginning of Part 2 the angel calms Raguel’s anxieties, whose doubts are entirely in accordance with the picture which the Bible paints of him. The anxious father turns to God and begs for the lives of the children. After this the action concentrates on the wedding night.
In the bedroom (Cubiculum) Tobias asks his wife to get up and to pray to God. Then comes Sara’s prayer. Here the librettist deviates from the Biblical story, in that Sara’s prayer happens at the start of the account of the maids’ reproach of her (Tobit 3, 10–15). On the wedding night it is Tobias who says the prayer but, to be precise, at the expulsion of the demon (Tobit 8, 7–9). Sara’s prayer “Tu cui servi sunt terrae sunt coeli” (CD 2, Track 7) harks back to Tobias’s prayer in the Vulgate: “Domine Deus patrum nostrum benedicante te caeli et terra et mare fontes et flumina et omnis creatura tua que in eis sunt” (Tobit 8,7). In the Assyrian-Babylonian world the use of smoking was a common method in the after offering a prayer to the Creator, since demons too are His creations. That is the reason for Raphael’s utterance at the river: “Fumi e virtute fugiet daemon”. Tobias prepares a fire on which he cooks the fish’s heart and liver. Foppa makes use of this narrative moment for a further big dramatic scene (Trio for Tobias, Sara and Raphael) (Tobit 11, 3) (CD 2, Track 9).
As the smoke rises the demon appears and comes to blows with Tobias. Raphael takes the demon captive: “En relegavi monstrum in deserto Superioris Egypti” (CD 2, Track 10). When Sara goes happily to embrace her bridegroom Raphael intervenes. He commands her to live in abstinence for three days and nights in order to prove her humility before God and to face her husband in pure love. In the next aria “Serena cor turbatum” (CD 2, Track 12) the angel pacifies the indignant Sara. This command in this version is also found only in the Vulgate. In Tobit Chapter 6, 16–22 Raphael explains in detail the driving out of the demon and the command for abstinence.
This having been accomplished successfully, Tobias repeats the command in respect of Sara (Tobit 8, 4): “Sara exsurge deprecemus Deus hodie et cra et secundum cra quia istis tribus noctibus Deo iungimur tertia autem transacta nocte erimus coniugio”. In Foppa’s oratorio Sara rebels against this because she thinks that she will be separated from her husband once again. Angrily she urges Tobias to obey and to show fear before God. The librettist makes use of this delaying tactic to depict God’s punishments with a kind of ‘biological catalogue’, as Helen Geyer puts it: roaring lions, hissing dragons, howling wolves and raging winds, among other things. After these horrific visions Tobias pacifies his wife. His consoling aria “Terge, o chara, tuas pupillas” (CD 2, Track 14) invokes a happy future for them both.
The Book of Tobit: On the Biblical background to Simon Mayr’s Oratorio ‘The Marriage of Tobias’
Since the Book of Tobit was written in Greek, probably in the second century BC in Palestine, it has as its goals religious and moral instruction. The didactic writing, under the cloak of an historical story, makes free with history and geography. Admittedly, the narrator places Tobit in the period of Israel’s exile to Assyria, yet he also has half an eye on the future—to the situation of Israel’s diaspora—after the downfall of the kingdom of David. The devout Israelite now often lives alone, without the protection of his own political system and in jeopardy in a pagan environment. To the question of how a solitary believer should behave in such a situation, the Book of Tobit gives an exemplary answer: whoever trusts in this god and in the traditions of the fathers can also experience, like Tobit, the saving grace of God in the troubles of the world’s diaspora.
In the story a moving sense of family emerges, with a very high regard for the state of marriage. The angel Raphael is revealed and at the same time conceals the work of God, whose instrument he is. The Biblical Book of Tobit invites one to recognise God’s divine providence in everyday life and to know God closely, a God who makes everything turn out well in the end.
The libretto for Simon Mayr’s The Marriage of Tobias selects narrative episodes from the Biblical Book of Tobit, from a musico-dramatic perspective.
In Part 1:
In Part 2:
The Angel’s instruction (‘obey my order and be quiet!’) adds dramatic intensification (Tobias: ‘Obey’—Sara: ‘You! Callous one!’) to Tobias’s final aria and to the finale. ‘Heaven alone will provide everything…the true wealth’ is the pledge of the choir of the Ospedale dei Mendicanti, which, through the libretto’s romantic happy ending, lights up the Biblical message of the Book of Tobit.
The Oratorio Performance Practice of the Mendicanti
The musical life of the Ospedale dei Mendicanti began to develop at the beginning of the seventeenth century at the same time as that in the other conservatoires for women—to the Ospedali dei Derelitti, Incurabili and Pietà—but it also joined forces with the other ospedali for special occasions. Notable maestri were wooed by the Venetian ospedali. Strangers and travellers—among them Johann Wolfgang Goethe—listened attentively to the music, were enchanted by the voices of the women of Venice and recognised not least the splendour and might of La Serenissima (the Republic of Venice). By 1794, the year in which Simon Mayr’s oratorio Tobiae matrimonium rang out from the choir of the Mendicanti, not much of the former kingdom of the Maritime Republic remained. Economic crises put a strain on the Republic and with them the financing of the musical performances at the Mendicanti. Mayr received no fee for the oratorios which he wrote for the choir of the Mendicanti but admittedly, as a rule, a successful performance of an oratorio acted as a springboard for an opera commission.
The musical life of the Mendicanti had begun in 1604, with twelve women singers; a coro, including instrumentalists, was added in 1749, making sixty members in all, even seventy by 1761. Furthermore, apart from the main maestro there were a number of teachers, maestri who taught and who could direct a performance on the side. In 1794 there were six maestri and eighteen choir-girls, though there were only seventeen in 1795. But in 1795 there were eight ‘guest-daughters’, ‘figlie a spese’ (paid girls), who studied music at the Mendicanti in return for payment. Such a course of study was officially banned in 1795. In the archives of the Istituzione di Ricovero e di Educazione in Venice are documents concerning the rehearsals and performance of a ‘Tobia for the Ospedaletto’ written for the Ospedale dei Derelitti in August 1795 for the celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
The oratorio was a gift from Count Antonio Piovene. The composer of the cantata Tobia reditus ad Patrem was named as Ferdinando Paër. ‘Professors’ and additional musicians were engaged to reinforce the chorus: three violinists, a violetta, two oboes and two horns. There were three rehearsals altogether: two on 12 August, one on 13 August and then performances on 14 and 15 August. Rehearsals and performances of other oratorios were also documented in a similar manner.
Even if evidence such as newspaper reports or documents about Paër’s Tobia reditus ad Patrem were not available for Simon Mayr’s performance of the oratorio Tobiae matrimonium in Venice, the rehearsal and performance conditions in the Ospedale dei Mendicanti would have been similar to those which pertained at the Ospedaletto. One musical source has been preserved in Venice: Mayr’s handwritten piano arrangement of the opening Sinfonia, which is in the Seminary Library.
No autograph score of Tobiae matrimonium has survived. In the Biblioteca civica Angelo Mai (Civic Library Angelo Mai) there is one Venetian copy (I-BGc, Mayr 162/3). On the cover of the first volume we find a note in Mayr’s hand: scritto per li mendicanti / Venezia 1794 (written for the Mendicants/Venice 1794). The library of the Conservatorio in Milan has another copy of the score and some vocal parts (I-Mc M.S. ms. 187.1 e bis), partly of Venetian origin. The Milanese version, which was clearly made with Mayr’s involvement, suggests a four-part vocal line-up, in which an original Latin text is amplified with an Italian version, which changes the structure of the work. For instance, the rôle of Anna was dropped and Mayr replaced an aria intended for Raguel with another and composed an additional one. Furthermore the musical structure of certain numbers has been reworked in detail. Unfortunately nothing has been discovered as yet about the circumstances and dates of the individual performances of Tobiae matrimonium.
In comparison with other Venetian oratorios Tobiae matrimonium contains certain specific problems:
The overture is missing. In the Milan vocal parts there appears the remark: ‘dopo la Sinfonia’ (‘then comes the Sinfonia’), an indication that in performance an instrumental introduction probably would have been placed before this material.
An autograph manuscript held in the library of the Santa Cecilia Conservatorio in Rome contains piano arrangements of two overtures, one the overture to the farce “Che originali”, then a work with the title: “Sinfonia / Del Sig:r Simon Majer/nel Tobia” (I-Rsc, A.Ms 790).
With the help of that, a score was actually found, in the Biblioteca civica in Bergamo, with the heading ‘Ouverture’ and with an (autographed?) appendix di pugno di Mayr (in Mayr’s hand); a score which had been prepared by Mayr’s chief copyist in Venice (I-BGc Mary 244/5); also, stored separately, were instrumental parts comprising fourteen parts: oboes 1 and 2, horns 1 and 2, violins 1 and 2 (x3), viola, cello and double bass (I-BGc Mayr 328/20). The title on the first violin part runs: Sinfonia No. 15. The cello probably sometimes played the part in the score intended for the bassoon, as entries in the score suggested. What is more, Mayr had added to the material, probably later, a single flute part.
The text of the Venetian libretto and that of the score prepared by the Venetian chief copyist, almost certainly for the first performance, are occasionally different. Clearly Nos. 15 to 17 were bound in later, most likely in order to replace Nos. 18 to 21 and to tighten up the plot. Nos. 15 and 18 begin exactly the same with “Vere felix Tobias” and the connecting passages with the duets Nos. 16 and 21 are both accompanied recitatives ending with Tobias’s words: “Ah nunc respiro”.
In her seminal work Die Oratorien von Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845)—Studien zu Biographik, Quellen und Rezeption (Mayr-Studien, 6), Anja Morgenstern asserts that Nos. 15 to 17 were bound together wrongly. Their subject-matter requires that they follow Tobias’s aria “Cedet ipsa” in which Tobias expresses doubts about his winning Sara. Only at the end of the following dialogue does he gain Sara’s approval.’ (p. 65).
Apart from the fact that wrong binding in a score clearly supervised and added to by Mayr could easily be noticed and corrected, Morgenstern asserts that Giuseppe Maria Foppa, the librettist of Tobiae matrimonium, had entered into the Milan version a few pages presumably containing the new texts, which endorses the connection between No. 14 (daemon recedet) and No. 15 in the Venetian score. It is strange that the Venetian vocal parts contain all the numbers from both the original version as well as the additional material. It is possible that the composer authorised both versions.
In contrast to Mayr’s first work, Jacob, there exist no final choruses to the oratorios Sisara, David and Tobia, which were performed in the Ospedale dei Mendicanti in Venice, even though the libretti of both Sisara and David indicate the text of a final chorus. The Milan versions of David and Tobias both end with mixed choruses set to an Italian text to which Mayr has added his signature. The praise of God is the theme of these closing choruses.
Although it was often the practice in Venice to end oratorios performed during Holy Week with the Miserere, as for example new research into the works of Johann Adolf Hasse (1699–1783) shows, whether this was so in Mayr’s case is yet to be clarified more precisely. Such a procedure in this case cannot be ruled out completely.
We have decided to end Tobiae matrimonium with a women’s chorus, which has been rearranged from the mixed chorus ending of the Milan version.
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