JOHANN SIMON MAYR (1763 - 1845)
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. He continued to demonstrate great musical versatility, but his training as a musician only began in earnest in 1787, when a patron took him to Italy. There, from 1789, he studied with Carlo Lenzi, maestro di cappella of the Bergamo Basilica of Sta Maria Maggiore. 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; other operas followed for Venice, then for La Scala, Milan and other Italian theatres, with an increasingly large number of performances abroad. In 1802 he followed Lenzi as maestro di cappella at Sta Maria Maggiore in Bergamo, establishing a free music school three years later. Mayr held these positions until his death in 1845. As a teacher he won the particular respect of his pupil 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: he had nearly 70 operas to his credit by 1824, and some 600 sacred works.
Mayr’s operas started with his Saffo ossia I riti d’Apollo Leucadio in Venice in 1795. His L’amor coniugale, based on the same original French drama as Beethoven’s Fidelio, was first staged in Padua in 1805.
Mayr’s cantatas include occasional works, such as L’Armonia, written for a visit by the Emperor to Bergamo in 1825 and his 1827 Cantata on the Death of Beethoven. His oratorio David in spelunca Engaddi (‘David in the Cave of Adullam’) was first heard in Venice in 1795.