About this Recording
8.572492 - PAER, F.: Santo Sepolcro (Il) (The Holy Sepulchre) [Oratorio] (Simon Mayr Choir and Ensemble, Hauk)
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Simon Mayr (1763–1845)
Invito (Invitation)

Miriam Clark, Soprano • Valer Barna-Sabadus, Alto
Klaus Steppberger, Tenor • Thomas Stimmel, Bass

Ferdinando Paër (1771–1839)
Il Santo Sepolcro ossia La Passione di Gesù Cristo (The Holy Sepulchre, or The Passion of Jesus Christ)

Text by Abate Pietro Bagnoli

Maddalena (Mary Magdalene) – Cornelia Horak, Soprano
Giovanni (St John) – Vanessa Barkowski, Alto
Nicodemo (Nicodemus) – Thomas Michael Allen, Tenor
Giuseppe d’Arimathea (Joseph of Arimathaea) – Jens Hamann, Bass

Simon Mayr Chorus and Ensemble
Directed by Franz Hauk


Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845): Invito

Johann Simon Mayr was born in 1763 in Mendorf, part of the Bavarian town of Markt Altmannstein, and baptized on 14 June 1763 in the church of St Leodegar. He became known all over Europe and even further afield as one of the most famous opera composers of his time, the father of Italian opera.

Simon Mayr had his first music lessons with his father Joseph, an organist and school-teacher in Mendorf. For further schooling he attended the Benedictine monastery at Weltenburg. In Ingolstadt he was given a scholarship at the Jesuit theological college, and in 1777 enrolled at the first Bavarian State University at Ingolstadt. He worked as an organist and a collection of his first compositions, Lieder beim Klavier zu singen (Songs to be sung at the Piano) was published in 1786 in Regensburg.

In Baron Thomas von Bassus, who with Adam Weishaupt was one of the founders of the Order of the Illuminati, Simon Mayr found an important patron. Through him Mayr was able to visit Poschiavo around 1787, and then Bergamo and Venice. In the latter city he studied with Ferdinando Bertoni, the musical director of San Marco. As Maestro di coro, Mayr taught at the Ospedale dei Mendicanti, one of the famous conservatories for women in Venice, and for them he wrote his first oratorios and motets. This was followed by a fruitful period as an opera composer.

In 1802 Mayr was appointed music director of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo, a position he held to the end of his life, despite receiving tempting offers elsewhere. With his tireless activity he re-established the musical life of Bergamo, not only composing, but conducting performances of works by Handel, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. In 1806 he founded a music school, later to be named after Gaetano Donizetti, who was born in Bergamo. This school, in which musically gifted boys from poor backgrounds not only received a thorough musical grounding, but were also given a good general education, became the model for similar institutions all over Italy. Donizetti was Mayr’s most famous pupil. Mayr died in Bergamo on 2 December 1845.

Le tre ore di agonia—the prayers devoted to the three hours of Jesus’s death throes, probably originated in Lima in Peru. From the second half of the seventeenth century this tradition of the Passion was promoted by the Peruvian Jesuit Father Alonso Messia Bedoya, who published a collection of texts, prayers, meditations and chants for the Three Hours. In 1767 the Jesuits were banished from Peru, but with their influential work in Europe, these special prayers and meditations on the last words of Christ were also disseminated there. These devotions on the Passion, the tres horas, were very popular in Spain, and especially in Italy in the late eighteenth century. The tre ore traditionally begin on Good Friday at about noon and end at three o’clock in the afternoon in remembrance of the hour of Christ’s death. The meditations were preceded by the so-called Invito, an introduction and request: an invitation to hear the last words of Jesus and to meditate on them.

Joseph Haydn’s Seven Last Words are in the same devotional tradition:

‘About fifteen years ago I was asked by a canon at Cadiz to write an instrumental piece on the seven words of Jesus on the cross.

‘It was usual at the time to perform an oratorio every year during Lent in the main church at Cadiz, the effect of which would have been greatly enhanced by the following preparations. The walls, windows and pillars of the church were covered in black cloth, and only one large lamp hanging in the middle illuminated the holy darkness. At noon all doors were closed: then the music began. After an appropriate prelude the bishop mounted the pulpit, prononced one of the seven words and delivered a meditation on it. When this was finished, he climbed down from the pulpit and fell to his knees before the altar. This pause was filled by music. The bishop entered and left the pulpit a second, third time, etc., and each time the orchestra would strike up after the end of his meditation.

‘My composition had to be appropriate to this performance. The task to deliver seven Adagios, each of which would have to last about ten minutes, one after another without tiring the audience, was not one of the easiest: and I soon found I could not hold to the prescribed time frame. The music was originally untexted and was printed in this form. Only later was I persuaded to include the text.’

This was how Joseph Haydn himself described the origins of his work in the preface of the subsequent Breitkopf and Härtel vocal edition in March 1801, describing his compositions for Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze (The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross). The Seven Last Words were conceived and composed as a commission for the grotto church of Santa Cueva in Cadiz for Holy Week 1787. It has been suggested, however, that Haydn might have already completed the original compositions in 1785.

Simon Mayr not only performed Haydn’s Schöpfung (The Creation), but Haydn’s Seven Last Words in his adopted home town of Bergamo. The relevant materials from Mayr’s papers have been preserved in Bergamo, but since Haydn’s work lacked a vocal Invito, Mayr had to write this addition to the score for performance in the Italian tradition. In the present recording Mayr’s Invitation introduces Ferdinando Paër’s Passion oratorio, Il Santo Sepolcro, which ends with the rejoicing of the resurrection.

Ferdinando Paër (1771–1839): Il Santo Sepolcro

Ferdinando Paër was born in Parma in 1771. He received his first music tuition from his father Giulio Paër (Per), who served as a trumpeter with the Guardie del Corpo, the ducal bodyguard, from 1769 to 1771 and was engaged as horn player in the orchestra of the court theatre from 1778 until his death on 20 March 1790. Giulio Paër played at weddings of the nobility in Colorno, and Giacomo Puccini, the Maestro della Cappella Palatina in Lucca, great-great grandfather of the well-known opera composer, described him in 1774 as an excellent musician ‘in the palace as well as in the church’. In the Catalogo Alfabetico / De’ Sig:ri e Sig:re che concorrono alle / spese della Festa della BV Maria / Madre del Buon Consiglio posta nella / Preposturale Chiesa della / SS.ma Trinità / di Parma / 1770 there is a mention of ‘Per Sig.r Giulio = tromba – per la festa della BV Maria’. According to this, Giulio Paër was engaged for the Marian celebration in the church of SS. Trinità in Parma. Giulio Paër celebrated the birth of his son Ferdinando, named after the duke, on the 1 July 1771 with a joyous and brilliant fanfare. Castil-Blaze is of the opinion that the child was given his name by Duchess Maria Amalia. Ferdinando Paër studied with Gian Francesco Fortunati (1746–1821), the maestro di cembalo e di canto of the Principessa, director of the singing school and organiser of theatre productions, as well as the cellist Gaspare Ghiretti (1747–1797). On the occasion of a visit by the Swedish king in 1784 Paër performed as a singer. Sacred works mark the beginning of his career, among them a threepart Mass with organ accompaniment of 1791, and In caelesti Hyerachia, the Sequenza di S. Domenico, also in three parts, with organ. A piano concerto was performed in April 1791. His first opera, Il tempo fa giustizia a tutti (Time Brings Justice to All), was heard in 1792 at the Teatro Ducale in Parma. Even with his early works Paër proved to be an imaginative composer of vocal and instrumental scores. In 1792 the Duke of Parma bestowed on him the title of Maestro di Capella onorario, but a fixed annual salary was only given him in 1797 as Maestro di Cappella sostituto alle incombenze tutte del Reale servigio. In the same year, 1797, Paër went to Vienna with his wife, the singer Francesca Riccardi (1778–1845). It seems, however, that he only acquired a permanent position at the Imperial court in 1801/02. In 1802 he moved to Dresden with his wife, and in 1804 the Dresden court offered him employment for life, but Paër changed sides to Napoleon, or rather Napoleon took the composer into his service in 1807. Agatha Kobuch reports that Dresden Court Chamberlain, Joseph Friedrich Freiherr von Racknitz, and the ambassador in Vienna, Johann Hilmar Adolph Graf von Schönberg, had recruited the Paërs to Dresden. Paër’s early departure is only to be explained in the context of the political circumstances of the time. After the twin battles of Jena and Auerstedt in October 1806 Napoleon opened negotiations with Saxony. Count Wilhelm von Bose was sent to Napoleon in Berlin, in an attempt to sign peace and friendship treaties with him. Paër was caught in the diplomatic interchange, being handed over by the Elector of Saxony to the French Emperor, as it were. From 15 January 1807 Paër was engaged for life at a salary of 18,000 Livres, ‘his wife being awarded a salary of 30,000 Livres, with 10,000 Livres for expenses over twelve years, additionally with the promise of an extra contribution of 1000 ducats for life’. From this moment on Paër worked in Paris until his death in 1839: from 1812 to 1827 as director of the Théâtre italien (together with Rossini from 1824 to 1826) and especially at the Conservatoire. Together with Simon Mayr, Ferdinando Paër may be considered one of the most important composers of Italian opera around 1800.

In the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, 24th year, No 30 of 24 July 1822, column 495f., a report was published about the sacred music performed on Good Friday and Holy Saturday of 1822 in Dresden in the Kreuzkirche, the Neustadt church and the Catholic Court Church: ‘Dresden, the 24 of June 1822. I am again sending you a report on our musical news from Easter to St John the Baptist’s Day of this year. In the Catholic Court Church they played the oratorio Il Santo Sepolcro, composed eleven or twelve years ago by Paër. Paër is too good an opera composer to be expected to produce church music of the highest quality as well. When he was last in Dresden, he was, however, also engaged as a church composer, and probably wrote this work after receiving a commission for it. It proves that he made a serious attempt not to lapse into theatrical style, although he was not always successful in this. As the text gave him few opportunities for recitative, but all the more for polyphonic settings and choruses, his composition gains in variety and interest; it is, by the way, melodically fine and effectively orchestrated. The newly engaged Basso, Signor Zezi, sang the bass voice, which principally consists of a great aria with choir, with a strong, if perhaps not yet fully developed voice, which promises much for the future. The performance was, as can always be expected of our ensemble, of the highest quality.’ The critic stresses that Paër was ‘too good an opera composer’, which is undeniable when listening to his oratorio. ‘Variety and interest’ is attributed to the work, due in part to the text, and it is held to be ‘melodically fine’ and effectively orchestrated. The text was written by Abate Pietro Bagnoli (c. 1767 (before 1790) –1847), translated into German by the Oberkriegskommissar, poet and musician Johann Leopold Neumann (1748–1813). Il Santo Sepolcro is said in 1822 to have been composed ‘eleven or twelve years ago’. There is a reminder of Paër’s Dresden engagement: ‘When he was last in Dresden, he was, however, also engaged as a church composer, and probably wrote this work after receiving a commission for it.’ Il Santo Sepolcro was first performed in Dresden in 1807, and the work is in the tradition of the Passion oratorios of the court ensemble for Holy Saturday. Further performances followed in 1811, 1818, and 1822.

Iris Winkler


Il Santo Sepolcro ossia La Passione di Gesù Cristo (The Holy Sepulchre or The Passion of Jesus Christ), sometimes wrongly assumed to be two separate works by the composer, was first performed in 1803 in Vienna. The text of Il Santo Sepolcro begins with the death of Christ, reflected in the context of salvation-history in recitatives, arias, ensembles and choruses. There is no preliminary sinfonia. The orchestral introduction is integrated into the Introduzione, brusque sforzato accents and the key of C minor indicating drama and death. In a trio, Maddalena (Mary Magdalene), Giovanni (John), and Giuseppe d’Arimatea (Joseph of Arimathaea) mourn the lifeless corpse of Christ, whose countenance is shielded by the wings of the quickly arriving angels: Sacri marmi [2]. The angels’ choir which has joined them refers to the paradise now acquired for mankind and turns sorrow to hope: Pallido! Esangue! [3]. The following recitative looks back on the pain and grief of the bereaved: Oh duolo! [4]. Mary Magdalene, John and Joseph of Arimathaea, assisted by the chorus of followers of Jesus, describe the terrible events of the crucifixion; the music is shaped by dotted rhythms. Nicodemus appears and reports again how the curtain of the temple was rent asunder, the earth shook and the sun darkened. The chorus refers to the beginning and works itself into a frenzy [5], then leads diminuendo to the following recitative, in which the Holy Sepulchre is described as a place of future joy [6]. This textual motif also determines the ensuing aria of John, in part shaped quasi-hymnically by the choir [7]. A contrast is given by the recitative Oh esempio! Mary Magdalene remembers the terrible hours of the crucifixion, and Paër illustrates this with lashing rhythms, tremolos, and repeating figures [8]. In the aria Oh Dio!, the theme is her despondency and despair about the wrong done, while the quieter middle section becomes a plea for forgiveness [9]. In a secco recitative John and Joseph of Arimathaea first talk about Christ’s selfless act of salvation, before the question arises: Where are the disciples? The answer is first given by Nicodemus in his recitative Desolati, vaganti [10], then by the women’s chorus Profugo, incerto, an original scherzo, musically depicting the fleeing ones. Now Jesus’s mother Mary becomes the centre of attention, beginning with the recitative E la Madre [11], followed by a great aria, in which Nicodemus first sings about Mary‘s strength: Tutte, la donna forte. Paër weaves in concertante instruments: the two clarinets and two cellos [12]. Mary‘s pain is taken up again in the recitative Gran donna dei dolori [13], then in the duet of Mary Magdalene and John, Tra l’inumane squadre in E major [14]. The chosen people of Zion are said to be responsible for the crime (recitative O di popol da Dio). Mary Magdalene, John, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathaea tell of the horrors of revenge in the quartet Piomberà, a central, large-scale segment of the oratorio. But death shall not triumph; Christ will rise in glory, as is presaged by a solemn E major chord at the end of the next recitative [15]. Joseph of Arimathaea and the chorus sing of reconciliation and love under the sign of the cross in the aria Più non sarà [16]. As the last recitative tells of the end of the world, tremolos accompany the prophesy of John [17]. The finale begins with a scene of the Last Judgement; three trombones, previously not heard, are deployed to accompany the entrance of the Heavenly Supreme Judge in an impressive and individual manner. But the pleas of the four soloists, preceded by a solemn wind setting, will not remain unheard in the face of God’s promise: a celebratory chorus concerning the eagerly awaited joys of heaven concludes the oratorio [18].

Franz Hauk

English versions by Bernd Mueller

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