About this Recording
8.573419-20 - MAYR, G.S. / DONIZETTI, G.: Gran messa di requiem in G Minor (Simon Mayr Choir and Ensemble, Hauk)
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Simon Mayr (1763–1845)
Requiem in G minor


“The most potent, effective, and certain means of bringing consolation and refreshment to the souls suffering in purgatory is thus the sacrifice of the Mass […]. But the Requiem Mass is of more benefit to the dead than any other holy Mass, because it bears the special fruit needed to succour them, which other Masses do not have. All the prayers, and the whole Rite, are so focused on effectual pleading for solace and relief for the poor souls, and that their torments may be curtailed, that no offertories for the living are incorporated.”—A. Walter, “Das Requiem. Eine liturgisch ascetische Studie”, in: Musica sacra 14 (1881), p.78

Masses for the Dead were celebrated on the day of death, on the day of burial, on anniversaries and on All Souls’ Day. The musical contribution varied depending on the status, importance and affluence of the deceased. Continuing an eighteenth-century tradition, some famous nineteenth-century Requiem settings were written for political rulers—for example, Joseph von Eybler’s 1803 Requiem in C minor, with its Mozartian echoes, written for a memorial service for Emperor Leopold II, or Luigi Cherubini’s Requiem in C minor (1816), which was first heard at a memorial service for King Louis XVI. Cherubini wrote a second Requiem, in D minor, for his own funeral. In the nineteenth century, Requiems were also written for commoners—for soldiers and national heroes, for example, but also for great intellectuals or artists, especially composers and writers. In 1833 Ignaz von Seyfried dedicated a Requiem “to Beethoven’s Manes”; Gaetano Donizetti honoured Vincenzo Bellini in 1835 and Niccolò Zingarelli in 1837 with a Messa da Requiem; in 1868 Giuseppe Verdi launched a multi-composer collaborative project to commemorate the first anniversary of Gioachino Rossini’s death, and in 1874 he created his famous work “per l’anniversario della morte di Manzoni” (“for the anniversary of Manzoni’s death”). An impressive funeral with music is a way of creating a fitting monument to someone close who has died and of bidding them a personal farewell. Requiem settings often testify, beyond convention, to a composer’s individual reaction. Sometimes they are their most individual works.

Attitudes to death underwent a fundamental change in the nineteenth century: thought came to revolve around the transcendental, death was no longer anonymous, but became personal. Grief at the passing of a friend was deep, but at the same time people knew that there was redemption and loving souls would be reunited in the world beyond. This change in the perception of death from a figure of terror to seeing an innate beauty is reflected not only in opera, but also very much in the Requiem settings, particularly in the Sequence.

Pierangelo Pelucchi, a commendable Mayr pioneer, made a recording of a “Grande Messa da Requiem” (released by Agorà Musica) in 1995, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Simon Mayr’s death, and attempted to clarify the obscure compositional history of the work. His recording is based on the printed edition of the piece, published in Milan by Calcografia Cogliati-Crivelli; the year of publication is still uncertain, perhaps c.1820. Pietro Visoni, a pupil of Mayr, seems to have commissioned the edition. Amazingly, today the Biblioteca civica Angelo Mai in Bergamo holds neither the printed edition of this Requiem, nor any manuscript material for it. Pelucchi refers in this connection to Mayr’s biographer Girolamo Calvi and his Di Giovanni Simone Mayr, which Pelucchi has, in the meantime, published in a carefully documented edition (Bergamo 2000). The page numbers which follow refer to this work. In it, Calvi repeatedly cites the performance of a “gran messa da requiem” by Mayr.

Per le solenni esequie, che la congregazione di carità di Bergamo faceva celebrare in S. Maria Maggiore a pro de’ benemeriti trapassati che testarono de’ lasciti a favore de’ stabilimenti di pubblica beneficenza, Mayr compose appositamente e fece eseguire il 25 agosto 1815 una gran messa da requiem che si riconobbe d’un genere nuovo e ammirabile anco da molti illustri forestieri che accorsero a Bergamo a bella posta per udirla.” (p.161)
(“For the solemn obsequies which Bergamo’s Charity Congregation caused to be celebrated in Santa Maria Maggiore for the worthy departed who had made bequests to organisations working for the public good, Mayr composed especially and caused to be performed on 25 August 1815 a large-scale Requiem Mass which was recognised as being of a new type and admirable also for many strangers who came to Bergamo to hear it.”)

Requiem for Antonio Capuzzi , 28 March 1818: “La grande messa da requie” (p.171)
(“The great Requiem Mass”)

la maggior sua messa di requie” (p.172)
(“the larger of his Requiem Masses”)

Milan: “musica di requie per solenni funebri a Salvatore Vigano” (p.183)
(“Requiem music for the funeral of Salvatore Vigano”)

Verona, Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, 3. 10. 1837: “ed i vespri eseguiti nella domenica, e la messa di requie nel lunedì seguente, diedero pienamente a conoscere quanto sia grande il rinomato compositore.” (p.291)
(“and the Vespers performed on Sunday and the Requiem Mass on the Monday following amply demonstrated how great the renowned composer was.”)

Pelucchi connects all these quotations with the printed work that he performed; he also mentions a performance in Bergamo in 1963, the 200th anniversary of Mayr’s death.

Research among the Biblioteca civica’s Mayr holdings has now revealed that the composer apparently wrote a second “Requiem grande”. This work, which has not hitherto been mentioned in the research literature, surpasses the printed work in scale and instrumentation. The individual movements are transmitted piecemeal in autograph scores in the library’s holdings. In some instances, sheets of music that had been catalogued differently had first to be ordered and a meaningful connection between them established. Paper type, autograph annotations and numberings in the individual scores, plus the uniformly vast forces required—with two basset horns in addition to the clarinets, and a third trumpet—show that the movements preserved separately constitute a coherent whole and were performed together by Mayr.

The Introitus and Kyrie and the Agnus and Communio constitute a more lavishly scored variation on the published Requiem described by Pelucchi. The more lavish version will certainly have preceded the printed one, as is indicated by pencil entries in the autograph score noting cuts which have been made in the printed version. Mayr may well have employed a “pasticcio practice” that was customary in Italy in the field of operatic composition in his large-scale Requiems as well. Individual numbers, especially solo arias, were swapped out depending on requirements and circumstances. With its nine solo singers, the “Requiem summum” that has come down to us in autograph manuscript form and been freshly discovered as a complete work by Mayr is more likely to been performed on the occasions mentioned by Calvi than the (smaller) printed work, which demands four vocal soloists. This is indicated, for example, by the numerous variant scorings in the manuscript performance material, most of which survives, and by a copyist’s annotation referring to a performance in Verona and corroborating Calvi’s note.

Below is an outline of the version of the Requiem that we have discovered and assembled:

Requiem aeternamI-BGc Mayr 429[No.1]
KyrieI-BGc Mayr 429
Dies iraeI-BGc Mayr 428[No.2]
Liber scriptusI-BGc Mayr 41/13No.3 doppio
Quid sum miserI-BGc Mayr 41/14No.4
Recordare Jesu pieI-BGc Mayr 41/16No.5
Preces meae (Donizetti)I-BGc Mayr 44/23
Oro supplex (Donizetti)I-BGc Mayr 44/22
Huic ergoI-BGc Mayr 39/11[No.6]
SanctusI-BGc Mayr 425a[No.7]
BenedictusI-BGc Mayr 425a[No.8]
Agnus DeiI-BGc Mayr 425b[No.9]
LiberaPrint, c.1819[No.10]

Calvi mentions the work in his Elenco (table of works), albeit rather in passing, under No. 528. Perhaps he was not aware of the detail of the connection: “Messa, che il Mayr facea eseguire nelle più solenni occasioni; come lo fu ultimamente nei funerali del Donizetti e nelle esequie dello stesso Mayr.” (“A Mass that Mayr had performed on the most solemn occasions; most recently for Donizetti’s funeral and that of Mayr himself.”)

The “Requiem summum” was probably also performed at the obsequies of the Marchese Giuseppe Terzi (1790– 1819). Terzi was active in Bergamo as a painter and man of letters and died in Milan on 9 April. He was a member of the Ateneo di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti di Bergamo, and had also served as its President. It is currently still unclear when the funeral ceremonies actually took place—perhaps there were several. At the session on 15 April 1819 Mayr suggests a solemn Mass followed by a ceremony in the Athenaeum with a mourning symphony. On 10 May, four weeks after Terzi’s death, the members of the Ateneo organised this memorial service. For it Mayr himself states that he composed a Requiem [in C minor] for lower strings and winds—i.e. a work for considerably smaller forces. Donizetti, too, contributed compositions, including his String Quartet in F minor.

A sketch for an “Oro supplex” by Mayr survives in the holdings of the Biblioteca civica in Bergamo. This composition may be connected with Terzi’s death. But Mayr may then have left the setting of two sections of the Sequence—“Preces meae” and “Oro supplex”—to his former pupil Gaetano Donizetti. On the title page of the “Oro supplex” there is a note in another hand: “Pezzo stato scritto da G. Donizetti appositivamente pei Funerali del Marchese Giuseppe Terzi di Bergamo” (“Piece written by G. Donizetti especially for the funeral of the Marchese Giuseppe Terzi of Bergamo”). Already in these early works Donizetti has his own style of writing; he creates textures using modest means to achieve grandiose effects. Mayr revised and “corrected” some of the parts in Donizetti’s score — a problem for proponents of a so-called “Urtext”. Here we perform Donizetti’s music in Mayr’s version.

Mayr begins the Introitus of his “Requiem summum” with a stylised funeral march in dactylic rhythm. (Franz Schubert’s song “Der Tod und das Mädchen” [“Death and the Maiden”], for example, uses the same rhythm.) Brass fanfares and drum rolls are evidence of French influence—a few decades later Hector Berlioz developed these musical insignia in his own characteristic and individual fashion in his famous Requiem. At the end of his work, in the Communio and the Libera, Mayr recalls the opening. Pelucchi points to analogies in Donizetti’s Miserere in D minor (1820) and Messa di Gloria e Credo in C minor (1837), as well as to a Kyrie theme in the Missa dolorum B. M. Virginis and to the Benedictus in Joseph Haydn’s “Nelson” Mass. The Kyrie from this Haydn Mass, with its bold octave leaps and sequences creating a denser texture, can also be at least sensed in the Introitus. Of course, Mayr always genially incorporates supposed borrowings or quotations into his own musical language, changing step and building bridges between differentiated, “German” instrumentation and a songfulness derived from Italian opera, between fugued church style and “Romantic” outbursts.

No Offertorium that can be unequivocally assigned to the work has come down to us. Possibly one by another composer such as Luigi Cherubini or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was “inserted”. This section is also incomplete in the published Requiem. A further note on the problem of textual omissions: In both of Mayr’s large-scale Requiems a few sections of text are not set. As a rule, this was not a fundamental problem in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, given that the priest had to recite the complete text silently in any case when he was celebrating the liturgical Rite. There are similar instances of missing text in the liturgical compositions of many other composers. In so-called Landmessen (country Masses) up to two thirds of the liturgical text was omitted in the Credo.

In the Hosanna fugue Mayr uses a counterpoint that ascends and descends through an octave. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries such stylistic tricks were considered a sign of particular learning. In a figurative sense, Mayr may have wanted to depict a kind of heavenly scale. The Benedictus and Agnus Dei are pastoral and songlike in character. A double bass solo symbolises the passing into eternity, reminiscences of motifs from the Introitus are heard. The opening of the Libera—again in the dactylic rhythm of the Introitus—is all the more passionate, with strident fanfares which also have the last word in a surprising and terror-laden ending.

Franz Hauk
Translation by Susan Baxter

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