|About this Recording
8.573605 - DONIZETTI, G. / MAYR, J.S.: Missa di Gloria and Credo in D Major (Simon Mayr Choir, Bavarian State Opera Chorus, Concerto de Bassus, Hauk)
Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848) and Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845)
Donizetti and Church Music
Since the early 19th century, German church music has typically observed a strict distinction between sacred and secular styles. A piece of music written for liturgical use should sound austere and dignified and eschew pleasing melodies, let alone operatic-sounding ones. This attitude is due to the Cecilian movement, which took its name from the third-century martyr Saint Cecilia, patron saint of sacred music. From the beginning of the 19th century onwards, this Catholic reform movement advocated a return to Gregorian chant and an approach oriented towards the liturgical style of Palestrina and early vocal polyphony.
By contrast, with the exception of the closing fugue, which harks back to more rigorous liturgical methods of composition, listening to a Mass by an Italian composer of the same period feels like attending an operatic performance. Both the orchestration and the melodies reinforce this impression, regardless of whether the composer happens to be Rossini, Bellini or Donizetti. Individual movements are just like short scenes in an opera: instrumental ritornelli lead into solo or choral cantilenas that are not substantially different in style from contemporaneous music for the stage and are developed quite operatically in the form of arioso or, more generally, full-blown arias or duets.
Thus particularly in Italy in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries no stylistic distinction was made between the musical genres; the declamatory, arioso or emotional nature of secular opera was equally characteristic of sacred music. Many individual works were youthful productions—student exercises in composition cobbled together at a later date to form a complete Mass. Reproaches along these lines by the Cecilian movement consigned bel canto composers’ church music to oblivion, heaping contempt on their sacred music when they were already being discredited as the purveyors of mass-produced goods in the secular arena. The German musicologist Hermann Kretschmar even presumed to note “a period of amazing decline in religious music in the Latin countries”. The controversy “church music versus opera” was immediately built up into a contrast between North and South. That Pergolesi and Mozart were readily forgiven the debt their sacred works owed to the opera of the period is, of course, significant in terms of the history of musical reception.
Alongside numerous smaller sacred pieces, Donizetti’s Messa di Gloria e Credo in C minor (1837) and his Messa di Requiem in morte di Vincenzo Bellini in D minor (written in 1835) are widely known. Almost all of his sacred works date from his student years. Like all opera composers at that time, Donizetti had learned his craft to a significant extent in the schoolroom of sacred music. His most important teacher was Johann Simon Mayr, who set up the Lezioni Caritatevoli at the cathedral in Bergamo c.1805, giving musical instruction on a charitable basis. Donizetti, who was born in Bergamo and went on to compose around 70 operas, then rounded off his musical education c.1815 with the famous music theorist and pedagogue Padre Stanislao Mattei at the Liceo Filarmonico in Bologna, where Rossini had also concluded his studies.
It must be said straight away that for Donizetti, who, under Mayr’s patronage, set his sights mainly on writing church music and composed numerous religious pieces up until 1822, as for his slightly older colleague Rossini, the church didn’t remain a schoolroom. Right up to the end of his life he continued to compose sacred works and arranged larger units, including a full Mass, out of separate component parts that he had written earlier. The catalogue of his works lists around 150 items under sacred music. It was not for nothing that, when already a mature opera composer, he wrote in a letter dated March 1842 telling his elderly teacher and mentor Simon Mayr, through Antonio Dolci, about the Ave Maria that he had dedicated to Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria: “It is always good for His Majesty to know that even among the opera composers there is a good Christian who knows a thing or two about sacred music.”
The Messa di Gloria e Credo in D for soloists, chorus and orchestra
Hitherto only one Mass by Gaetano Donizetti has been known. The Messa di Gloria e Credo in C minor mentioned above was first heard on 27th November 1837 in the church of Santa Maria la Nova in Naples and has since been published in several editions. This work is, of course, based on individual movements which Donizetti composed around 1820 and later combined to form a Messa di Gloria, probably also arranging some of them. Two versions of this work have come down to us. Only the Kyrie, Gloria in excelsis and Qui sedes are identical; the remaining movements contain disparities. Donizetti was here following a practice that was then widespread in Italy and was also common in the operatic sphere: works were assembled in an ad hoc manner from individual movements, sometimes by several composers and sometimes adapted to suit different forces. It seems reasonable to make use of this so-called pasticcio technique again in our own day to create another Messa di Gloria out of individual pieces by Donizetti that have not hitherto been used.
In 1818 Donizetti returned from Bologna, where he had been studying with Stanislao Mattei since 1815, to his home town of Bergamo and to his former teacher and mentor Johann Simon Mayr. In the years that followed, at least from time to time, Donizetti acted as Mayr’s musical assistant, and Mayr repeatedly incorporated contributions by his former pupil into his own works. The Credo of the Mass presented here is a prime example of this collaboration. Donizetti wrote it, probably c.1820, in a version in E flat major. According to Mayr’s son-in-law Luigi Massinelli, Donizetti reworked this version in 1824 for performance at the festival of Saint Cecilia in Bergamo, which took place on 24th November that year, transposing it to D major. The only curious thing is that Donizetti’s original score seems to have been lost, and Mayr himself produced the lion’s share of the extensive orchestral material, including the full score, which Massinelli prefaced with this comment among others: “N.B. Questa partitura non è di Donizetti, ma bensi trascritta del celebre G. S. Mayr. Ridotta per piccola Orchestra in Bergamo” (“N.B. This score is not by Donizetti, but transcribed by the famous G.S. Mayr. Adapted and reduced for small orchestra in Bergamo”). One can hardly describe the orchestra as small, however—after all, it includes 3 trombones and a serpent. Mayr used excerpts of this Credo, with modifications and reduced forces, for the Mass in C minor he composed in 1826 for the primis, or first Holy Mass, celebrated by P. Gall Morel after his dedication at the monastery of Einsiedeln.
The violin solo in the expansive Qui sedes was written for Pietro Rovelli (1793–1838), one of the most famous virtuoso violinists of his day. Rovelli studied with Rodolphe Kreutzer and was first violinist in the royal Hofkapelle in Munich from 1815 to 1818. In 1819 he took on the direction of various orchestras in his home town of Bergamo, teaching at the school of music that Mayr had founded there. Rovelli played a Guarneri del Gesù violin, which Paganini later sought to purchase.
Pieralberto Cattaneo’s catalogue of works offers the original dates of composition for the remainder of the movements assembled here: Kyrie in D minor “20.5.1820”, Gloria in excelsis in C major “28.5.1818”, Laudamus e Gratias “3.7.1819”, Domine Deus in E flat major “1820”, Qui sedes and Quoniam “3.7.1820”. In addition there are some estimates: Qui tollis in E major “[1820/21]” and Cum sancto spiritu in C minor “[1816/18]”.
Donizetti did not set any movements from the Ordinary after the Credo. By way of completion we have therefore added three compositions by Johann Simon Mayr that are linked in the autograph. The Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei probably also date from around 1820, judging by the handwriting in the autograph. Variants of the Sanctus und Benedictus can be identified among Mayr’s complete works. The harmonic structure of the closing Agnus Dei in D minor is reminiscent of the opening of the Allegretto from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No.7, Op. 92. Beethoven was a composer whom Mayr revered and quoted repeatedly in his own works.
Close the window