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8.574057 - MAYR, J.S.: Mass in E-Flat Major (Szczepańska, Krödel, M. Schäfer, Ochoa, Simon Mayr Choir, Concerto de Bassus, Hauk)
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Johann Simon Mayr (1763–1845)
Mass in E flat major


Johann Simon Mayr’s late, great Mass in E flat major—reconstructed by Franz Hauk—dates in large part from 1843 (Kyrie, the basic structure of the Gloria, and the Credo). The supplementary material needed to make up the ‘ordinarium missae’ in its entirety consists of single movements composed at approximately the same time, which in the case of the Sanctus and Agnus Dei ensure the tonal unity of the movement cycle. This approach to completing Mass scores, in the manner of a compilation, had been commonplace in Italy since the 18th century. This can be explained in particular by the fact that generally only the Kyrie and the Gloria would appear in settings together, while for the rest of the Ordinary individual movements of the most diverse sort could be added to the mix, with the result that more often than not congregations would tend to end up hearing a kind of pastiche (cf. Hochradner, p. 133). Whereas north of the Alps in the 19th century the symphonic form of the Mass, with its heavily orchestral emphasis, had long been established among serious musicians—a structure conceived from the outset as a single, complete cycle, which tended to interlink individual sections within the greater parts; this had been the case since the late works of Haydn and in any event in the Masses of Beethoven, Schubert and Cherubini—in Italy the older model of the ‘messa concertata’ was still being used, with its clear divisions into distinct vocal numbers sung by chorus and soloists (cf. Lodes, pp. 272 and 276). Mayr’s E flat major Mass largely follows this model.

The origins of the ‘messa concertata’ date back to the 17th century, with an early exponent being Francesco Cavalli, and his work of the same name from 1656 (cf. Hochradner, pp. 189–90 and also on the following works, pp. 191–93). In the case of Giovanni Battista Bassani’s Messe concertate, Op. 18, published in Bologna in 1698, we can see a classic example of the relationship between the formal framework and the various approaches to shaping a work of this type, which gradually earned and maintained a regular place in the panoply of liturgical music on religious high days. It should be noted in relation to the genre’s standard designation as a cantata or ‘number’-style Mass that, unlike the secular vocal works written in the tradition of Italian opera, no recitatives are contained in these scores. Moreover, even in a work as early as Bassani’s the primacy of the musical development of the Gloria is striking in the fully composed version, particularly when compared with the textually dense Credo.

Another ‘number Mass’ with obligatory sectional subdivisions into choral and solo movements is Johann Sebastian Bach’s remarkable Mass in B minor, which in typical fashion for the time was initially conceived as a Kyrie–Gloria cycle for the Catholic court of the Dresden Prince Regnant and only subsequently completed. The Mass was finally finished in 1749 and so sits chronologically almost exactly halfway between Cavalli and the work by Mayr presented here. In the second half of the 18th century Mozart’s extraordinary Mass in C minor, K. 427 also represents—in purely musical terms alone—the high-water mark of the ‘messa concertata’. In this ‘Missa solemnis’, apparently composed for personal reasons, Mozart was under no obligation to follow the customary time limits that had generally been placed on Masses of the time. Even so, the work is, as is well known, fragmentary, given that the Credo concludes with the ‘Et incarnatus’ section and also remains incomplete in the subsequent sections. Alternatively, the first performance of the Mass on 26 October 1783 in St Peter’s Abbey in Salzburg could be seen as an example of the commonplace Italian pastiche practice, if one assumes that the missing movements would have been completed using existing musical material (cf. Hochradner, pp. 242–3). Following the noteworthy restrictions on liturgical music resulting from the reforms of Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, it was Joseph Haydn who went on between 1796 and 1802 to elevate the art of Mass composition to its new, ‘symphonic’ level with his six late works in the genre (Hob. XII: 9–14).

Among Johann Simon Mayr’s Italian predecessors and contemporaries, it was generally opera composers such as the Neapolitan Niccolò Zingarelli (who became Kapellmeister of the Duomo in Milan in 1792 and Kapellmeister to the Pope in Rome in 1804) and Saverio Mercadante (who became Kapellmeister at the cathedral of Novara in 1833), as well as, in the early phase of his career, the Sicilian native Vincenzo Bellini, who continued to follow the beaten path of the ‘messa concertata’ in their church music, or at least in general terms stayed faithful to the model of the ‘number Mass’, albeit with a certain number of notable differences in the orchestral writing (cf. Lodes, p. 277). One famous work particularly worthy of mention in this context is Rossini’s Messa di Gloria (another Kyrie– Gloria cycle), composed in 1820 and first performed in Naples. Mayr himself of course wrote a number of Masses prior to the 1840s, albeit often only surviving as individual movement fragments, in his capacity as Kapellmeister of the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo.

The E flat major Mass in the present collection divides the Gloria into seven sections: the textual sequence from Et in terra through to Qui sedes, while framed as usual by blocks of choral music (Gloria, Cum Sancto Spiritu), is converted into solo arias for tenor, bass and soprano. Within this section the central section, assigned to the solo tenor, is itself laid out in three parts from the Domine Deus (Allegro, Adagio, Allegretto), and the bass solo that follows from the Qui tollis is divided into two parts (Andante, Moderato). The soprano is left with just the Qui sedes as solo section. Set against the characteristic vocal bel canto line in the solo numbers are some striking wind passages. Whether as a group, individually or in specific instrumental combinations, these wind instruments play an important role, as so often in Mayr’s music, in shaping the musical expression of the work. The instrumental introductions of the movements allow considerable scope for this ‘stile molto concertante’, as for instance with the clarinet at Et in terra, the bassoon at Qui tollis, the flute at Qui sedes, and also the (first) horn as early as the Gratias, which goes on in the Domine Deus section to form a repeated duet with the clarinet. In his superlative shaping of woodwind textures Mayr has elevated the already characteristic emphasis on individual songlike roles for the instrumental parts in the ‘messa concertata’ to a remarkable level.

The Kyrie of the E flat major Mass combines vocal soloists and chorus within the traditional tripartite structure, with the vocal line of the tonally elevated Christe, starting out from the basic key of G major, given over exclusively to the two male voices. This central section is itself introduced by a modulating transition passage, and thanks to that modulation into the B flat major sphere remains within the basic tonality, before a harmonic shift backwards reconnects the tonality back towards E flat major. In this setting, with its interrelated sections, Mayr’s Kyrie is clearly closer to the symphonic style of Mass than the Gloria, although the orchestral score does not double the woodwind parts; instead, the brass chorus, with trumpets, drums and trombones, ensures a resplendent, solemn liturgical sound.

The solo vocal parts in the Credo are once again largely integrated into the overall structure of the score, which is mainly focused on the chorus. So for instance the tenor Et incarnatus—with obbligato violin solo, unusually—in A minor flows directly into the choral Crucifixus, which opens in a bright C major before swerving above a C minor bass pedal point (like a ‘Neapolitan’ chord progression) into D flat major—a striking, dissonant shift—and via a G major dominant seventh returning to the pure sound of C major. The repeated falling tremolo figures on the strings depict Christ’s suffering on the cross in a traditional, timehonoured piece of tonal painting. Also in the tradition of pictorial musical settings of the Mass are the ascending groups of scales in the Et resurrexit chorus, which replace the sombre minor key mood in a radiant C major. The Et in Spiritum Sanctum follows as the final movement of the third part of the Ordinary, which not only brings the tonality of the score full circle in F major, but takes up the music of the first Credo movement in adjusted form, with the triple vocal shout of ‘Credo’, sounding almost archaic, now coming at the very beginning. There now follows the conclusion ‘Et vitam venturi saeculi—Amen’, opening with the traditional fugue and thus offering us a rare instance in this Mass of the old liturgical style. The Credo is a typical example of the ‘messa concertata’ genre in being markedly shorter, with its four clearly distinct sections, than the considerably more extended Gloria, while on the other hand the greater integration of the solo parts suggests a closer affinity with the symphonic concept of the Mass as was fashionable outside Italy.

After the Sanctus chorus in E flat, itself with a full orchestral complement, the Benedictus in A flat major puts the trio of soloists—soprano, tenor and bass—in the foreground for the first time. The vocal trio coincides with an instrumental trio consisting of flute, clarinet and horn, with accompanying strings: a true highlight of the genre. There is no ‘Hosanna’ at the end of the Sanctus movement in a textual sense, but its choral arrangement recalls the music of the Pleni sunt coeli (Allegro, in 6/4 time), which now immediately shifts the music from A flat back to E flat major. This helps to achieve the customary musical interlocking of movements, despite the textual divergences. The Agnus Dei, with its chorus and soloists and retaining the full orchestral complement, brings this imposing Mass cycle to a suitably momentous conclusion in a moderate, flowing Andante tempo. The work’s range of tonalities, as far as the individual movements are concerned and in the version presented here, starts out from E flat major and on the one hand moves towards A flat major while on the other hand reaching the D major of the Et resurrexit in the Credo—this in turn (no coincidence!) preceded by a G major, in the Qui sedes. The successive stages of the circle of fifths are thus fully represented here, with A major, E flat major, B major, F major, A minor, G major and D major as partial tonal centres.

The reconstruction and musical revival of this noteworthy Mass by Johann Simon Mayr has made a late pinnacle in the long history of the ‘messa concertata’ genre accessible to music lovers and musicologists. It is equally deserving both of further performances in its current form and of further research into the structure of its composition.

Claus Bockmaier
English translation: Saul Lipetz

Bibliography: Messe und Motette (‘Mass and Motets’), ed. Horst Leuchtmann/Siegfried Mauser (Handbuch der musikalischen Gattungen (Handbook of musical genres), vol. 9), Laaber 1998—Kapitel V: Das 18. Jahrhundert (‘Chapter Five: the 18th Century’), by Thomas Hochradner, pp. 189 ff./Kapitel VI: Das 19. Jahrhundert (‘Chapter Six: the 19th Century’), by Birgit Lodes, pp. 270 ff.

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