Johann Simon Mayr first realised and encouraged Donizetti's talent and became his first teacher. Mayr's life and works and his influence on 19th century Italian opera are slowly becoming better known. This page includes a short account of his life, a list of his operas, a brief selection of his other works and some books and scores of his work. The Guild Music site includes detailed notes on Mayr and those of his works that they have recorded.
The main institution promoting understanding, performance and research of Mayr's works is the Internationale Simon-Mayr-Gesellschaft, http://www.simon-mayr.de/ . It was founded in 1995 in Ingolstadt, close to Mayr's birthplace. For more information please contact: Internationale Simon-Mayr-Gesellschaft c/o Kulturamt, Unterer Graben 2, D-85049 Ingolstadt, tel. 0841-305 1813, fax 0841-305 1805, e-mail: email@example.com.
(Thanks to Ian Caddy for providing much of the information below.)
Johann Simon Mayr was born in 1763 at Mendorf in Bavaria of “poor but honest parents”; his father was a respected organist in their village near Ingolstadt. He attained a free place at the Jesuit College of Ingolstadt where he learned grammar, humanities and philosophy. On leaving the Seminary he studied law at the University in Ingolstadt. He taught himself to play several string and wind instruments, and maintained himself financially by playing the organ of a local church. At the age of 24 years a Bavarian feudal lord took him under his wing. This patron of the arts gave the encouragement to set Mayr upon his career. Another patron, Canon Count Pesenti, a few years later, provided further assistance by placing him under the musical guidance of Bertoni, maestro di cappella at St. Marks, Venice.
When Mayr’s wife died, he married her sister and lived his later years “in tranquillity and serenity”. His only daughter married and produced her own children. With old age his eyesight failed, his finances were precarious and he died of a stroke, aged 82.
In 1802 Mayr succeeded Carlo Lenzi as maestro di cappella of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo; in 1805 he was made director of the S. Maria Maggiore choir school, which he had just reorganised as the Lezioni Caritatevoli di Musica (Charitable Music Lessons). The Lezioni Caritatevoli had a two-fold design: to ensure that national professors were retained in the Basilica; and to assist the poor by providing them with a purposeful means of support through the different aspects of the music profession. Bergamo enjoyed a reputation for cultivating the art of music, especially singing, and gave to the stages of Europe the most renowned singers of the time, tenor voices in particular. The music school secured the fate of the David family’s three sons, Giacomo, Giovanni and Antonio, while Viaganoni, Nozzari and Donzelli all stood with Gaetano Donizetti on the ladder of fame. Donizetti received his musical training from Mayr at the Lezioni Caritatevoli from 1806 to 1815 and remained devoted to him throughout his life.
Mayr, who changed his name to Giovanni Simone Mayr, held the two posts of maestro di cappella and director of the choir school for the rest of his own life, despite offers of theatre directorships in Vienna, St. Petersburg, Lisbon, London, and other notable offers from Milan, Novara, Dresden, and from Napoleon to be Director of the Theatre and of the concerts at the Royal Court.
Mayr’s initial compositions were songs and liturgical works, until he wrote his first opera, Saffo, for Teatro La Fenice in Venice.Between 1794 and 1824 Mayr wrote 70 operas, for all the major Italian opera houses, with subsequent performances produced throughout Europe. Thereafter, he composed no more opera but wrote multifarious works, for all occasions in the church, the school and the town, including the arrivals of emperors and archbishops.
Mayr combined German harmony with Italian melody. His word-painting is exemplary, with woodwind “harmony” adding a full and complementary palette of colours. Others who imitated him overstepped his reasoned limits and drew disapproval from a contemporary commentator: “Perhaps it is not too late to return to the bounds which Mayr determined with such moderation and wisdom.”
An article by Alexander Weatherson on the reception of Mayr's operas in London can be found here.
|San Maggiore||Mayr's piano|
Mayr wrote over 70 operas as well as numerous other works - a full list can be found in John Stuart Allitt, J.S Mayr, Father of 19th Century Italian Music (reference below). The Fondazione Donizetti and Internationale Simon-Mayr-Gesellschaft e.V. sites include extensive lists of recordings of both operas and instrumental works by Mayr
Books and other publications on Mayr
The Fondazione Donizetti site includes a comprehensive list of publications on Mayr and has published essays and conference proceedings on Mayr.
The Internationale Simon-Mayr-Gesellschaft e.V. has published a series of books on aspects of Mayr life and career.
Ian Caddy, editor, Componimenti per il settantesimo ottavo natalizio del celebre maestro Gio. Simone Mayr. (Compositions for the 78th birthday of the celebrated maestro Giovanni Simone Mayr) by Adolfo Gustavo Maironi Daponte. English translation by Elizabeth Thomson, UK: Caddy Publishing or email info@CaddyPublishing.co.uk. A German translation is also available. A primary source-reading. A complete re-setting of the 1841 original:- biography, Mayr’s catalogue of works to 1827, poetic eulogies to the composer and a list of original subscribers.
Dr. Ludwig Schiedermair, BEITRÄGE ZUR GESCHICHTE DER OPER UM DIE WENDE DES 18. UND 19. JAHRH – I. Band: Simon Mayr – II. Band: Simon Mayr (2. Tiel), Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, I. Band 1907; I. Band 1910. [vergriffen/out of print] :- I. Band: Leben und Streben, Die opera buffa, Die opera seria, II.Band: Die opera semiseria und eroicomica, Die farsa sentimentale, Die Oper seit dem Jahre 1808.
Scores of some Mayr non operatic works
Te Deum, written for the coronation of Napoleon in Milan Cathedral, 26th May 1805 (Soloists, chorus and orchestra)
Messa di Requiem (Requiem for voices & wind ensemble)
Messa con stromenti da fiato (Mass for voices & wind ensemble)
Missa per la Domenica di palme (Palm Sunday Mass)
Stabat Mater No.5 (Versions for choir & organ and soloists, choir and organ)
Credo di Haydn, adapted from Haydn’s Heiligemesse
O salutaris hostia, motet for 4-part sopranos with either organ or orchestra
3 solo cantatas with obbligato instruments and orchestra of 1816:
Annibale, “Hannibal” for tenor & clarinet
Annibale a Cartago, “Hannibal at Carthage” for bass & horn
La moglie di Asdrubale “Hasdrubal’s wife” for soprano and violin
Overture to Ginevra di Scozia, “ Jennifer of Scotland”
Sinfonia in Bb (2 violini obbligati and orchestra)
God save the king, (Piano duet or solo / ensemble [or orchestra])