Napoleons Traumrollen

Iris Winkler ist Freunden des früheren Belcanto und besonders der Musik Giovanni Simone Mayrs keine Unbekannte durch ihre vielen Publikationen, auch in jüngeren Programmheften oder CD-Ausgaben wie bei Oehms. Sie ist Professorin an der katholischen Universität Eichstädt-Ingolstadt und wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin der Simon-Mayr-Forschungsstelle ebendort. Umso erfreulicher ist es, von einer Neuerscheinung unter ihren vielen Veröffentlichungen berichten zu können: „Napoleons Traumrollen – Alexander und Trajan im Werk Giovanni Simone Mayrs Musik und Kulturpolitik im napoleonischen Venedig und Mailand “ im Rahmen der Simon-Mayr-Studien im Münchner Katzbichler-Verlag. Mit Freude haben wir den englischen Musikforscher und Belcanto-Fachmann, den Mayr-Freund Alexander Weatherson, Präsident der englischen Donizetti-Gesellschaft, für eine (englischsprachige) Besprechung gewinnen können, die zeitgleich in dem Newsletter 123 der Donizetti-Society erscheint: doppelt Reklame also für diese hochinteressante, kulturpolitische und auch den Laien fesselnde Arbeit von Iris Winkler. G. H.


Iris Winkler/KU

Iris Winkler/KU

Eventful indeed, auspicious maybe, with a lasting material impact it is true, Napoleon’s descent upon Italy remains contentious – except perhaps musically. Mayr was not alone in recording such a momentous interregnum and a handful of imperial offerings from his hand has come down to us, marking not just a fleeting political affiliation but also a thematic drift in his rapidly evolving repertoire. The list of works in this important book spans the period between 1797 when his farsa II segreto at the Teatro San Moise in Venice featured the carmagnole in a brilliant finale and the exuberant 1811 festivities for the Baptism of the King of Rome in Bergamo, with, as points de repere, the Te Deum sung in 1805 for the Coronation of Napoleon in Milan Cathedral and a clutch of gloriosissime cantate of unbridled fervour. Iris Winkler details the preparatory phases for this high profile but unpredictable and unwonted Napoleonic imposition with great finesse, most notably in respect of the effusion that accompanied his advent from such literary „sunflowers“ as Vincenzo Monti, Angelo Anelli and Giuseppe Maria Foppa. The radical substance of such a prostrate welcome for a foreign conqueror supplies a key to the climate of change that banished the musical certainties of the ancien regime in Italy. Mayr was a composer at the heart of this evolution and his music straddles the period stylistically and subjectively without – it should be noted – entirely unblemished commitment. Such a scepticism invests this important study with an especially perceptive eye.

napoleon winklerThe opening chapters detail the groundwork: Einleitung introduces the young Napoleon’s musical tastes, including his liking for Paisiello (and an unfortunate but formative clash with Cherubini); Einführung in die Thematik covers the enthusiastic reception for this nascent imperial comet over an unwitting lagoon; the twin sections Napoleon und die Kunst der Reprasentation/Napoleon und die „Gewalt der Musik“: Chantons du nouvel Alexandre recount, among other significant items, his brush with revolutionary and other French composers and initial link with Mayr; Facetten des kulturellen Lehens in „napoleonischen“ Venedig

is concerned with the tidal wave of renewal that surged along the Grand Canal at this moment of crisis; while various important sub-sections – Politische Verhältnisse for example covers the abject imploding of the once serene republic and Huldigungen, Huldigungsmusiken, Huldigungsprogramme refers to the stream of hommage that came his way in its wake, more intensely focussed in the ensuing section Huldigungskantaten in Venedig. This latter brings Ferdinando Bertoni, Vittorio Trento, and Stefano Pavesi on to the laudatory scene culminating in cantatas for Napoleon’s footfall in the Piazza San Marco invoking such beings as „Giove, Clemenza e Valore“ and other flattering denizens of a highly speculative Parnassus thought appropriate to the adulation of the „augustissimo ed altissimo nostro imperatore e re“. This introductory section also includes a selective study of the sacred panorama of the Bavarian composer over many decades in Musik und Liturgie which outlines Mayr’s devotional works both before and after the imposition of Napoleon Bonaparte upon the peninsula, with his shadowy Te Deum for the latter’s Italian enthronement at its heart.

Iris Winkler: Darstellung Napoleons als Alexander der Grosse/Winkler

Iris Winkler: Darstellung Napoleons als Alexander der Große/Winkler

Was it actually written specifically for this occasion? A part autograph score remains in Bergamo. It could have been the true apex of his actual commitment to the Emperor: „il famoso Te Deum scritto nell’occasione deU’incoronazione di Buonaparte“ in the words of Calvi, momentously performed in the Milan Duomo on 26 May 1805 with a vast orchestra divided into four parts, a double chorus and a quartet of soloists, with the triumphant Corsican soldier seated on a throne surrounded by quattro statue dorate simboleggianti vittorie con palme in mano hearing a votive Mass according to the Ambrosian rite during which he swore an oath of fidelity to cries of „Vivat“, „Vivat Imperator Rex in ceternum“ culminating in a crash of artillery. But no one, apart from Calvi, seems to have recorded Mayr’s authorship of this Te Deum. That the Emperor’s eternal sovereignty did not come to pass was not the fault of Mayr, nor is it Mayr’s fault that his name is missing from the innumerable accounts of the occasion. The extraordinary confusion surrounding the authorship of this Te Deum is extensively covered in these pages in great detail, its various attribution to Ambrogio Minoja and Francesco Pollini examined exhaustively together with the contingent celebration of festivities in the theatre. Iris Winkler here uncovers an unrivalled tapestry of events of import to the musical culture of the day, but the truth remains inconclusive amid the indulgent details.

Giovanni Simone Mayr/ISMG

Giovanni Simone Mayr/ISMG

No such ambiguity covers the cantatas Mayr composed for Napoleon. If the Emperor did nothing else he certainly inserted an heroic lapsus into Mayr’s compositional sequence. Though his Lodoiska (1799 version) was revived expressly for Napoleon at La Scala (in May 1805) such Cherubiniesque heroines were currently sacrificed on the altar of macho solidarity. How much of this was due to conviction and how much to cynicism is hard to determine. From the heights of Bergamo Alta between 1803 and 1806 Mayr evoked Hercules (Ercole in Lidia 1803), the conquistador Alonso (Alonso e Cora 1803) and the Indian hero Zamori (Palmira 1806) [Napoleon’s favorite opera was Paer’s Achille of 1801). From 1807 onwards these heavyweight studs were trumped imperially by classical potentates like the Emperor Trajan, Faramondo and Numa Pompilio.

With a text by Angelo Anelli Trajano, a Cantata pel Giorno Onomastico di Sua Maesta Napoleone il Grande e per la Pace (often confusingly listed as „San Napoleone, cantata“) was sung at La Scala on 16 August 1807 on which occasion Teresa Belloc sang the role of La Pace. With a text by conte Giovanni Battista Carrara Spinelli the Cantata per le Auguste Nozze di S.M. Imperatore e Re Napoleone I was sung in Bergamo on 10 May 1810 (for his second marriage to the Archduchess Marie-Louise of Austria) with a roster that included Giuseppe Viganoni among the soloists. Also with a text by Spinelli and for the same event, appeared his „Gia squillan le trombe“, Faramondo, for voce solo (either soprano or tenor); followed in due course and logically enough by „Sommi Numi“, Numa Pompilio Per la nascita del Re di Roma of 1811, together with a further cantata, poet undisclosed, for the same occasion written for Bergamo. The series capped by „Omnipossente Diva“, the Cantata per le Feste del Comune di Bergamo in Occasione del Battesimo di Sua Maesta il Re di Roma in the Teatro Riccardi of that same city with chorus and two tenors and two basses on 9 June 1811 and a further text by the obliging Spinelli.

Kaiser Napoleon in herrscherpose/Musée de l´Armee, Paris/Bundesregierung

Kaiser Napoleon in Herrscherpose/Musée de l´Armee, Paris/Bundesregierung

This seems to have been the end of his heroic phase and he then peaceably returned to arcadian and proto-romantic shores. All these cantatas, with many attendant extras are here described in minutely scientific detail. The new Alexandre has clasped hands with the old Trajano. Napoleons Traumrollen itemises the euphoria and idealism that coloured a shortlived presence on the Italian peninsula. The Napoleonic era – the Emperor in person even – was a pivotal force in the work of Johann Simon Mayr, his autocratic descent upon church and stage coming at the very cusp of the demise of one century and the dawn of the next with all that implies of brutal revolution in Europe, liberal disassociation from the past, and a welcome freedom in the mood and content of music. This study is full of wonderful insights concerning the trauma surrounding the arrival of Napoleon upon Italian soil, but the finite detailing, so necessary and fascinating to scholars – inevitably blurs the specificity that would aid the musical newcomer fully to understand its meaning and purpose.  Alexander Weatherson


Iris Winkler : Napoleons TraumrollenIris Winkler / Musik und Kulturpolitik im napoleonischen Venedig und Mailand;  Mayr-Studien 7, Musikverlag Katzbichler, München-Salzburg 2014, 208pp