Friday, March 17, 2017

The Seasons (Haydn)

This is my post from this week's Once or Twice a Fortnight.

It’s been an interminable winter it seems – after a few weeks of dry weather, we were swamped with 20 cm of snow this past week… Thank Goodness, spring is around the corner, and I thought I’d try and spread some happy thoughts by sharing this vintage performance of Haydn’s oratorio The Seasons.

Haydn was led to write The Seasons by the great success of his previous oratorio The Creation, which had become very popular and was in the course of being performed all over Europe. The libretto for The Seasons was prepared for Haydn, just as with The Creation, by Baron Gottfried van Swieten, an Austrian nobleman who had also exercised an important influence on the career of Mozart (among other things commissioning Mozart's reorchestration of Handel's Messiah). Van Swieten's libretto was based on extracts from the long English poem "The Seasons" by James Thomson (1700–1748), which had been published in 1730.

Like The Creation, The Seasons was intended as a bilingual work; since Haydn was very popular in England, he wished the work to be performable in English as well as German. Van Swieten therefore made a translation of his libretto back into English, fitting it to the rhythm of the music. Van Swieten's command of English was not perfect, and the English text he created has not always proven satisfying to listeners. As was the case with our earlier Haydn oratorio post, the version I am posting is in German.

There is some evidence that Haydn himself was not happy with van Swieten's libretto, or at least one particular aspect of tone-painting it required, namely the portrayal of the croaking of frogs, which is found during the serene movement that concludes Part II, "Summer". Haydn was once quoted: to have said “This whole passage, with its imitation of the frogs, was not my idea: I was forced to write this Frenchified trash. This wretched idea disappears rather soon when the whole orchestra is playing […]”

As was the case for The Creation, The Seasons had a dual premiere, first for the aristocracy whose members had financed the work (Schwarzenberg palace, Vienna, 24 April 1801), then for the public (Redoutensaal, Vienna, 19 May).The oratorio was considered a clear success, but not a success comparable to that of The Creation. In the years that followed, Haydn continued to lead oratorio performances for charitable causes, but it was usually The Creation that he led, not The Seasons.

The vintage recording below, hosted on the LiberMisica site, is the earliest of two versions recorded by the RIAS/Barlin Radio Symphony Orchestra under Ferenc Fricsay. Presumably, this is a version that was broadcast unlike the second version for DGG which was captured in studio.

Happy listening!

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Die Jahreszeiten ('The Seasons'), Hob. XXI:3
Oratorio in Four Parts, German libretto by Gottfried van Swieten
Elfriede Trötschel, Soprano
Walther Ludwig,Tenor
Josef Greindl, Bass
Berlin Chor Der St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale
RIAS Kammerchor
Ferenc Fricsay, Conducting

Performance URL -

Internet Archive links

Nos 1-9 Der Fruhling (Spring)
Nos 10-20 Der Sommer (Summer)

Nos 21-31 Der Herbst (Autumn)
No, 32 - Einleitung und Recitative: Seht, wie der strenge Winter flieht (From “Spring”)
Nos 33-44 Der Winter (Winter)

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