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The Seasons, Hob. XXI:3

Adaption for srting quartet by H. Pascher
Joseph Haydn
Length: 17'

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. 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.

Whereas in The Creation Swieten was able to limit himself to rendering an existing (anonymous) libretto into German, for The Seasons he had a much more demanding task. Olleson writes, "Even when Thomson's images were retained, they required abbreviation and adaptation to such an extent that usually no more than faint echoes of them can be discerned, and the libretto often loses all touch with the poem which was its starting point. Increasingly during the course of the oratorio, the words are essentially van Swieten's own or even imported from foreign sources."

Like The Creation, The Seasons was intended as a bilingual work. Since Haydn was very popular in England (particularly following his visits there in 1791–1792 and 1794–1795), 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. Olleson notes that it is "fairly rare" that the translated version actually matches the Thomson original. Van Swieten's command of English was not perfect, and the English text he created has not always proven satisfying to listeners; for example, one critic writes, "Clinging to [the] retranslation, however, is the heavy-handed imagery of Haydn's sincere, if officious, patron. Gone is the bloom of Thomson's original." Olleson calls the English text "often grotesque", and suggests that English-speaking choruses should perform the work in German: "The Seasons is better served by the decent obscurity of a foreign language than by the English of the first version."

The composition process was arduous for Haydn, in part because his health was gradually failing and partly because Haydn found van Swieten's libretto to be rather taxing. Haydn took two years to complete the work.

Like 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 aging Haydn lacked the energy needed to repeat the labor of self-publication that he had undertaken for The Creation and instead assigned the new oratorio to his regular publisher at that time, Breitkopf & Härtel, who published it in 1802.

You will hear an overture, composed of the oratio „The Seasons“, adapted for strings quartet, by Hartmut Pascher.

 

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