Haydn, opening of Die Jahreszeiten (Vienna, 1801)

Posted on: 24 March 2020, by :

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At the time of posting this (late March 2020), spring has already begun here in Ireland, yet more northern countries are still experiencing the bitter resistance that Haydn’s music describes as Winter clings on with malevolence. Warily we try to welcome Spring despite our deep concern about the coronavirus, its victims and its continuing danger. Although this music embraces hope and gratitude for spring as a gift from heaven, it also warns us not to celebrate too soon.

The Introduction combines both advanced symphonic practice (Haydn, by now elderly, had already composed more than one hundred symphonies) and the functions of an operatic overture. It both prefigures some of the drama to follow and is itself part of the drama, being characterized instrumental music that transforms seamlessly into dialogue for the peasants Simon, Lukas and Hanne. The sharp contrasts are drawn in both words and music not only in the details but also at the structural level: the Introduction bleak in G minor, the welcoming chorus warm in G major.

Die Jahreszeiten (‘The Seasons’) is an oratorio first performed in Vienna in April and May 1801. Its libretto, based on an English model, was written by Baron Gottfried van Sweiten, a diplomat and concert impresario who had done much to popularize the Handelian type of oratorio in Vienna in the 1780s and 90s. This excellent live performance was given at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels on 3 June 2012, by Le Concert d’Anvers, conducted by Bart Van Reyn.

1a. Introduction
Die Einleitung stellt den Übergang vom Winter zum Frühling vor.The introduction depicts the passage from Winter to Spring.
1b. Recitative:
SIMON: Seht, wie der strenge Winter flieht!
Zum fernen Pole zieht er hin.
Ihm folgt, auf seinen Ruf,
der wilden Stürme brausend Heer mit gräßlichem Geheul.
See how stern Winter takes to flight!
He is retreating to the distant Poles.
In response to his command,
the blustering hordes of tempests follow, howling dismally.
LUKAS: Seht, wie vom schroffen Fels
der Schnee in trüben Strömen sich ergießt!
See how from the craggy cliffs
the snowruns down in muddy streams!
HANNE: Seht, wie vom Süden her,
durch laue Winde sanft gelockt,
der Frühlingsbote streicht!
See how the heralds of the spring,
enticed by warm, soft breezes,
are arriving from the south.
2. Chorus of country-folk
All: Komm, holder Lenz! Des Himmels Gabe, komm!
Aus ihrem Todesschlaf erwecke die Natur.
All: Come, fair spring, thou gift of Heaven, come!
Awaken Nature from her deathlike sleep!
Women: Er nahet sich, der holde Lenz.
Schon fühlen wir den linden Hauch,
bald lebet alles wieder auf.
Women: Fair spring is drawing nigh,
we feel its gentle breath already,
soon shall everything return to life.
Men: Frohlocket ja nicht allzufrüh!
Oft schleicht, in Nebel eingehüllt,
der Winter wohl zurück
und streu’t auf Blüt’ und Keim sein starres Gift.
Men: Do not celebrate too soon,
for often, mist-enshrouded,
the winter can creep back,
and over bud and shoot spew numbing poison.
All: Komm, holder Lenz! Des Himmels Gabe, komm!
Auf uns’re Fluren senke dich! Komm, holder Lenz, o komm und weile länger nicht!
All: Come, fair spring, thou gift of Heaven, come!
Come! Upon our meadows set thy foot!
Oh come, fair spring, oh come and delay no longer!
English translation by Avril Bardoni,
quoted from https://www.chandos.net/chanimages/Booklets/LS0708.pdf