Franz Joseph Haydn composed his two famous oratorios, The Creation (Die
Schöpfung) and The Seasons (Die Jahreszeiten), near the end of his musical career in Vienna. He had heard performances of Handel’s Messiah in London and was so moved by the piece that he decided to write something similar. With financial support for his project from his librettist and mentor Gottfried van Swieten, his first oratorio, The Creation, premiered in Vienna in 1799 to universal praise. It is said that Beethoven was in attendance and that after hearing the piece, the young composer was so overcome by its power that he knelt in homage to Haydn.
The Seasons was first performed on April 24, 1801, at the palace of Prince Schwarzenberg. On May 29, Haydn conducted the first public performance, which was an immediate success.
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.
Choral Arts Cleveland will perform The Seasons in English over the course of 3 concerts.
1. Overture Expressing the passage from Winter to Spring
1a. Recitative Simon, Lucas, Hannah
Behold where surly Winter flies, and far to the north passes off.
He calls his ruffian blasts, his blasts obey and quit the hill, the forest and the vale.
Behold the craggy mountain peaks, where softer gales dissolve the snows.
Forth fly the tepid airs, and unconfined, unbinding earth, the moving softness strays.
Come, gentle Spring, ethereal mildness come!
Out of her wintry grave bid drowsy nature rise.
At last the pleasing Spring is near; the softening air is full of balm.
A boundless song bursts from the groves.
As yet the year is unconfirmed, and Winter oft at eve resumes the breeze,
and bids his driving sleets deform the day and chill the morn.
Come, gentle Spring, ethereal mildness come!
and smiling on our plains descend, while music wakes around.
3. Recitative Simon
At last the bounteous sun from Aries into Taurus rolls. Now sickly damps and fogs give way to light and temp’rate airs that lift the white and fleecy clouds and spread them through the sky.
4. Aria Simon
Th’impatient, joyous husbandman drives forth his lusty team,
to where the well-used plough remains, now loosened from the frost;
and they begin their toil again, cheered by a simple song.
With measured step he throws the grain in the bosom of the ground,
and prays the ripening sun will crown the year with golden corn.
5. Recitative Lucas
Laborious man hath done his part; while sparing neither pain nor care;
and, seeking Nature’s better blessings o’er the land,
he prays that heav’n, he prays that heav’n will favour him.
6. Trio & Chorus Lucas, Simon, Hannah
Be propitious, kindly heaven, bounteously, bounteously
pour down thy sweetness o’er the freshened world below.
Ye softening dews, ye fostering breezes, ye lenient airs, ye tender showers,
descend, descend and temper all; and let the sun revive the world.
This annual plenteousness demands the praise and thanks of all Mankind.
7. Recitative Hannah
Our fervent prayers are heard; th’effusive southern breeze warms the wide air,
with soft humidity. In heaps on heaps the vapours sail; and well-showered earth
is deep enriched with life from Nature’s ample store.
8. Trio & Chorus Hannah, Lucas, Simon
Spring, fair-handed Spring unbosoms every matchless grace.
Come, companions, let us wander in the fragrant air.
Come, good fellows, let us wander through the greenwood fair.
See the lilies, see the roses, see the mingled flowers. See the valleys, see the meadows,
see the verdant bowers. See the woodland, see the waters, see the azure sky!
All is living, all is stirring, while the landscape laughs around!
See the lambs that frisk and gambol; see the fish that swim and tumble.
See the bees that swarm together; see the birds that soar and flutter.
What enchantment, what enjoyment, swells within our hearts!
Sweetest longings, softest passions, stir within our breasts!
Every feeling, every rapture, is the mighty, the mighty Creator’s breath.
Let us honour, let us worship, let us magnify his glorious name.
Let our voices sing his praises and resound on high.
9. Trio & Chorus Hannah, Lucas, Simon
Wonderful, bountiful, merciful God.
With thine abundant goodness hast thou revived the world.
For thou hast, with thy mighty hand, poured blessings on the land.
Endless praise to thee we sing, wonderful, bountiful, merciful God.
10. Recitative Lucas, Simon
At first, faint-gleaming in the east, the meek-eyed morn appears.
With tardy step brown Night retires, and Day pours in apace.
To gloomy caverns fly the black ill-omened birds of night;
and all their mournful cries oppress the timid heart no more.
The crested cockerel crows aloud, and, with his early cry, awakes
the soon-clad shepherd-boy, who sets forth on his morning task.
11. Aria Simon
And from the crowded fold he drives the bleating flock and lowing herd
to graze along the verdant hills, slowly winding o’er the lea.
Then, gazing toward the dappled east, observant on his crook he leans,
to see the powerful king of day dart his glorious beams around.
11a. Recitative Hannah
Lo! now aslant the dew-bright earth, the mists of morning
melt into limpid air; the kindling azure spreads through the boundless sky;
while burnished mountains high gleam from afar.
12. Trio & Chorus Hannah, Lucas, Simon
Behold, the sun arises; he gleams, then mounts his throne in bright array!
He shines resplendent on high in boundless majesty!
Hail, thou glorious sun! Thou source of light and life, all hail!
Thou soul of all surrounding worlds, in whom thy Maker shines, we raise our song to thee.
How shall I then attempt to sing the source of light and life below?
Who can recount the myriad blessings that in effusion from thee flow?
We honour thee for giving joy;
We honour thee for giving life;
We honour thee for giving health;
But firstly let us praise the Lord who gave thee power and might.
The voice of all Creation rejoices in thy power.
13. Recitative Simon
Now swarms the village over the mead; the youths and the maids,
both healthful and strong. All in a row they spread their breathing harvest to the sun;
the sickles flash, down falls the grass; and as they rake the tedded grain
the russet haycocks rise behind.
14. Recitative Lucas
‘Tis raging noon, and now the sun,
with tyrant heat dispreading through the cloudless sky,
darts down forceful rays on all things below.
Far as the ranging eye can see, from pole to pole, o’er heaven and earth,
a dazzling deluge reigns.
15. Cavatina Lucas
Exhausted nature sinks to rest;
wilting flowers, arid pastures, thirsty fountains,
show the tyrant rage of heat; and drooping,
languish man and beast outstretch’d upon the ground.
16. Recitative Hannah
O welcome now, ye shady groves; ye lofty pines, ye aged oaks!
ye bowery thickets, hail! How welcome is the sheltered glade,
with murmuring leaves and boughs.
Now scarcely moving through the reeds the brooklet purls along;
and how delightful is the hum as Nature swarms with life.
The fragrant woodbine’s balmy scent on Zephyr’s wing is borne;
and from the rural shade is heard the shepherd’s tuneful pipe.
17. Aria Hannah
How delicious is your shelter to the soul! In your shade a pleasing comfort
coolly glides through every nerve, refreshing weary hearts.
Hence through her nourished powers the spirit springs aloft,
and gladly beats the heart with life and strength restored.
18. Recitative Simon, Lucas, Hannah
Behold! Slow settling o’er the lurid grove, unusual darkness broods and grows;
the sky is charged with wrathful vapours, and in yon cloud of reddening gloom
the fighting winds ferment and clash while all is calm below.
Hark! From the mountain there comes a roar that may portend a storm.
Behold the baleful clouds that gather, threatening, overhead, and darken all the world below.
A boding silence reigns throughout the dun expanse.
No leaf within the forest shakes; a deathly hush is in the air.
Hark! the tempest nearer comes. Heaven help us!
Eruptive through the clouds the thunder rolls on high.
Away! Away! Where shall we fly? Flashes of lightning emblazen the sky;
the crashes of awful thunder draw nigh, and down comes a deluge of rain.
Still the tempest growls; and still the heavens are rent. Run for shelter!
Peal on peal, with fearful crash, convulsing heaven, the thunder rolls!
The firm and deep foundations of earth itself are moved.
20. Trio & Chorus Lucas, Hannah, Simon
The shattered clouds now melt away and from the face of heaven depart.
And Nature shines out freshly, through all the lightened air.
The setting sun with yellow ray invests the fields with glittering robes of joy.
Home from his evening task returns the shepherd, his folded flock secure.
The quail is clamouring for his mate;
The cricket chirps within the grass;
The frog is croaking in the pool.
The curfew tolls the knell – the knell of parting day.
In heaven shines the evening star, inviting all to sweet repose.
Come then, come then, one and all! ‘Tis the hour for soothing sleep,
that simple hearts, and healthy lives, and honest labours surely have earned.
Away, to sweet repose.