Haydn The Seasons 1801

Haydn The Seasons 1801

Paul McCreesh – National Forum of Music Choir - Wrocław Baroque Orchestra – Gabrieli Consort & Players – Carolyn Sampson – Jeremy Ovenden – Andrew Foster-Williams


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Haydn, The Seasons


If Haydn, for posterity, has suffered for not having been Mozart, The Seasons has suffered similarly for not having been The Creation. Like Haydn and Mozart, Haydn's two late oratorios merit comparison and contrast; Marc Vignal once suggested that we consider them a single 'immense sacred opera'. In some musical respects, The Seasons is the more forward-looking of the two, not least in its anticipation of German Romanticism beyond Weber's Der Freischütz at least as far as Wagner's Flying Dutchman. Theologically, the picture is more complicated: Haydn’s two collaborations with librettist Gottfried van Swieten might be viewed as a stroll towards and retreat from Enlightenment elision of God and Nature. The Seasons presents Nature as something of a metaphor for spiritual renewal; we meet a reconciling God, recognisable both to Christian intellectuals and to those of a simpler faith.

The son of Empress Maria Theresa's physician, Swieten spent the early years of his career in the Austrian diplomatic service; this did not seem to interfere with his literary and musical interests, for he found time to compose operas and symphonies. His correspondence frequently mentions Enlightenment writers, many of whose censored or proscribed works – sometimes by his government, and at any rate, by the Roman Catholic Church – he procured for the Empress's own chief minister, Prince Kaunitz. The Viennese Papal Nuncio commended Swieten’s intelligence, yet lamented its use in the service of 'moderno filosofismo'. Upon Maria Theresa's death, Joseph II appointed Swieten to the Presidency of the Educational Commission, where he aimed to underline the identity between religion as revealed in Scripture and as experienced in Nature. This would involve a thorough grounding for ‘future instructors of the people’ in philosophical ethics and in 'natural theology': that is, arguments for the existence of God through observation of His presence in Nature. The more utilitarian-minded Emperor, interested primarily in parish priests' agricultural expertise, was unimpressed.

After Joseph’s death in 1790, however, his brother and successor, Leopold II, relieved Swieten of responsibilities other than his longstanding and inoffensive duties as Imperial Librarian. He would henceforth concentrate on his musical activities. During a posting to Berlin, Swieten had encountered Handel’s oratorios and other alte Musik. In about 1785, he had organised a society of Viennese aristocratic patrons, the Gesellschaft der Associierten, to mount private, Sunday morning performances of oratorios, above all those of Handel (a wide range, even by our modern standards). It was that society which commissioned both The Creation and The Seasons; it probably rendered Swieten’s position as Haydn’s librettist a fait accompli.

Although Haydn was acquainted, through Swieten's Vienna performances, with many of Handel's oratorios, nothing had prepared him for the 1791 Westminster Abbey Handel Festival, which boasted over a thousand performers. Thus inspired, Haydn had resolved immediately to write a new oratorio on the subject of the Creation. Following its great success, a second collaboration was decided upon, in which Swieten would play a part greater still. The source of the original English libretto of The Creation remains shrouded in mystery; it has even been claimed that it was intended initially for Handel, although that seems to many a little too neat a claim to succession. In any case, that of The Seasons, loosely based upon James Thomson's celebrated poem of that name, necessitated a more prominent role for Swieten, given both the poem's length and the patent unsuitability of many passages for musical setting.

Donald Tovey, a great admirer, exaggerated when he 'refrained from announcing The Seasons as an oratorio, because only a small part of the work has any pretensions to be sacred music at all'. Although in Hummel's 1806 catalogue of the Esterházy collection it is listed as a cantata, 18th century conceptions of the sacred were considerably broader than ours. The Creation takes us from the sublimity of God's creation of the world itself to the human realm, for better or worse, of Adam, Eve and, ever so briefly, the serpent; whilst The Seasons explores the day-to-day, year-to-year life of God’s human creatures.

For Swieten and in many respects also for Haydn, whose larger scores began 'In nomine Domini'and ended 'Laus Deo' or 'Soli Deo Gloria', religion was essentially a practical matter. One should do God's work here on earth and, like the inhabitants of Voltaire's paradise of Eldorado in Candide, 'thank Him unceasingly for everything He has given, and worship God from morning till night'. In The Seasons, the characters, perhaps like the audience, are gently reminded, when they have stepped away from worship, of their need still to do so. Haydn's faith was certainly cheerful and genuine. His pupil, Georg August Griesinger, recalled having heard him say: 'If my composing is not proceeding so well, I walk up and down the room with my rosary in my hand, say several Aves, and then ideas come to me once again.' Such popular piety was not Swieten's; we may even notice a tension between composer and the librettist. It should not, however, be exaggerated.

There may be perceived in the oratorio a related shift from rational contemplation of Nature towards a more emotional response. That certainly reflects a growing tendency during the course of the 18th century; Thomson's poem notwithstanding, the libretto to The Seasons is probably about 50 years younger than that to The Creation. Thus, in Simon's first aria, we hear of the eagerness with which the husbandman begins his tilling, how he whistles as he works as he fulfils Creation's duties of stewardship. Such an attitude stands very close to the Idylls of Salomon Gessner, which Swieten had introduced to Frederick the Great in Berlin, and also offers ample opportunity for a musical pictorialism to which Haydn was more resigned than devoted. In general, however, it is only in the music that a truly popular note is struck: for example, at the opening of Hannah’s Lied or in the playful flirtation of the Autumn duet between Lucas and Hannah. Swieten’s humanism did not extend to seeing the divine in superstitious peasants; his desire remained to enlighten them – and perhaps, whilst remaining aware of what Haydn was willing to set, even to enlighten him too.

Practical religious concerns are aired in Spring's Chorus with Solos, 'Heav'n be gracious'. Peasants beseech gracious Heaven to be merciful and water their fields; certain of that outcome, they extol heavenly goodness. Rural life is to be enjoyed; depiction of that enjoyment by city-dwellers is also to be enjoyed. The religious message is more explicit in the following duet with chorus, subtitled 'Song of Joy'. It opens with a delight similar to that heard in The Creation, albeit lacking the rapture of that first discovery of Nature. Swieten tells us of the joys of green meadows, lilies, lambs, and bees, but the picture is also less static: 'All is stirring, all is quiv'ring, Hark how lively Nature wakes!'. The sentiments this evokes are first described as joy and rapture, swelling the heart, but Simon explains that what the peasants feel in their hearts is 'the mighty Creator's will'. God's presence in Nature is reinstated gently, without hectoring, before a final vast paean concludes Spring.

And so, in Winter, when we hear tell of a wanderer lost in the snow, his spirit – and ours? – at its most depressed, those daily, seasonal, annual routines continue to progress, pre-empting a Schubertian Winterreise. The revived traveller finds relief in the light and warmth of a nearby house, a reversal for which Thomson affords no source. Following severe winter chill, the temperature, indoors at least, is warmed through homespun (literally, in the spinning chorus) wisdom from Hannah and the chorus: perhaps the clearest instances of that folkish mood tending towards Weber's Freischütz. Simon’s final aria turns toward the mortality of man, the seasons presented as an allegory of the human lifespan. The ailing composer himself acknowledged an autobiographical content, whilst touchingly paying homage to Mozart in quoting from his symphonies 39 and 40 at the phrase 'The Summer spirit long pass'd by'. If Haydn hints at the pleasures of a life well lived, and in Mozart's case a candle well burned, Swieten offers a sterner message, quoting directly from Thomson: 'Only Virtue lasts'.

The Seasons does not, however, end on so austere a note. Trumpets herald the glorious morn, an awakening to new life. Thomson had said something similar, but for him the ‘glorious morn’ had merely been the dawning of spring. For Haydn and Swieten, it is also a unique event: the Resurrection of the Dead. A Handelian double chorus is here put to very different use from that in Israel in Egypt. This instead is a question-and-answer session of salvation; a trial, but one which can be passed. Haydn, moreover, triumphantly reconciles the light first dazzlingly evoked in The Creation with a more traditional Austrian conception of C major, key par excellence of the Missa solemnis figuraliter, resplendent with fanfares for massed trumpets and horns. Salvation is to be rejoiced in, even enjoyed. The Haydn of old, who confessed that his heart would leap with joy upon thinking of God, is still with us.

Dr Mark Berry 2017


Haydn performed both his oratorios in large and small formations, but his acclaimed performances in Vienna at the Tonkünstler Society were always given with very large forces. Happily, much of the original performance material survives, enabling us to reconstruct a typical Viennese orchestra of the time; at least 80 string players, tripled wind (arranged in three separate Harmonie ensembles), a single contrabassoon, doubled trumpets and drums, doubled trombones (though a single bass trombone), a keyboard instrument, and, for The Seasons, as many as 10 horns! Choirs were by no means as large as such orchestral numbers might suggest, and usually settled between 60 and 80 singers.

The parts are strangely devoid of solo/tutti markings: I have assumed that the accompanied recitatives and songs would require smaller numbers, and have therefore divided the ensemble into a smaller concertino and larger ripieno. The large orchestra plays mainly in the choruses, dropping out in sections where a solo delicacy seems appropriate, but adding great weight to Haydn’s marvellous climaxes. Although The Creation has been recorded occasionally with large forces, I believe this is the first recording of The Seasons to use such.

Both The Creation and The Seasons are among the earliest oratorios to be published in two languages simultaneously. The original English version of The Creation suffers from extreme clumsiness, partly through the process of ‘back-translation’ English-German-English, and partly through Swieten’s very limited knowledge of English. The Seasons is even worse, so as to be largely unsingable, and from the early 19th century many piecemeal improvements have been attempted. I have sought to make a complete reworking of the libretto; the emphasis is to present the singers with a version that well serves Haydn’s glorious music, and to offer the listener a text, in 18th century style, which directly communicates the vision of Thomson’s poetry. This translation follows the German version very closely on the whole, but I have occasionally been freer where more idiomatic English seems to preserve the spirit of Thomson’s original. Hannah’s two strophic songs in Winter are not to be found in Thomson’s original poem; Swieten drew on other texts. Here the translation is more creative, partly reflecting the wish to write in rhyme.

The recitatives have also been subject to a thorough rewriting. The vocal lines and harmony are entirely those of Haydn, but I have made small changes to reflect the grammar and rhetoric required by English. I first started work in 2011 and undertook much revision for this recording in 2016.

The Seasons is not an especially complex work to edit, although it is clear that the original printed score was only cursorily proofed. Small errors in some instrumental parts have been tacitly corrected, as have inconsistent lengths of final notes in choral parts. Haydn cued percussion at the end of the drinking chorus, without leaving any music. This has been assumed to imply that the choral singers should improvise freely, rather than requiring the services of a virtuoso percussion ensemble, for 30 bars of unbridled revelry!

Paul McCreesh 2017


"… McCreesh revels in Haydn’s masterly skills in writing for orchestra, choir and soloists borne of decade of experience and sheer hard work – as well, of course, as innate genius. The choir’s tone is full-bodied yet never heavy, offering firm attack and with the sopranos unfazed by the high notes. And the distinctive characters of the period instruments meet every requirement as the seasons change and the orchestral colours with them: the uproarious horns (ten of them!) for the drinking song are positively riotous …"
***** Performance ***** Recording
BBC Music Magazine, Recording of the Month, June 2017

"… McCreesh and his massed Anglo-Polish forces have given us a Seasons that thrillingly catches both the work's bucolic exhilaration and its invocations of the sublime. And for sheer sonic splendour, it's in a class of its own."
Editors' Choice, Gramophone Magazine, May 2017

"… I love it – it's an utterly joyful and immersive recording, a fine attempt to recapture the splendour of the first performance in Vienna in 1801 …"
Andrew McGregor, BBC Radio 3 Record Review Disc of the Week, 30 April 2017

This successor to Haydn’s Creation has often felt in the shadow of the earlier masterpiece, but this recording brings it thrillingly to life. Avoiding the early-music tendency to small forces, Paul McCreesh assembles a massive throng of singers and players, the numbers that might have performed the piece in 1801. And what a noise they make! From the rasping horns of the hunt, through the burbling wind and (occasionally scratchy) strings, the score conjures up the glories of the countryside through the changing year, with storms, streams and shady groves. McCreesh’s fresh new translation animates the top-class solo singing, while the massed choruses blow the roof off. Glorious." *****
The Observer, 9 April 2017

"… McCreesh conducts his own English version, perfectly enunciated by the [Gabrieli Consort and National Forum of Music Choir], and the communal sense of joy is infectious. The three soloists are first-rate. So is the recording. An uplifting performance all round."*****
Financial Times, 1 April 2017

"… So excellent are this recording's virtues that, to my mind, it jumps to the top if you want an English language performance ..."
Recording of the Month, MusicWeb International, March 2017

"… One of the great joys of this recording is the huge dynamic and emotional range afforded by the expanded forces – the introspective recitatives (with continuo pared right down to the bare minimum in many instances) are, in their way, as spine-tingling as the 70-strong chorus belting out their lusty paeans to wine, women and weather. I will concede, though, that the all-guns-blazing hunt-scene has to be an early contender for Track of the Year."
Disc of the Week, Presto Classical, 24 March 2017


Such a project is only possible with the help, support and collaboration of a great many people in a number of organisations, to whom I remain enormously grateful. As always, it has been a great pleasure to work alongside Agnieszka Franków-Żelazny, Jacek Rzempołuch, Izabela Piekielnik, Jarosław Thiel and our many colleagues in the National Forum of Music. It is a pleasure to acknowledge the great support of Wrocław’s mayor, Rafał Dutkiewicz, who has encouraged such a creative partnership with the city over many years. My warmest thanks must go to Andrzej Kosendiak, General Director of Wratislavia Cantans and the National Forum of Music, for his vision, support and friendship.

At Gabrieli, I would like to thank Susie York Skinner, Camilla King, Peter Reynolds and David Clegg, and as ever, Mike Abrahams for his beautiful design concept for this and all Winged Lion recordings. Thanks also go to Ruth Smith, Bianca Kloda, Jan Waterfield and Yvonne Eddy for their help in preparing the new translation and Christopher Suckling for musicological work on the score.

We would also like to thank all our donors who contributed to this recording via The Big Give Christmas Challenge 2015, and those who make Gabrieli’s work possible through their continued generosity, particularly Steve Allen, Richard & Sandra Brown, Jan Louis Burggraaf, John & Mary Cryan, Alan Gemes, Dr Anthony Henfrey, Lucilla Kingsbury Joll, Patrick McCreesh, Terry O’Neill and Peter Saile.

Paul McCreesh


Gabrieli Consort & Players

Gabrieli are world-renowned interpreters of great vocal and instrumental repertoire spanning the renaissance to the present day. Formed as an early music ensemble by Paul McCreesh in 1982, Gabrieli has both outgrown and remained true to its original identity. Over 30 years, the ensemble’s repertoire has expanded beyond any expectation, but McCreesh’s ever-questioning spirit, expressive musicianship and a healthy degree of iconoclasm remain constant features and continue to be reflected in the ensemble's dynamic performances. Its repertoire includes major works of the oratorio tradition, virtuosic a cappella programmes of music from many centuries and mould-breaking reconstructions of music for historical events. Above all, Gabrieli aims to create inspirational and thought-provoking performances which stand out from the crowd.

At the heart of Gabrieli's activities today is the development of a pioneering education initiative: its young singers scheme, Gabrieli Roar. Gabrieli works extensively with teenagers from across the UK in intensive training programmes, providing support and encouragement for youth choirs with high levels of aspiration, with an emphasis on working in areas of low cultural provision. There is a particular focus on the oratorio repertoire and many Gabrieli Roar singers have taken part in professional recordings and performances for such prestigious promoters as the BBC Proms. Helping young singers to excel, develop their confidence in their own abilities and nurture a love of choral music, Gabrieli Roar is uncompromising in its commitment to enriching people's lives through music.

Gabrieli has long been renowned for its many award-winning recordings created during a 15 year association with Deutsche Grammophon. In 2010, Paul McCreesh established his own record label, Winged Lion, which has already released seven extremely diverse recordings underlining Gabrieli’s versatility and McCreesh’s breadth of vision: A Song of Farewell (English choral repertoire from Morley and Sheppard to Howells and MacMillan); A New Venetian Coronation 1595(revisiting their famed 1990 recording of music by Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli); Incarnation (an inspiring sequence of Christmas music ancient and modern); a recreation of the first performance of Handel L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato and three spectacular large-scale oratorio recordings made in conjunction with the National Forum of Music, Wrocław: Berlioz Grande Messe des Morts, Mendelssohn Elijah and Britten War Requiem.

Wrocław Baroque Orchestra

Wrocław Baroque Orchestra is a period instrument ensemble founded in 2006 by Andrzej Kosendiak and affiliated to the National Forum of Music. Its artistic director is the cellist, Jarosław Thiel and its leader is Zbigniew Pilch. The ensemble’s repertoire encompasses works from chamber music to large scale oratorios, from the early baroque to early romantic periods.

The ensemble has worked with conductors Giovanni Antonini, Claudio Cavina, Laurence Cummings, Rubén Dubrovsky, Philippe Herreweghe and Paul McCreesh, and has collaborated with Cantus Cölln, Collegium Vocale Gent and the Taverner Consort. WBO has performed at many international festivals and has made several recordings: its first, symphonies by the Czech Classical composers Koželuh, Rejcha and Vořišek, received a Fryderyk award in 2011. Its recording of Mozart concert arias, Bella mia fiamma, featuring the celebrated Polish soprano Olga Pasichnyk, was also highly acclaimed.

National Forum of Music Choir

The NFM Choir was founded as the Wrocław Philharmonic Choir by Andrzej Kosendiak in 2006. Under the artistic direction of the outstanding Polish choral director Agnieszka Franków-Żelazny, this dynamic young choir soon established itself as a leading force in Polish choral music. Ten years on, the choir has built rewarding collaborations with many ensembles including the Budapest Festival Orchestra, B'Rock Orchestra, Gabrieli Consort & Players, Il Giardino Armonico and NDR Orchestra.

The choir has worked with conductors Giovanni Antonini, Bob Chilcott, Iván Fischer, Jacek Kaspszyk, Stephen Layton, James MacMillan, Paul McCreesh and Krzysztof Penderecki; it was the first Polish choir to appear at the BBC Proms and has appeared at many major festivals in Europe and the USA. Its repertoire encompasses a wide range of a cappella choral music and large scale choral-orchestral works.

The NFM Choir is a frequent collaborator with the Wratislavia Cantans festival and has been a much acclaimed participant in Paul McCreesh's recordings of Berlioz's Grande Messe des Morts, Mendelssohn's Elijah and Britten's War Requiem. The choir has also recorded The Seeds of Stars with Bob Chilcott and four anthologies of choral works with Agnieszka Franków-Żelazny: Words Painted with Sounds, Folk Love, De profundis and Caritas.

Paul McCreesh

Paul McCreesh has established himself at the highest levels in both the period instrument and modern orchestral fields and is recognised for his authoritative and innovative performances on the concert platform and in the opera house. Together with the Gabrieli Consort & Players, of which he is the founder and Artistic Director, he has performed in major concert halls and festivals across the world and built a large and distinguished discography both for Deutsche Grammophon and more recently for his own label, Winged Lion.

McCreesh is well known for the energy and passion that he brings to his music-making and guest conducts many major orchestras and choirs, including the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Berlin Konzerthausorchester, Bergen Philharmonic, Sydney Symphony, Polish National Radio (NOSPR) and The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. The larger choral repertoire, such as Britten's War Requiem, Brahms' German Requiem, Verdi's Requiem, Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius and Haydns The Creation and The Seasons, features increasingly in his work. He has established a strong reputation in the field of opera conducting productions of Handel, Gluck, Mozart and Britten at leading European opera houses.

He was Artistic Director of the Wratislavia Cantans Festival Wrocław, Poland from 2006 to 2012 and was Director of Brinkburn Music in Northumberland, UK from 1993 to 2013. From 2013 to 2016 he held the position of Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor at the Gulbenkian Orchestra, Lisbon.

Carolyn Sampson

Carolyn Sampson has enjoyed notable successes worldwide in repertoire ranging from early baroque to the present day. On the opera stage she has appeared with English National Opera, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Scottish Opera, Opéra de Paris, Opéra de Lille, Opéra de Montpellier and Opéra National du Rhin. She performs regularly at the BBC Proms and with orchestras including the Bach Collegium Japan, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Vienna Symphony Orchestra and numerous orchestras in the USA.

A consummate recitalist, Carolyn appears regularly at Wigmore Hall (at which she was a 'featured artist' in the 2014/15 season), Amsterdam Concertgebouw and at the Saintes and Aldeburgh Festivals. In October 2013 she made her Carnegie Hall recital debut.

Carolyn has an extensive discography appearing on the Harmonia Mundi, BIS, Hyperion, Virgin Classics, DG Archiv, Linn Records, BIS and Vivat labels. Her recent recording with Ex Cathedra on the Hyperion label, A French Baroque Diva – celebrating Marie Fel, a star soprano of Rameau's time – won the recital award in the 2015 Gramophone Awards.

Jeremy Ovenden

Jeremy Ovenden studied at the Royal College of Music, London and privately with Nicolai Gedda. He has appeared regularly on opera stages throughout the world including the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; Staatsoper Berlin; La Scala, Milan; Opéra National de Paris; Monnaie, Brussels; Netherlands Opera and at the Salzburg International Festival.

His concert repertoire ranges from Monteverdi, Bach and Handel through Mozart and Haydn, to Berlioz, Britten, Szymanowski and Henze, with orchestras including the London Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestras and Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin, Budapest Festival Orchestra and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, working with the late Sir Colin Davis, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Vladimir Jurowski, Daniel Barenboim, Paul McCreesh, René Jacobs and Ivor Bolton.

Jeremy's extensive discography includes Bach St Mark and St John Passions, Mozart Il sogno di Scipione, La Betulia liberata, La finta semplice, L'oca del Cairo and Lo sposo deluso, Biber Missa Salisburgensis, Handel L'Allegro, Il Penseroso ed Il Moderato, Saul and Ode for St Cecilia's Day, Haydn The Seasons and The Creation and a recording of Mozart arias, An Italian Journey, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Jonathan Cohen.

Andrew Foster-Williams

Bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams is known for incisive characterisations and a diversity of roles that is hard to match. From the early stages of a career built on baroque foundations to the present seasons where the dramatic repertoire dominates his stage appearances, Andrew has received consistent praise for his compelling stage presence and nuanced singing.

Recent performances have included Pizarro (Fidelio) and Captain Balstrode (Peter Grimes) at Theater an der Wien, Telramund in Wagner's Lohengrin at the Lanaudière Festival, Donner (Das Rheingold) at the Ruhrtriennale, Golaud (Pelléas et Mélisande) at Moscow's famous Bolshoi Theatre, Gunther (Götterdämmerung) in Opera North's Ring Cycle performed across the UK and staged performances based on the story of Don Quichotte and drawn from music by Ravel, de Falla and Massenet at Opéra de Bordeaux.

Also much in demand as a concert singer, Andrew has appeared around the globe in an eclectic repertoire including appearances with Salzburg Mozarteum and Ivor Bolton, San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas, the Hong Kong Philharmonic under Edo de Waart and the London Symphony Orchestra under the late Sir Colin Davis.