Haydn's The Seasons: Braving the Cold with an Unusual Oratorio

Jan 2, 2018

Three years after the great success of his 1798 work The Creation, Joseph Haydn premiered another large oratorio, this time celebrating nature throughout the year. While not often performed today, The Seasons is still a tour de force with an enthusiastic following. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more.

On Sunday, January 7th at 1 pm on WRTI 90.1, Yannick Nezét-Séguin leads The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Philadelphia Symphonic Choir in a performance of Haydn’s oratorio, The Seasons.

Radio script:

[Music: Haydn, The Seasons, Nos. 1 and 2]

Susan Lewis: The oratorio begins with the end of winter and the arrival of spring. Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nezét-Séguin, who learned the piece when he was just eight years old, finds the contrast so evocative.

The Seasons is somewhat sacred, but it also has a drinking scene, and a love scene.

Yannick Nezét-Séguin: It’s more telling than anything I know in music. We can so relate to how we feel the seasons, year after year, from being chilled to ah, finally feel the wind is softer on our skin.

SL: Soloists represent three peasants. The chorus sometimes comments on the action; at other times,  it becomes part of it. Joe Miller is the director of Philadelphia Symphonic Choir.

[Music: Haydn, The Seasons, No. 12]

Joe Miller: So for instance, when the sun comes out for the first time, it’s the chorus that comes in and overwhelms the textures of the orchestra to give that brilliant image of the sun.

SL: There’s also a summer storm, an autumn harvest, and depictions of human seasonal celebrations—subjects not found in purely sacred oratorios. 

JM: The Seasons is somewhat sacred, but it also has a drinking scene, and a love scene. The work has a hard time fitting into a box. It’s joyously complex.

SL: And universal in showing the role of nature in our lives, from a scarlet sunrise to a run in the rain to that yearning for spring.