This paper aims at assessing the issue of both the English language and the English tradition of Haydn’s oratorios Die Schöpfung/The Creation (1796-98) and Die Jahreszeiten/The Seasons (1799-1801). Indeed, the English origin of each of the two texts, either directly written as an English libretto meant to be set to music (Charles Jennens’s text, probably meant for Handel and later to be translated by Gottfried van Swieten) or as the adaptation of James Thomson’s poetical work The Seasons accounts not only for the long-lasting popularity of the two works, but also for the ineradicable belief that Haydn’s masterpieces are essentially English works. As many commercial recordings show, the English version of Haydn’s text is still currently performed today, and many scholars and performers contend that this is how it should be done.
The paper thus focuses on the Englishness of Haydn’s two oratorios, especially as far as the verbal text is concerned. It examines several versions of the English “libretto” of The Creation – indeed, in order to be adequately performed, the original English always had to be slightly modified, according to criteria that differ greatly when seen from a diachronic point of view… –, as well as the several existing translations of G. van Swieten’s adaptation, translation or rewriting of J. Thomson’s famous poem. Again, the different translations display a certain amount of variability in their various authors’ willingness to return, or not, to Thomson’s original text.
Joseph Haydn und Europa
Université Paul Verlaine-Metz
The issue of the English language in Haydn’s German oratorios