9 Partsongs for SATB & Pianoforte
1 To every thing there is a season
Alles hat seine Zeit
2 Wedded bliss
Die Harmonie in der Ehe
3 Song of Thanksgiving
Aus dem Dankliede zu Gott
Wider den Übermut
5 Evening Hymn
Abendlied zu Gott
6 Old Age
7 The lucky moment
In 1796 Haydn began a series of vocal pieces which later became known as Mehrstimmige Gesänge. There are nine quartets and four terzets in the set, all of which have now been provided with English translations for the first time by me. Haydn’s autograph specified an accompaniment on the Cembalo, which by 1796 had become a generic term for a keyboard instrument. The German texts were selected by the composer from a collection of poems entitled Lyrische Blumenlese, which had been collected by C.W. Ramler (1725 – 98), a slightly older contemporary of Haydn’s.
It was perhaps Haydn’s intention at the beginning to rely exclusively on Ramler’s Blumenlese, but in the course of composing the songs he turned to other sources as well, including the publication Sammlung der vorzüglichsten Werke deutscher Dichter und Prosaister, and Christian Fürchtegott Gellert’s Geistliche Oden und Lieder. These volumes presented him with the mixture of light-hearted and serious texts that he sought – some quite satirical and yet others quite fervently religious.
Haydn referred to these 13 songs as being finished, but not yet performed, in a letter to the German lexicographer E.L. Gerber in 1799. He had intended to make a collection of 20 songs, as is learnt from G.A. Griesinger’s correspondence with the publisher Breitkopf & Härtel in 1801: “he has completed 13, which he showed to me. But now the work goes slowly and he wants for texts because, as he assured me, most poets do not write in a musical way”. Griesinger also assured the Leipzig publishers that “the songs were written only con amore in happy hours, not to order”. The completed 13 were eventually published in 1803.
We may owe the existence of these part songs to Haydn’s two sojourns in England, and view them as his response to the English catches, glees, etc., which he heard during his stay here in the 1790s. The performance and composition of such trifles interested the composer highly, and he collaborated with the Earl of Abingdon on the composition of “Twelve Sentimental Catches and Glees” during his stay at the nobleman’s estate. These small English vocal forms, which ranged in tone from comic, to pastoral, to quasi-religious, may have suggested that he should try and produce their German equivalents.
The first that the musical world knew about these pieces was when they were reviewed in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung in 1803:
“Through this pleasant and artistic collection a present lacuna is most richly and thankfully filled; and at the same time, there appears a new genre in the suite of our excellent master which deserves the greatest attention.
The collection itself consists of comic, serious and religious songs, which are not only beautifully and intelligently composed but are also especially satisfactory exercises for smaller singing groups…. If only the noble Haydn would deign to present the world with more examples of this kind, in particular on religious, Latin or German Bible texts!”
A further choral work which Haydn produced during his stay in London was the cantata for 4 voices “The Storm”. This setting of an English text by John Wolcot (pseudonym: Peter Pindar) was first performed at London’s Hanover Square Rooms on 24th February 1792, and was well-received, with one reviewer praising Haydn’s felicitous setting of the English poem.
I am indebted to H.C. Robbins Landon’s excellent research, (particularly in Haydn: Chronicle and Works London 1977) and his generous support for my desire to present Haydn’s works in effective new English translations, for the completion of these new editions.
Please contact Neil Jenkins