Haydn brings all the seasons to musical life

Experience ‘Fall’ and ‘Winter’ with your senses

The Chamber Singers of Iowa City present “Fall” and “Winter” from Josef Haydn’s “The Seasons” at 3 p.m. Nov. 17 in Opstad Auditorium at City High, 1900 Morningside Drive.

If you are unable or unwilling to make the long treks to and from the parking lot to the auditorium afoot, take advantage of the Chamber Singers Express (aka a golf cart and driver) that will be shuttling concert-goers before and after the performance.

“The Seasons” is Haydn’s last great work. He produced it two years after “The Creation,” beginning it almost immediately after “The Creation” was finished. It is a tremendous work, one of such magnitude that Haydn said that he should never have attempted it, as it took such a toll on his health.

Autumn begins with a cheery introduction and aria sung by the tenor about his joy at a bountiful harvest. The chorus then sings of the reward of diligence and hard work. Listen especially for the solo flute, oboe and bassoon, each taking a masterful turn.

How could we not love an oratorio that includes Hound-Dog Aria? Sorry, there will be no Elvis impersonators, but Haydn is at his tone-painting best here.

A bassoon snuffles like a hound, there is a gunshot and more. This is followed by a big Hunting Chorus that tells the story of the hunt for a stag. We ride with the hunters, hounds baying, horns blaring real hunting calls and an orchestration that is dizzying in its constant shifting and changing as we charge over the fields and through the forest.

Hang onto your reins, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. It’s a great workout for chorus, orchestra and audience. It begins in D, but ends in E-flat. Oops, how did that happen? Is this a premonition of Mahler?

Though Haydn often said that he never tried to be funny, he certainly will make us smile, and even laugh. Through his supreme mastery of signifying the senses through music we experience changing weather, smells, time of day and textures vividly. Smells? Really? Yes.

“Fall” ends with a chorus of drinkers lurching about joyously from key to key, never quite steady but having a great time. Steinberg says that in the Drinking Chorus Haydn invents Mahler.

“Winter” begins with an instrumental movement in C minor, reminiscent of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. We imagine heavy fogs — the kinds that make us pull our collars up and snuggle down into a warm scarf. Was Haydn thinking of his own “winter” as he wrote this?

There are three famous genre scenes: the traveler lost in the snow, the Spinning Song, and the tale of a young woman who shows herself adept at handling a young man with mischief on his mind.

Brilliant soloists along with an outstanding full Classic-era orchestra will make this a memorable concert for all.

James Petersen sings with the Chamber Singers of Iowa City and the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre Chorus.