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6 - When Does the Sublime Stop? Cavatinas and Quotations in Haydn’s Seasons

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 April 2020

Sarah Hibberd
Affiliation:
University of Bristol
Miranda Stanyon
Affiliation:
King's College London
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Summary

Haydn’s Seasons suffered in the critical reception of its time owing to the sublime’s proximity to the humorous or quotidian, two of the sublime’s ‘off-switches’, especially after the unproblematic sublimity of The Creation. Van Swieten’s cataloguing talents as imperial librarian are on view as librettist of both oratorios, but only The Seasons reflected his thematic choices. His poetry allowed Haydn to showcase the effects of nature’s excesses in the ‘extreme’ seasons, making the sublime ‘start’ and ‘stop’ not only in the choruses invoking God, the eruption of the storm and the sounding of the Last Judgment, but also in the quieter solos in Summer and Winter, both cavatinas, when the sun’s overwhelming presence or absence makes animate nature gasp for air. The ‘quotidian sublime’ of the sunset tapestry that closes Summer brings healing after terror. Haydn’s two Mozart quotations in The Seasons make powerful references to the life cycle as the work’s dominant metaphor, but hitherto unremarked is Haydn’s spotlight on the rising-sixth interval in Spring and Winter as Mozart uses it in The Magic Flute for moments of recognition. In thus suggesting sublime Mozart’s spirit framing the whole, Haydn’s work offers a key to Beethoven’s Cavatina in Op. 130.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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