I call this post "Exalted Reigns" because of the passage "He sole on high exalted reigns" from The Creation. "Exalted reigns" is a "term" I use to describe Haydn's glorious choral contrapuntal writing. The Seasons is filled to the brim with exalted reigns. It is also filled with harmonic puzzles: surprising dissonances with even more surprising resolutions. Because I was hearing the piece for the first time, I felt like I was both audience and performer. Because the piece is performed relatively rarely (nobody in the orchestra had ever played it before), I felt myself part of a small community (or viola section, if you will) with members that had a similar ear-opening experience to mine, through the whole of the 19th and 20th centuries, and all over the world. It felt like a piece of "new music" because of its boldness, its invention, and its surprising ability to be conventional and unconventional at the same time. Haydn also manages to put a little Mozart in (some Magic Flute and Figaro), while still sounding like himself. There are hundreds of details I missed the first time: I have to get my hands on a score!
The oratorio is probably performed (in its entirety) so rarely because it is three hours long, and it requires constant playing (and constant attention) on the part of the string section. My section-mate and I split the recitatives (which were played by solo strings): she played the first two seasons, and I played the last two. The person who plays the recitatives plays and concentrates constantly for an hour and a half, so I can understand why she wanted a break.
We took a brief intermission while the conductor changed scores. I told him (meeting him for the first time) that I was really enjoying the performance. He was, of course, tired. Here's part of our exchange:
Me: I guess a year is a long time.
He: That's why I prefer The Creation: it only takes 7 days.
Clever man. Clever composer.
I was physically worn out by the end, but I was emotionally giddy, filled with exalted reigns. After The Seasons, the two Messiahs I'll be playing next week will be a relative piece of cake, but I would love to play more Haydn.