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"Harvesting? great. Spinning? terrific. Shepherding? don't mind if I do. Had Simon, Hannah or Lucas left their rustic paradise to work in the household of Count Almaviva, I doubt whether much sedition would have occurred."


Haydn's charming oratorio was one of our set works for music "A"-level. I've been very fond of it ever since, so read Anna Picard's review attentively – and feel minded to point out that (as you, my intelligent and thoughtful reader, will probably be aware) Haydn cannot be blamed for the libretto. The original English text is by James Thomson, the German version by baron Gottfried Von Swieten. Aha, spot the aristocrat ...

While not identifying the guilty party, Ms Picard characterises his work very deftly.

The Enlightenment's love-affair with the natural world forms the body of the work: the renewal of spring, the heat of summer, the bounty of autumn and the mists of winter.

And she appreciates one of the most lovable facts about the music: Haydn had an ear for orchestral colour that let him carry off word-painting with an unparalleled degree of success.

... an unruly cockerel, the thrumming of fish in a stream, the swarming of bees ... the alteration in acoustic before thunder, and the spit-spot rain before the downpour ...

H.C. Robbins Landon describes the work as "radically modern in its harmonic conception". OK, so there's a significant absence of social comment or political awareness: but there's nothing unobservant or uncommitted about the music. And Haydn did, apparently, refuse to compose the "Praise of Industry" his librettist suggested.

Your cocktail-party fact-bite? the German translation that Haydn set mentions the hurdy-gurdy: "Hier kreischet die Fiedel, da schnarret die Leier." The English version in my Eulenberg pocket score says in a catch-all sort of way "There's scraping the fiddle, is squeezed the bag and droning the pipe." Again, blame only where blame is due - I don't think that's what Thomson actually wrote.