JOSEPH HAYDN • Il ritorno di Tobia, Hob XXI:1 – Oratorio for soloists, chorus and orchestra
An Evening for Sarajevo
We thank all the performers, who made it possible for the net revenue of this concert to be donated to a multi-cultural integration project in Sarajevo.
End of concert approx. 22:15.
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Untitled, © Eva Schlegel
Haydn Oratorio Cycle
When Nikolaus Harnoncourt prepares a performance, his goal is always a journey of discovery. In the case of the Haydn Oratorio Cycle at the Salzburg Festival, however, he is truly undertaking an expedition into uncharted territory, for the two late German-language works – Die Schöpfung (1798) and Die Jahreszeiten (1801) – are flanked by an early Italian oratorio which never managed to establish itself in the repertoire: Il ritorno di Tobia, composed in 1774/75, a setting of a libretto by Gian Gastone Boccherini. It is a monumental piece that is hard to realize, that makes singers break into a terrified sweat and presents the orchestra with almost insuperable difficulties – and also presupposes an audience well-versed in the Bible.
For Harnoncourt, this cycle reflects a very complex image of Haydn’s expressive possibilities. “The specific wit is found in all his works,” he says; “it is most obvious in Die Schöpfung, and that is why it is so popular. Die Jahreszeiten, on the other hand, is underrated. To me, it is an opus ultimum, an overview of everything Haydn wanted to express musically.”
As a supplement to these two great works, however, Tobia especially deserves particular attention: “Haydn invented an orchestra only for this work, an orchestra that didn’t exist yet in this form, with a complement of winds that one might expect in Schumann, but which Haydn put to a very different use; this goes far beyond his later oratorios. Also, the content he deals with here is extremely modern. In order to understand that, however, one must be very familiar with the story.”
Therefore, reading the Bible – more concretely, the Book of Tobit (Tobias) of the Old Testament – is recommended as preparation. Thus familiarized with the facts that are merely alluded to in the text, the audience will marvel at the way Tobias manages to cure his father of blindness – and, incidentally, find his personal happiness. The overwhelming plot device of the oratorio, however, will still remain surprising. The fact that the father, once cured, cannot tolerate light and has to readjust to it slowly also makes the grandiose moment “Und es ward Licht!” (“And there was light!”) in Die Schöpfung appear in a different context.
Translated by Alexa Nieschlag
by Alexander Pereira and Florian Wiegand
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