Program Notes - May 11, 2013
Franz Joseph Haydn
Born on 31 March, 1732
Died on 31 May, 1809
The Creation, (H. XXI/2)
Noted Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon wrote that the story of Joseph Haydn’s life is one that he himself thought would be of little interest to anyone but his reputation 204 years after his death has proven to be unequivocally the opposite: a prolific and humble composer whose musical genius is nothing short of astonishing.
Haydn’s oratorio The Creation was composed in Vienna over a two-year period from 1796 to 1798. Haydn had just returned to Vienna in 1795 after his second successful visit to England. Vienna was to become his principal place of residence until his death in 1809. Haydn’s new patron, Prince Nicholas II Esterházy, preferred living in Vienna unlike his predecessor, Nicholas I. The relationship between Nicholas II and Haydn was at first strained and antithetical, unlike the one he had enjoyed with Nicholas I. Nicholas II was not only unmusical, unlike his brother, but was also a difficult and unsympathetic man. There is evidence that there were a number of unpleasant episodes between the two. Nevertheless, Haydn was able to transcend his employer relationships as the right person in the right place at the right time. Vienna was a major center for music and a leading cosmopolitan city in Europe thanks to the reforms of Emperor Joseph II (the enlightened Emperor). Under Joseph II, Vienna had become an imperial seat and administrative center as well as a center of finance and trade. Josephine reforms allowed the emerging middle class to gain wealth and influence. The nobility continued to exist but was divided into two socio-economic classes: the first aristocracy (nobility through heredity) and the second aristocracy (essentially upper-middle class whose titles were earned). Both of these classes were instrumental for The Creation to have been composed by Haydn. Cultural life in Vienna depended on the financial generosity of all nobility, whether as salon hosts, patrons, or participating dilettantes. By the 1790s the role of the nobility in fostering the salon culture had expanded considerably as the role of the court was slowly waning.
Freemasonry continued to be a vital part of Vienna’s intellectual and cultural life. After 1795, however, it was forced to operate in secrecy. Francis II, the last Holy Roman Emperor, eliminated all secret societies, including the Masons. Haydn joined Vienna’s “True Concord” lodge in 1785. The lodge’s membership had a unique focus on literature, science, and moral instruction. Scholars believe that Masonic attitudes and ideals contributed to Haydn’s compositional approach after his membership in 1785. There are several Masonic strands in The Creation, in its treatment of God as chief architect and the importance of love among all human beings.
Haydn had found financial success from his commissions, published compositions, and performances in his old age, which was the exception among musicians. Artists and musicians were typically from the lowest and poorest end of the class spectrum. The Creation is likely the most famous of his commissions from the nobility.
The inspiration for The Creation came from the oratorios of Handel that Haydn had heard during his two visits to London in 1791–92 and 1794–95. An oratorio is an extended musical composition for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra, like an opera, but with a text based on a religious theme and performed without action, costume, or scenery. Just before leaving England, Haydn’s friend and manager, John Peter Salomon, had given him a handwritten libretto (now lost) entitled The Creation of the World, which may have been intended for Handel but was never composed. On his return to Vienna Haydn gave the libretto to Baron Gottfried van Swieten, one of his patrons and supporters, who translated and adapted the libretto in such a way that the German and English texts would fit the same music (perhaps the first original bilingual composition). The first performance took place at the Palais Schwarzenberg, Vienna, on April 29, 1798. Swedish diplomat Frederik Samuel Silverstolpe reported on the work’s first rehearsal and premiere performance:
This work was first given on 29 April 1798. I was among the audience, and a few days beforehand I had attended the first rehearsal. At the latter Haydn was surprised afterwards by a present. Prince Schwarzenberg, in whose rooms the work was prepared and later also performed, was so utterly enchanted by the many beauties of the work that he presented the composer with a roll containing one hundred ducats, over and above the 500 that were part of the agreement. – No one, not even Baron van Swieten, had seen the page of the score wherein the birth of light is described. That was the only passage of the work which Haydn had kept hidden. I think I see his face even now, as this part sounded in the orchestra. Haydn had the expression of someone who is thinking of biting his lips, either to hide his embarrassment or to conceal a secret. And in that moment when light broke out for the first time, one would have said that rays darted from the composer’s burning eyes. The enchantment of the electrified Viennese was so general that the orchestra could not proceed for some minutes.
The first public performance took place on March 19, 1799, at the Burgtheater. The work was an instant success and subsequently performed at many charity performances with Haydn conducting. Haydn published the work himself and sold it by subscription all over Europe. His advertisement in June 1799 reads:
The success which my Oratorio The Creation has been fortunate enough to enjoy... [has] induced me to arrange for its dissemination myself. Thus the work will appear... neatly and correctly engraved and printed on good paper, with German and English texts; and in full score, so that [at least] one work of my composition will be available to the public in its entirety, and the connoisseur will be in a position to see it as a whole and to judge it.
The text of The Creation has three sources: Genesis, the Biblical book of Psalms, and John Milton’s Genesis epic Paradise Lost. The work is set for three vocal soloists (soprano, tenor, and bass, with an incidental solo for alto in the finale), four-part chorus (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), and a large Classical orchestra consisting of 3 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, alto, tenor, and bass trombones, timpani, and typical string sections of first and second violins, violas, cellos, and double basses. For the recitatives a harpsichord or fortepiano is also used. The three soloists represent angels who narrate and comment on the successive six days of creation: Gabriel (soprano), Uriel (tenor), and Raphael (bass). In Part III, the role of Adam is usually sung by the same soloist as sings Raphael, and the roles of Gabriel and Eve are also taken by the same singer. The Creation is written in three parts the musical numbers of which are given below. As in other oratorios, the larger musical numbers (arias and choruses) are often prefaced with a brief recitative; here, the recitative gives the actual words of Genesis, while the following number elaborates the bare Biblical narrative in verse.
Part I celebrates the creation of the primal light, the Earth, the heavenly bodies, bodies of water, weather, and plant life.
Introduction: The Representation of Chaos
A famous number in the work, an overture in C minor in slow tempo, is written in sonata-allegro form. Here, Haydn depicts Chaos by withholding musical cadences from the ends of phrases.
1. Accompanied Recitative (Uriel): In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth. The movement begins with a recitative for bass solo in C minor, followed by choral presentation of the creation of light. The latter is depicted first with a soft pizzicato note from the strings, followed by a sudden surprise fortissimo C major chord on the word Light. Following the appearance of light is a brief tenor recitative on the words "and God saw the light, that it was good,"
2. Air (Uriel): Now vanish before the holy beams Aria for tenor with chorus, in A major, portraying the defeat of Satan’s host, from Paradise Lost.
The Second Day
3. Recitative (Raphael): And God made the firmament, and divided the waters A long recitative for bass in C major, with orchestral tone painting, describing the division of the waters from the land and the first storms.
4. Solo (Gabriel): The marv'lous work beholds amazed/The glorious hierarchy of heav'n. A Soprano solo with chorus in C major. The heavenly hosts praise God and the work of the second day.
The Third Day
5. Recitative (Raphael): And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered unto one place
6. Air (Raphael): Rolling in foaming billows. Aria in D minor for bass, narrating the creation of seas, mountains, rivers, and (a coda in D major) brooks.
7. Recitative (Gabriel): And God said, Let all the earth bring forth grass
8. Air (Gabriel): With verdure clad the fields appear. Solo aria in B-flat major for soprano, in siciliana rhythm (pastoral mood, dotted rhythms), celebrating the creation of plants.
9. Recitative (Uriel): And the Heavenly host proclaimed the third day 10. Chorus: Awake the harp, the lyre awake! A chorus celebrating the third day, with four-part fugue on the words "For he the heavens and earth has clothed in stately dress."
The Fourth Day
11. Recitative (Uriel): And God said: Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night
12. Accompanied Recitative (Uriel): In splendor bright is rising now/the sun, and darts his rays. With tenor narration, the orchestra portrays a brilliant sunrise, then a languid moonrise.
13. Chorus: The heavens are telling the glory of God. The text is based on Psalm 19:1–3, which had been set by Bach as the opening chorus of his cantata Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes, BWV 76. "Die Himmel erzählen" is not in the home key of Part I, C minor, but is instead in C major, depicting the triumph of light over dark. It begins with alternation between celebratory choral passages and more meditative sequences from the three vocal soloists, followed by a choral fugue on the words "The firmament displays the wonder of his works," then a final homophonic section. The unusual intensity of the ending may be the result of Haydn's piling of coda upon coda, each occurring at a point where the music seems about to end.
The Fifth Day
Part IIPart II celebrates the creation of sea creatures, birds, animals, and lastly, man.
14. Accompanied Recitative (Gabriel): And God said: Let the waters bring forth abundantly
15. Air (Gabriel): On mighty pens uplifted soars/The eagle aloft, and cleaves the sky. An aria for soprano in F major, celebrating the creation of birds. The species mentioned are the eagle, the lark, the dove and the nightingale. The lyrics include the conceit that, at the time just after the Creation, no grief had yet affected the nightingale's breast.
16. Recitative (Raphael): And God created great whales, and ev’ry living creature that moveth. While labeled a recitative in the score, it is more appropriately described as a recitative (from Genesis 1:21–22) followed by a very brief aria, the latter a verse paraphrase on the biblical words (Gen. 1:22) "Be fruitful and multiply." The bass sings in the voice of the Almighty, as quoted by the Archangel Raphael. The somber accompaniment uses no violins, but only the lower strings, with divided violas and cellos.
17. Recitative (Raphael): And the angels struck their immortal harps 18. Trio. Haydn breaks the regularity of the pattern: Recitative–Elaboration for solo–Celebratory chorus, with a meditative work in A major for the trio of vocalists, contemplating the beauty and vastness of the newly created world. This leads without a break to:
19. Trio and Chorus: The Lord is great, and great his might Chorus with all three soloists, in A major, celebrating the fifth day. The line "... His glory last forever and forever more” is, appropriately, repeated over and over again, seemingly without end.
The Sixth Day
20. Recitative (Raphael): And God said, Let earth bring forth the living creature
21. Accompanied Recitative (Raphael): Straight opening her fertile womb A movement filled with tone painting. Haydn's sense of humor is indulged here as the newly created creatures appear, each with musical illustration: lion, tiger, stag, horse, cattle, sheep, insects, and worms. Typical in Haydn's oratorio tone painting, the sung verbal explanation comes after the orchestral portrayal.
22. Air (Raphael): Now heav’n in all her glory shines. Preparing for the creation of man: The first part of the movement contains another brief but notable bit of tone painting: a fortissimo bottom B-flat (sounding in octaves) for bassoons and contrabassoon accompanying the last word of the line, "By heavy beasts the ground is trod."
23. Recitative (Uriel): So God created man in his own image
24. Air (Uriel): In native worth and honor clad. Often sung outside the context of The Creation, this aria for tenor, in C major, celebrates the creation of man, then woman. Although the aria relates a Biblical story, the virtues attributed to Adam (and not Eve) clearly reflect the values of the Enlightenment.This was likely the last music from The Creation that Haydn ever heard: it was sung for him several days before his death in 1809 as a gesture of respect by a French military officer, a member of Napoleon's invading army.
25. Recitative (Raphael): And God saw ev’ry thing that he had made
26. Chorus: Achieved is the glorious work: The Lord beholds it, and is pleased. A celebration for chorus alone, in B-flat, of the sixth day.
27. Trio: All look up to thee, O Lord. Another meditation for the three angels (compare No. 18), in E-flat major, on God's omnipotence and mercy, quoting Psalm 145:15–16. The bass solo line "But when from them thy face is hid" requires the singer to terrify the audience with barely-audible pianissimo. The end of the trio is followed without pause by the chorus.
28. Chorus: Achieved is the glorious work, Our song must be the praise of God! This chorus begins with the same music and words and in the same key of B-flat as No. 26. It quickly moves into large double fugue on the words "Let all praise his name, for he alone is sublime." As appropriate to the finale of Part II, this repeat chorus is longer and ends more intensely than the first. The pattern of the last three numbers of Part II, with two movements on the same theme flanking a slower meditative movement, echoes countless settings of the Latin Mass, where similar or identical choruses on Hosanna in excelsis flank a meditative section on Benedictus.
Part IIIPart III takes place in the Garden of Eden, and narrates the happy first hours of Adam and Eve.
29. Accompanied Recitative (Raphael): In rosy mantle appears. Orchestral prelude in slow tempo depicting dawn in the Garden of Eden and followed by recitative for tenor representing Uriel; Adam and Eve are seen walking hand in hand. The key is E major, very distant from the flat keys that have dominated the work so far. Various commentators suggest that Haydn had tried to convey the remoteness of Earth from Heaven, or to contrast the sinfulness of people with the perfection of angels.
30. Hymn: By thee with bliss, O bounteous Lord. Adam and Eve offer a prayer of thanks in C major, accompanied by a chorus of angels. This movement, the longest in The Creation, has three parts. In the first, marked adagio, Adam and Eve sing their prayer, with the chorus singing underneath them accompanied by soft timpani rolls. In the second section, the tempo picks up, and Adam, Eve, and the angels praise the newly created world. The final section is for chorus and orchestra alone, a celebration on the words "We praise thee eternally."
31. Recitative for Adam and Eve: Our first duty we have now performed
32. Duet: Graceful consort! At thy side. Love duet for Adam and Eve in E-flat major. There is a slow initial section, followed by an Allegro. The style is clearly influenced by opera, and some commentators invoke a parallel between Adam and Eve and the characters Papageno and Papagena, from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte.
33. Recitative (Uriel): O happy pair, and ever happy still Uriel briefly explains to the pair that they will be happy always if they will refrain from wanting to have, or wishing to know, more than they should. This is the only reference to the fall of humanity.
34. Chorus: Sing the Lord, ye voices all! The final chorus is in B-flat major. There is a slow introduction, followed by a double fugue on the words “The praise of the Lord will endure forever," with passages for the vocal soloists and a final homophonic section.
Bruce C. MacIntyre writes, “In a sense, The Creation is a summation of Haydn’s life: a brilliant combination of styles—chamber, church, symphonic, and theatrical—in one compelling magnum opus that became a model and inspiration for Beethoven and many later composers.” It has become one of Haydn’s most popular works, a masterpiece that musicians and audiences will forever appreciate and love.
Symphony in C program notes are written by Eric Polack and Joseph C. Schiavo