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8.557380-81 - HAYDN: Schopfung (Die) (The Creation)
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Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)
Die Schöpfung (The Creation)

Joseph Haydn was born in the village of Rohrau in 1732, the son of a wheelwright. Trained at the choir-school of St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, he subsequently spent some years earning a living as best he could from teaching and playing the violin or keyboard, and was able to profit from association with the old composer Porpora, whose assistant he became. Haydn’s first appointment was probably as early as 1758 as Kapellmeister to a Bohemian nobleman, Count von Morzin, whose kinsman had once served as patron to Vivaldi. This was followed in 1761 by employment as Vice-Kapellmeister to one of the richest men in the Empire, Prince Paul Anton Esterházy, succeeded after his death in 1762 by Prince Nicolaus. On the death in 1766 of the elderly and somewhat obstructive Kapellmeister Gregor Werner, who had found much to complain about in the professionalism of his young and resented deputy, Haydn succeeded to his position, to remain in the same employment, nominally at least, for the rest of his life.

On the completion of the magnificent palace at Esterháza in the Hungarian plains under Prince Nicolaus, Haydn assumed command of an increased musical establishment. Here he had responsibility for the musical activities of the palace, which included the provision and direction of instrumental music, opera and music for the theatre, as well as music for the church. For his patron he provided a quantity of chamber music of all kinds, particularly for the Prince’s own peculiar instrument, the baryton, a bowed string instrument with sympathetic strings that could also be plucked.

Prince Nicolaus died in 1790 and Haydn found himself able to accept an invitation to visit London. There he provided music for concert seasons organized by the violinist-impresario Salomon. A second successful visit to London in 1794 and 1795 was followed by a return to duty with the Esterházy family, the new head of which had settled principally at the family property in Eisenstadt, where Haydn had started his career with them. Much of the year, however, was to be spent in Vienna, where Haydn passed his final years, dying in 1809, as the French armies of Napoleon approached the city yet again.

In London towards the end of May in 1791 Haydn had attended the great Handel Festival in Westminster Abbey, with its thousand performers. The music of Handel was known, of course, in Vienna, where, particularly with the encouragement of Baron Gottfried van Swieten, arbiter elegantium of the Imperial court, the interest of Mozart had been aroused and performances of oratorios had been arranged. The English tradition of Handel performance, however, was something new, suggesting to Haydn a possible return to a form he had explored sixteen years earlier in Il ritorno di Tobia. His madrigal The Storm, setting words by Peter Pindar, won success at its first performance in London in 1792, as it did in Vienna the following year, and further suggested that Haydn might be the true successor to Handel in the composition of oratorios. It was through the impresario and violinist Johann Peter Salomon, who had arranged Haydn’s concerts in London, that Haydn came by a possible English text for a new oratorio, a libretto based on the Bible and on Milton’s Paradise Lost, apparently by a certain Lidley or Lindley, and once intended, it has been suggested, for Handel. On his return to Vienna he gave the English text to Baron van Swieten, who made a German version, later devising a not always particularly idiomatic English version to match the German words, as set by Haydn. It has been suggested that the English libretto given to Haydn by Salomon simply inspired a new text, but similarity with English textual sources seems to indicate that Baron van Swieten first translated the English text into German, before adapting the English to fit his own German version and Haydn’s music. Salomon, however, claimed rights to the text, later relinquishing his claim, although delays in the mail in 1800 put him at a disadvantage over the planned first London performance, which was anticipated by a young rival, John Ashley, who had received his copy of the published work by British Embassy courier. Haydn had worked on the score between 1796 and 1798, and there was a private performance on 30th April in the latter year. The first public Vienna performance, with larger forces, was given at the Burgtheater on 19th March 1799 before a crowded auditorium, an occasion that aroused the greatest public interest and the warmest applause and approval of a work described by one writer as the ‘masterpiece of the new musical age’.

CD 1: The oratorio opens with an introductory Representation of Chaos (1) which is remarkable in the context of its time and in that of Haydn’s work. Signs of life appear within the shifting harmonies, suggesting what is to come. The angel Raphael, in a bass recitative, (2) announces the first words of the Book of Genesis, before the chorus softly continues, as the Spirit of God moves upon the face of the waters, leading to the proclamation ‘Let there be light’, repeated, after a plucked note from the strings, in an emphatic statement, the strings now unmuted. To this the angel Uriel, represented by a tenor, adds, in recitative, the declaration of divine approval. There follows an A major aria and chorus (3), with a modulation at its heart into C minor, as the spirits of hell sink down into the abyss. The chorus enters, moving finally to a soft A major as a new world is announced.

The third number, a recitative (4), is given to the bass Raphael, at first only with continuo accompaniment, before the orchestra enters, anticipating, first, ‘heftige Stürme’ (‘outrageous storms’). Scales suggest ‘wie Spreu vor dem Winde, so flogen die Wolken’ (‘as chaff by the winds are impelled the clouds’). Lightning is followed by thunder, then rain, hail, and snow, all anticipated by the orchestra. The Archangel Gabriel, a soprano, enters in a C major aria and chorus (5), ‘Mit Staunen sieht das Wunderwerk der Himmelsbürger frohe Schar’ (‘The marv’lous work beholds amaz’d the glorious hierarchy of heav’n’) with oboe obbligato that presents a melody that Haydn had used before in a cello solo in the Qui tollis peccata mundi of his Missa in tempore belli of 1796.

Raphael’s following recitative (6) marks the third day, as God divides the waters from the dry land, leading to the aria ‘Rollend in schäumenden Wellen’ (‘Rolling in foaming billows’) (7), in which word-painting, that Tonmalerei, so deplored by a coming generation and explicitly denied by Beethoven in his Pastoral Symphony, is again, as consistently in the oratorio, a feature of Haydn’s writing. Three bars of quavers illustrate the word ‘läuft’ (‘runs’), and the ‘softly purling’ (‘leise rauschend’) brook is accompanied by matching violin figuration. Gabriel, in a secco recitative (8), announces God’s decree that the earth bring forth grass and fruit, continuing with the second aria without chorus of the work (9), the pastoral ‘Nun beut die Flur das frische Grün’ (‘With verdure clad the fields appear’). A brief recitative from the tenor (10), Uriel, announces the end of the third day, capped by the jubilant chorus ‘Stimmt an die Saiten’ (‘Awake the harp’) in a glorious D major (11), with trumpets and drums, and a central fugue, the Handelian in the language of Haydn.

In a secco recitative Uriel proceeds to the fourteenth verse of Genesis (12), the setting of lights in the firmament and the division of day from night. This goes on to an accompanied recitative (13), as the orchestra rises in a crescendo, before the sun bursts into light, slowing to a Più adagio for the appearance of the moon. The soloists and chorus join together in the best known chorus of The Creation, ‘Die Himmel erzählen’ (‘The Heavens are telling the glory of God’) (14), ending the first part of the work in an affirmative C major.

The second part starts with Gabriel’s recitative for the fifth day of creation (15), bringing forth living creatures. The following F major aria (16) is introduced by strings and woodwind in initial unison agreement. First come the fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. The proud eagle is succeeded by the lark, its song heard from the clarinet. Doves are shown by pairs of bassoons in loving conjunction, before eagle and lark return, followed by doves even more graphically illustrated. The nightingale is represented by the flute in more extended song. Raphael’s following recitative introduces the whale (17), before the command to be fruitful and multiply, while a short secco recitative section announces the singing of the angels, as the fifth day comes to an end (18). In an A major terzetto (19) Gabriel sings of the hills and rocks, and the cooling streams, Uriel of the birds, their plumage glinting in the sunlight, and Raphael of the fish and of leviathan, playing amid the foaming waves. They are joined by the chorus in praise of the Lord and his eternal glory.

CD 2: The sixth day starts with Raphael announcing the creation of living beings in a secco recitative (1), leading to the accompanied ‘Gleich öffnet sich der Erde Schoss’ (‘At once Earth opens her womb’) (2), with its famous procession of creatures, the ‘tawny lion’, the ‘flexible tyger’ (‘gelenkige Tiger’), the ‘nimble stag’ (‘schnelle Hirsch’), the noble horse ‘with flying mane’ (‘mit fliegender Mähne’), the cattle and the ‘bleating flock’, swarms of insects, and finally the worm, creeping its way. Each of these is briefly and vividly depicted in the music, and the following aria (3) allows Raphael to praise the glory of Heaven, again with illustrative moments, including the fortissimo bassoon and double bassoon notes that mark the heavy tread of the beasts (‘den Boden drückt der Tiere Last’). Uriel’s secco recitative (4) announces the completion of the work in the creation of man in God’s image, modulating to C major for the aria ‘Mit Würd’ und Hoheit angetan’ (‘In native worth and honour clad’) (5), proclaiming Man as the King of Nature (‘König der Natur’), the nobility of man further suggesting, perhaps, the then current masonic ideals that have been thought to lie behind the oratorio. The second part of the aria is a tender account of the creation of Eve, offering ‘love and joy and bliss’ (‘Liebe, Glück und Wonne’). Raphael’s short recitative announces the end of the sixth day (6), celebrated in the B flat major chorus ‘Vollendet ist das große Werk’ (‘Achieved is the glorious work’) (7), with its fugal section, to return with a more formal fugal section after the terzetto ‘Zu dir, o Herr, blickt alles auf’ (‘On thee each living soul awaits’), concluding the second part with a final ‘Alleluia’.

An accompanied recitative for Uriel (8), with three flutes, horns and strings, leading from E major to G major, sets the idyllic scene, developed in the C major duet for Adam and Eve and chorus (9). An oboe solo, accompanied by the strings, introduces the couple’s wondering praise of the Creator, in which they are joined by the chorus in a fine Adagio. An F major Allegretto, introduced by the strings, marked mezza voce, brings Adam’s marvelling at the sun, continued by the chorus, before Eve’s awe-struck praise of the moon and stars. A modulation to B flat marks Adam’s admiration of the ‘combrous elements’, with further shifts of key as the chorus joins their hymn of praise. Now in A flat, Eve calls on the ‘purling fountains’ to praise God (‘Sanft rauschend lobt, o Quellen, ihn!). Adam calls an exhortation to all creatures, followed by the chorus, with a change to G major, and then to the original C major of this extended movement. A following secco recitative (10) allows Adam to record the accomplishment of his first duty, and to call on his wife to join with him, which she does, in due obedience. An E flat duet (11) has Adam followed by Eve in love and wonder in an Adagio, succeeded by an Allegro, heralded by the horns in characteristic intervals, suggesting something of the bucolic. Adam sings of the dew of morning, and Eve of the cool of the evening, he of the fruit, she of the flowers, nothing to them without their companionship.

In a secco recitative Uriel commends the happy pair (12), happy only in that they do not know more than they should. The final chorus, in which the soloists, now four in number, join, ‘Singt dem Herren alle Stimmen! (‘Sing the Lord, ye voices all!’) (13) uses the full orchestra in a B flat song of praise, the opening Andante followed by an Allegro double fugue, a stress on ‘Ewigkeit’ (‘eternity’), a verbal motif of the whole text, and a final monumental ‘Amen’.

Keith Anderson


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