Franz Joseph Haydn (1732~1809)
《The Creation》oratorio, Hob. XXI:2 (1798)
- English version, Vienna 1800 -
(Part 1, Scene 3 / The Third Day)
10. Recitative - "And the heavenly host proclaimed the third day, praising God, and saying"
11. Chorus - "Awake the harp, the lyre awake!"
(Part 1, Scene 4 / The Fourth Day)
12. Recitative - And God said: 'Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven"
13. Recitative - "In splendour bright is rising now the sun and darts his rays"
14. Chorus with Trio - "The heavens are telling the Glory of God"
Emma Kirkby (soprano / Gabriel)
Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor / Uriel)
Michael George (bass / Raphael)
Choir of New College, Oxford
The Chorus of Academy of Ancient Music
The Academy of Ancient Music
Christopher Hogwood (conductor)
The Creation (German: Die Schöpfung) is an oratorio written between 1796 and 1798 by Joseph Haydn (H. 21/2), and considered by many to be his masterpiece. The oratorio depicts and celebrates the creation of the world as described in the biblical Book of Genesis and in Paradise Lost.
Haydn was inspired to write a large oratorio during his visits to England in 1791-1792 and 1794-1795, when he heard oratorios of Handel performed by large forces. Israel in Egypt is believed to have been one of these. It is likely that Haydn wanted to try to achieve results of comparable weight, using the musical language of the mature classical style.
The work on the oratorio lasted from October 1796 to April 1798. It was also a profound act of faith for this deeply religious man, who appended the words "Praise to God" at the end of every completed composition. He later remarked, "I was never so devout as when I was at work on The Creation; I fell on my knees each day and begged God to give me the strength to finish the work." Haydn composed much of the work while at his residence in the Mariahilf suburb of Vienna, which is now the Haydnhaus. It was the longest time he had ever spent on a single composition. Explaining this, he wrote, "I spent much time over it because I expect it to last for a long time." In fact, he worked on the project to the point of exhaustion, and collapsed into a period of illness after conducting its premiere performance.
In 1801, Haydn reused some ideas from this oratorio for the Schöpfungsmesse.
Haydn's original autograph score has been lost since 1803. A Viennese published score dated 1800 forms the basis of most performances today. The 'most authentic' Tonkünstler-Societat score of 1799, with notes in the composer's hand, can be found at the Vienna State Library. There are various other copyist scores such as the Estate, as well as hybrid editions prepared by scholars during the last two centuries.
The text of The Creation has a long history. The three sources are Genesis, the Biblical book of Psalms, and John Milton's Genesis epic Paradise Lost. In 1795, when Haydn was leaving England, the impresario Johann Peter Salomon (1745-1815) who had arranged his concerts there handed him a new poem entitled The Creation of the World. This original had been offered to Handel, but the old master had not worked on it, as its wordiness meant that it would have been 4 hours in length when set to music. The libretto was probably passed on to Salomon by Thomas Linley Sr. (1733-1795), a Drury Lane oratorio concert director. Linley (sometimes called Lidley or Liddel) himself could have written this original English libretto, but scholarship by Edward Olleson, A. Peter Brown (who prepared a particularly fine "authentic" score) and H. C. Robbins Landon, tells us that the original writer remains anonymous.
When Haydn returned to Vienna, he turned this libretto over to Baron van Swieten. The Baron led a multifaceted career as a diplomat, librarian in charge of the imperial library, amateur musician, and generous patron of music and the arts. He is largely responsible for recasting the English libretto of The Creation in a German translation (Die Schöpfung) that Haydn could use to compose. He also made suggestions to Haydn regarding the setting of individual numbers. The work was published bilingually (1800) and is still performed in both languages today. Haydn himself preferred for the English translation to be used when the work was performed for English-speaking audiences.
Van Swieten was evidently not a fully fluent speaker of English, and the metrically-matched English version of the libretto has given rise to criticism and various attempts at improvement. Indeed, the English version is sufficiently awkward that the work is sometimes performed in German even in English-speaking countries. One passage describing the freshly-minted Adams forehead ended up, The large and arched front sublime/of wisdom deep declares the seat. The discussion below quotes the German text as representing van Swieten's best efforts, with fairly literal renderings of the German into English.