The Creation

Joseph Haydn
Joseph Haydn

As Felicia announced on Tuesday, we’re going to rehearse Haydn’s The Creation in the first half of 2009, with a view to performing it (or part thereof) on 31 May, the 200th anniversary of Joseph Haydn’s death. Those interested in this work might like to read the Wikipedia entry as well as that for Haydn himself. Some excerpts:


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. … 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. … 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.

The libretto:

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. … the original writer remains anonymous.

When Haydn returned to Vienna, he turned this libretto over to Baron van Swieten. … He is largely responsible for recasting the English libretto of The Creation in a German translation (Die Schöpfung) that Haydn could use to compose. … 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. …

To which I might add that I have always been rather puzzled by the following words from solo section in The Heavens are Telling:

Today that is coming speaks it the day

Though I thought “it” was “if”, which doesn’t make any more sense.

Doubtless there are some resources on the WWW for practicing this work and we’ll post a link to them later.