“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.”
There have been some truly magnificent musical works composed over the centuries. The great Baroque Oratorios are among my favorite, combining recitatives – “sung as spoken” narration, alternating with choruses of tremendous power. The composers Bach and Handel were the masters of this form of church music. The Austrian composer, Joseph Haydn, really belongs to the later Classical, rather than Baroque, era of art music, but during concert tours of England in the 1790s, he was much impressed by Handel’s oratorios Israel in Egypt and, of course, The Messiah, and wanted to write a major oratorio of his own.
He was handed a lengthy poem, detailing the creation of the world, which Handel had not got round to working on. Haydn decided he would do it, so he got his librettist, Baron Gottfried van Swieten, to adapt the poem, which drew on the words of Genesis, Psalms, and John Milton’s classic Paradise Lost.
Uniquely, the libretto was developed in both German and English, so is equally at home being performed in either language. A performance of The Creation is a massive undertaking, however, with large choir and orchestra, and powerful solo sections.
The oratorio was first performed in Vienna in 1799. The work reflects the composer’s own faith. The dying Haydn was carried into his last performance, in 1808, at which the audience erupted in spontaneous applause. Haydn pointed weakly upward. “Not from me—everything comes from up there!” And Haydn’s Creation remains a supreme act of worship to our God and Creator.