Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Classical Era > The Creation (Haydn)
Haydn was sixty-five years of age when he undertook the great work of his life. It was begun in 1796, and finished in 1798. When urged to bring it to a conclusion more rapidly, he replied, "I spend much time over it, because I intend it to last a long time." The first public performance was given in Vienna, March 19, 1799, Haydn's name-day. Its sucess was immediate, and rivalled that of "The Messiah."
The oratorio opens with an overture representing chaos. Its effect is at first dull and indefinite, its utterances inarticulate, and its notes destitute of perceptible melody. Gradually instrument after instrument makes an effort to extricate itself, and as the clarinets and flutes struggle out of the confusion, the feeling of the order begins to make itself apparent. The resolutions indicate harmony. At last the wonderful discordances settle, leaving a misty effect that vividly illustrates ("the Spirit of God moving upon the Face of the Waters"). Then, at the fiat of the Creator ("Let there be Light"), the whole orchestra and chorus burst forth in the sonorous response ("And there was Light"). A brief passage by Uriel, tenor, describes the divisions of light from darkness, and the end of chaos, introducing a fuged chorus, in which the rage of Satan and his hellish spirits, as they are precipitated into the abyss, is described with tremendous discords and strange modulations ; but before it closes, the music relates the beauties of the newly created earth springing up ("at God's Command"). Paphael describes the making of the firmament, the ranging of the storms, the flashing lightning and rolling thunders, the showers of the rain and hail, and the gently falling snow, to an acompaniment which is closely imitative in character. The work of the second day forms the theme of ("The marvelous Work"), for soprano obligato with chorus - a number characterized by great joyousness and spirit. This leads to the number ("Rolling in foaming Billows") in which the music is employed to represent the effect of water, from the roaring billows of the ("boisterous Seas"), and the rivers flowing in ("Serpent Error"), to the ("limpid Brook"), whose murmuring ripple is set to one of the sweetest and most delicious of melodies. This leads to the way to the well-known aria ("With Verdure clad"), of which Haydn himself was very fond, and which he recast three times before he! was satisfied with it. It is followed by a fuged chorus ("Awake the Harp"), in which the angels praise the Creator. We next pass to creation of the planets. The instrumental prelude is a wonderful bit of constantly developing color, which increases ("in Splendor bright"), until the sun appears. It is followed by the rising of the moon, to an accompaniment as tender as its own radiance; and as the star appear ("the Sons of God"), announce the fourth day, and the first part closes with the great chorus ("The Heavens are telling"), in which the entire force of band and singers is employed in full, broad harmony and sonorous chords, leading to a cadence of magnificent power.
The second part opens with the aria ("On mighty Pens"), describing in a majestic manner the flight of the eagle, and then blithely passes to the gaiety of the lark, the tenderness of the cooing doves, and the plaintiveness of the nightingale, in which the singing of the birds is imitated as closely as the resources of music will allow. A beautiful terzetto describes with inimitable grace the gently sloping hills covered with their verdure, the leaping of the fountain into the light, and the flights of birds; and a bass solo in sonorous manner takes up the swimming fish, closing with ("the Upheaval of Leviathan from the Deep"), who disports himself among the double-bases. This leads to a powerful chorus ("The Lord is great"). The next number describes the next creation of various animals; and perhaps nothing that art contains can vie with it in varied and vivid description. It begins with the lion, whose deep roar is heard among the wind instruments. The alertness of the ("flexible Tiger") is shown in rapid flights by the strings. A Presto ingeniously represents the quick movement of the stag. The horse is accompanied by the music which prances and neighs. A quiet pastoral movement, in strong contrast with the preceding abrupt transitions, pictures the cattle seeking their food ("on Fields and Meadows green"). A flutter of sounds describes the swarns of insects in the air, and from this we pass to a long, undulating thread of harmony, representing the ("sinuous Trace") of the worm. This masterpiece of imitative music is contained in a single recitative. A powerful and dignified aria, sung by Raphael ("Now Heaven in fullest Glory shone"), introduces the creation of man, which is completed in an exquisitely beautiful aria ("In native Worth") by Uriel, the second part of which is full of tender beauty in its description of the creation of Eve, and closes with a picture of the happiness of the newly created pair. A brief recitative ("And God saw everything that He had made") leads to the chorus ("Achieved is the glorious Work") -- a fugue of great power, superbly accompanied. It is interrupted by a Trio ("On Thee each living Soul awaits"), but soon returns with still greater power and grandeur, closing with a Gloria and Hallelujah of magnificent proportions.
The third part opens with a symphonic introduction descriptive of the first morning of creation, in which the flutes and horns, combined with the strings, are used with exquisite effect. In a brief recitative ("In rosy Mantle appears") Uriel pictures the joy of Adam and Eve, and bid them sing the praise of God with the angelic choir, which forms the theme of the succeding duet and chorus ("By Thee with Bliss"); to which the answering choir replies with a gentle and distant effect, as if from the celestial heights ("Forever blessed be his Power"). Again Adam and Eve in successive solos, join with the choir in extolling the goodness of God; and as they close, all take up the paean ("Hail, bounteous Lord! Almighty, hail!"). As the angelic shout dies away, a tender, loving dialogue ensues between Adam and Eve, leading to the beautiful duet ("Graceful Consort"), which is not only the most delightful number in the work, but in freshness, sweetness, and tenderness stands almost unsurpassed among compositions of its kind. After a short bit of recitative by Uriel ("O happy pair"), the chorus enters upon the closing number ("Sing the Lord, ye Voices all"), beginning slowly and majestically, then developing into a masterly fugue ("Jehovah's Praise forever shall endure"), and closing with a laudamus of matchless beauty, in which the principal voices in solo parts are set off against the choral and orchestral masses with powerful effect.