Haydn's Creation

Haydn's Creation was an interesting detour for the chorus this season. In January, we had premiered John Adams's El Nino. In February, we had performed Stravinsky and Mahler, icons of twentieth century classical music. So to take a sharp detour back to the Classical period with Haydn was a bit of a whiplash for us. It's far closer in style to the Baroque era.

Robert Shaw apparently once complained that he didn't like to do Haydn's music because it was too happy. And singing the Creation could certainly lead to that belief. The entire piece is full of "God is cool!" "Isn't the world wonderful?" and similar lyrics. It's a bit ironic, considering that Haydn actually had a pretty miserable life. But that's what faith will do for you, I guess.

While a lot of the piece feels very derivative (for instance, Haydn gets way too enamored with Handel-like fugues), there are some brilliant musical touches sprinkled throughout it. The best-known is probably in the first movement where after a hushed introduction, the chorus enters whispering about the Beginning, finishing with "Let there be...", and then a forte "LIGHT!" on a C major chord. Haydn apparently went to great lengths to hide this surprise from his audience, with good reason as it's a great moment.

Another moment that I particularly liked was his depiction of the first sunrise (Genesis 1:16 "And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night"), which starts softly with high strings, with other instruments creeping in slowly, until sixteen bars later, the full orchestra is playing a beautiful chord. In the same movement, the orchestral colors he creates to depict the moonrise are also quite beautiful.

Another bit of musical imagery was the dance of the great fishes (Genesis 1:21 "And God created great whales..."). This movement is played by the low strings, featuring the basses and cellos with a rolling melody. The weighty sound is very evocative of what one would imagine whales swimming around should sound like.

Program notes are available, archived here.

Reviews of the performance:

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