On Sunday 26 March, 2023 in St Patrick's College Chapel, the Department of Music presents Joseph Haydn's The Creation, a performance given by Maynooth University Choral Society with The Irish Choral Sinfonia.
Featuring soloists Claudia Boyle (soprano), Andrew Gavin (tenor), and Simon Morgan (bass), and directed by Dr John O'Keeffe.
Programme Note: The Creation
In 1790 Joseph Haydn, at 58 years of age, accepted an offer from a London concert promoter to make two extended visits to the city between 1791 and 1795.
In London of the 1790s, oratorio was the principal form in use by church composers, and Handel, though dead for almost forty years, still dominated the genre through the influence of his music. Haydn attended a series of memorial concerts devoted to the music of Handel in May 1791. He was shaken by the overwhelming power of the music and, at one point, broke down completely, crying, “He is the master of us all!”. As he became further acquainted with the music of Handel, his admiration and respect deepened and his interest in oratorio grew until, on his final return to Vienna in 1795 and fired by the inspiration of Handel, he was anxious to try an oratorio of his own. While in London, Haydn been given an oratorio text which had been prepared for Handel but never used by him; a translation of it was now produced by one Baron Van Swieten, along with financial backing. Haydn set to work towards the end of 1796, and by April 1798 The Creation was complete.
The text of The Creation is a mixture of scriptural excerpts, quotations and adaptations from Milton’s Paradise Lost and original verse in the style of Milton. Rejected supposedly by Handel, translated and rearranged by Van Swieten and later re-translated by him into English, this much- abused libretto became in Haydn’s hands the vehicle for a magnificent flow of inspiration and creativity. At 65 years of age, he was at the height of his creative powers; somewhat later in life, he was to comment, “Musical ideas pursue me to the point of torture, I cannot get rid of them; my imagination plays upon me as if I were a keyboard.” The entire work is pervaded by the sense of an unceasing flow of invention, a broad current whose power sweeps the listener along as Haydn’s vision of the newly-created earth unfolds in freshness and vitality.
Parts I and II are concerned with the actual work of creation. The main characters are the archangels Raphael (bass), Uriel (tenor) and Gabriel (soprano); day by day, they tell the story of creation through a series of arias and recitatives. Each day of creation is then rounded off by the chorus, who, for their part, represent the heavenly choirs of angels praising God and rejoicing at the beauty of each new created thing. Part II ends with the creation of man; by part III the work is complete, and Adam and Eve – represented by the soprano and bass soloists – are the focus of the universal prayer of worship offered by the whole of creation to God. Just once, there comes into the bliss of the happy couple an omen of darkness, as Uriel warns that they “strive at more than granted is”; but this momentary shadow is swept away in the joy of the final chorus.
The entire work is a marvellously sustained flight of the imagination and of religious feeling. From the orchestral Representation of Chaos, in which one glimpses the billowing of an elemental nothingness, through the large arias, profuse in musical ideas and yet perfect in their architecture, to the sometimes extreme simplicity of the choruses with their pure, unaffected joy, The Creation moves on a dizzy plane of inspiration.
For Haydn himself, the writing of the work was a profoundly religious experience and, as he related after conducting the first performance,
One moment I was cold as ice
all over, the next I was on fire;
more than once I was afraid I
should have a stroke.
Haydn’s Creation, summing up as it does the joy simply of being, stands as the masterwork of an artist whose own innate cheerfulness was tempered by unhappy circumstances. In religious practice, as in all things, Haydn exercised moderation and respectability: in The Creation, however, he allowed the intensity of his vision to take substance, to remain so that succeeding generations might be that much the richer.