Joseph Haydn

The Creation

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: Approx. 100 Minutes
Genre: Oratorio
Time of Creation: 1796–1798
World Premiere: March 19, 1799 (Vienna)

Table of Contents

Haydn's Creation in 5 Sentences

In his oratorio The Creation, Joseph Haydn musically traces the creation of the world according to the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. The work consists of three parts, in which different thematic emphases are presented. Haydn was inspired by his two visits to England (1791–92 and 1794–95), during which he had attended performances of oratorios by George Frideric Handel. The Creation was a resounding success from the beginning. The premiere was received to rapturous applause, and only a few years later the work was performed throughout Europe.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Haydn's Creation

Highlight 1: a big bang?

Haydn’s Creation begins with the most basic component of music – a single note that just fades out for a loooong time. A musical representation of the big bang? Probably not. And yet this association naturally suggests itself:

Highlight 2: the wrong way...

The introduction is a masterpiece in music psychology. Haydn writes a somber, harmonically confused music – we are, after all, still at the very beginning, the earth does not yet exist, everything is dark and impenetrable. A chaotic “primeval soup”, so to speak. It goes on like this for quite a while…

Highlight 3: light!

… and then, on the words of the choir (“And there was light!”) suddenly the brightness breaks out with all the stronger effect (exact place in the video: 07:46). This passage was such a sensation at the premiere in 1799 that the performance had to be interrupted due to the raving audience (see quote below):

Highlight 4: elaborate ending – people in paradise

Haydn does not include a musical representation of the seventh day in his Creation. Instead, the last five musical numbers represent the first humans in paradise. Consequently, Haydn chooses a very elaborate compositional principle for the conclusion of his monumental work – the double fugue (for an explanation, see the “Questions and Answers”):

3 Questions and Answers about Haydn's Creation

Question 1: What is an oratorio?

In an oratorio, an episode, usually from the Bible, is presented musically. Oratorios feature soloists, choir, and orchestra. Well-known oratorios were written by Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn, for example.

Question 2: What is a double fugue?

In a double fugue, two musical themes are introduced, processed and finally combined with each other – which is why the double fugue is considered a very elaborate compositional principle.

Question 3: What are the three parts of Haydn's Creation about?

The first part is about the creation of light, the earth, the heavenly bodies, water, weather and plants. The second part deals with the creation of fish, birds, cattle and humans. The final third part tells of the happy first hours of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

2 Recommended Recordings of Haydn's Creation

Recording 1: Gaechinger Cantorey, Hans-Christoph Rademann, Katharina Konradi, Julian Habermann, Tobias Berndt

This recording was made by the International Bach Academy Stuttgart. It is played on original period instruments, which makes for a rich, crisp sound. A rousing performance:

Recording 2: Concerto d'Amsterdam, Netherlands Chamber Choir, Klass Stok, Johanette Zomer, Marcel Beekman, André Morsch (video production, 2009)

If you want to complement the listening pleasure with something visual, you will find it here. In this video production, the concert recording is combined with images of the Hubble telescope and paintings from Haydn’s lifetime:

1 Quote about Haydn's Creation

At the moment when the light first appeared, one could say that rays shot from the composer's luminous eyes. The enchantment of the electrified Viennese was so general that the orchestra could not continue playing for several minutes.

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