Chorale to present Haydn's majestic `Creation' Saturday

Oratorio: The 1796 work based on the Book of Genesis has an "incredible spiritual quality."

April 27, 2000|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The last concert composer Franz Joseph Haydn attended before his death took place in Vienna on March 27, 1808.

The program consisted of a single work, Haydn's own oratorio, "The Creation," an extraordinary musical account he'd composed more than a decade earlier of the Book of Genesis.

When conductor Antonio Salieri's chorus blazed in with that thumping C major chord at "And there was light" near the beginning of the piece, the enthusiastic audience immediately burst into applause. Haydn, a feeble 76-year-old with only a few months to live, pointed heavenward and said, "Not from me -- from there above comes everything."

" `The Creation' does indeed have an incredible spiritual quality," says conductor J. Ernest Green, whose Annapolis Chorale will perform Haydn's resounding masterwork at 8 p.m. Saturday at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.

"What I find so wonderful about it is that Haydn doesn't see the fall from grace as the climax of the Adam and Eve story. His conclusion occurs as Adam and Eve become full human beings and begin sharing their love with each other. That, to me, is very, very profound."

Haydn knew he was creating something special as he crafted the piece in 1796. Though not as facile a composer as, say, Mozart, he worked expeditiously and efficiently, as any 18th-century court musician would be required to do.

But when he began "Die Schopfung," as "The Creation" is called in German, he prepared numerous drafts and sketches, worked closely with his librettist, Gottfried van Swieten, who supplied him with both German and English texts, and left nothing to chance.

"I spend much time over it because I intend it to last a long time," Haydn said.

Indeed it has, for high-level genius permeates every measure of the score.

One stunning feature is the opening, "Representation of Chaos," in which Haydn mixed shifting rhythms, odd bits of melody, weird harmonies and, on occasion, jarring dissonances to depict a universe bereft of divine order.

Elsewhere in the work, expressive tone painting abounds as Haydn's solo arias and orchestral accompaniments describe rising suns, foaming seas, leaping tigers, heavy beasts and cooing doves with startling creativity.

Capping the oratorio are its majestic choruses, such as "The Heavens Are Telling the Glory of God" and "Achieved Is the Glorious Work," which embody the warmth of spirit so noticeable at the core of the work. They are so full of joy that when I hear them I pay tribute not only to the musician, but to the man himself.

"There are painted on his countenance all the genius, goodness, propriety, benevolence and rectitude which constantly characterize his writings," an 18th-century music historian wrote of Haydn. It's hard not to see these wonderful qualities when listening to Haydn's music.

Soprano Amy Cofield, tenor Jeffery Halili and bass Jason Hardy will join Green, the Annapolis Chorale and the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra for Saturday's performance which will be sung in English. Tickets are $20.

Reservations and information: 410-263-1906.

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