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Edward Elgar

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If you haven't already heard Haydn's 'Creation', listen to it now!

The prelude is a "representation of chaos". However, Haydn's "representation of chaos" is more technically subtle than chaotic. It begins in C minor (or does it?!) and almost immediately drifts unpredictably to outrageously remote keys. I would argue that this moment marks the beginning of the breakdown of tonality, not Wagner's Tristan. The formal process of moving to the dominant has been thrown out of the window and it no longer matters where the music goes as long as it leaves the listener confused and unsettled!

The first recitative perfectly describes the early universe as being, "without form and void". The choir enter so quietly, whispering the words, "and God said let there be light: and there was LIGHT!!". The word "light" snaps the music into C major with double forte dynamics. The result is quite orgasmic on account of the nature of the previous music. Truly one of the greatest moments in choral music.

The rest of 'Creation' takes the listener on a journey through the creation myth. Each aria and chorus expertly reflect each stage in the story. My personal favorite is No.22 when the Bass lists the animals: the majestic lion, the nimble stag, the noble steed. Then it gets delightfully ridiculous, portraying cattle with an pastoral Andante 6/8, then scurrying insects, and for a grand finale (wait for it) the sinuous worm!!

'Creation' is (to me) a man looking at nature and documenting his sheer pleasure and delight at what he sees. He also praises the guy he believes to have done all this with rousing Handelian choruses. I don't mind at all that this work was inspired by religion. Haydn's faith made him happy and it shows in 'Creation'. If mythology makes a good-natured and benign person happy, it can be no bad thing.
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  1. Sid James's Avatar
    I heard this masterpiece for the first time last week - the Naxos recording. I'll try to go to a live performance of it happening late this month out at Macquarie Uni in norheast Sydney.

    What a magnificent work, indeed! I also like the opening - it just rocks. There are many parts that i like, but I'm just getting familiar with this massive work now. A part that kind of jumped out at me upon first hearing was the aria about the creation of the birds sung by the soprano. I really like the soprano on the Naxos recording - South Korean Sunhae Im - she sounds angelic and gorgeous. As she sings this song, the woodwinds imitate various bird calls. This might sound cliched, but it's the sheer beauty of this work that hits me. Handel might lift us up to more lofty heights, Beethoven might plumb the depths more, but this Haydn oratorio has a very special kind of intimacy and warmth. It's basically a "feel-good" kind of work.

    BTW, I also read that Handel originally wanted to compose an oratorio based on the same material (Genesis and John Milton), but put it aside and never got to it. I'm sure Handel would have done marvels with it as well, but I'm sure glad that Haydn composed this work - it seemed to have bought out the best in him. He was simultaneously looking back to Handel and forward to Beethoven in this work...
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  2. Edward Elgar's Avatar
    I completely agree with your description of this work as being "feel-good". It does start off in Beethoven territory, but as soon as there is light and the creations start to pile up, Handel's influence can be heard.
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  3. emiellucifuge's Avatar
    After first hearing this I couldnt believe it was Haydn. So evocative and emotionally powerful in its depiction that it looks ahead to the great romantics. The only thing that gives it away are the rather boring oratoria-chorus-aria structures.
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