Haydn – Overture to The Creation

by Max Derrickson

George Frederich Haydn

Overture to The Creation

“Sonorous metal blowing martial sounds:
At which the universal host up sent
a shout that tore hell’s concave, and beyond
Frighted the reign of Chaos and old Night.”
John Milton – Paradise Lost
Book I – 1667

Haydn’s oratorio was written as a commission for private performance inVienna. The libretto by Van Swieten was a removed rendering of Paradise Lost, and scholars believe that the text was first handed to Handel but declined by him.

Haydn (1732-1804) was no stranger to Handel’s works, and at a young age was astounded by them, vowing to compose as powerful and as universal a music. Haydn had also been a visitor to London in his later years, where the magnificent festivals of oratorios in the tradition of Handel impressed him. He completed “The Creation” at the age of 65, and it is generally considered a culminative masterpiece.

Haydn was a court musician under the patronage of the Esterhazy house inViennamost of his life. Duties as such required a steady production of music. And it is here that Haydn mastered virtually every genre of the day. He may be best known know for his over 100 symphonies, works from the Classical era, delightfully unique in invention. Haydn had the distinct luxury   [. . .]

The Overture to “The Creation” titled Representation of Chaos is a wonderful place to begin with Haydn. The very title would seem to suggest room for much imagination, and we have our chaos beginning with a resounding C unison chord, conspicuously lacking thirds for tonality (such as C major). A diminuendo drifts to E-flat, what might have been setting up c-minor, but then all is lost, as the next large chord resounds in A-flat major. What Haydn is cleverly doing is suggesting chaos through lack of a recognizable key. This continues,     [. . .]   The introduction is immensely moving and, despite its character, a glowing representation of Haydn’s genius and unsurpassed imagination.