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Jacobs School Preview: Haydn's "Creation"

A church sanctuary with banners, an organ and a rose window

The Indiana University Pro Arte singers and Chamber Orchestra under the direction of William Jon Gray will present three performances of Haydn's oratorio, Die Schöpfung  or "The Creation." The first two performances will take place in IU's Auer Hall, while the third will be at Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis.

With text derived from the Bible and John Milton's Paradise Lost, Haydn's Creation was inspired by the sacred oratorios of Handel. Completed in 1798, the work is scored for orchestra and chorus with soprano, tenor and bass soloists. It captured the musical imagination of the European public at a remarkable moment in history- the transition from the Enlightenment to the Romantic era. Haydn, at the height of his powers and popularity, took the unusual step of publishing the score himself and selling it by subscription.

The oratorio begins with a well-known orchestral prelude that depicts the chaos before the creation with the Classical equivalent of musical chaos: unresolved chords. The following recitative, aria and chorus sections feature various roles for the vocal soloists, including the angels Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael, as well as Adam and Eve. The first chorus includes a dramatic musical depiction of the creation of light.

Haydn proceeds to musically illustrate the creation of bodies of water, mountains, plants, the moon, animals, and finally humanity. The music is reflective of the period, drawing on opera buffa, and popular dance forms such as the Siciliana. There is creative text painting throughout, such as the depiction of a moonrise and sunrise with ascending scales, and animals with comical orchestral passages followed with descriptions by the bass soloist.

The third section of the oratorio describes the happy first days of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Haydn chose not to depict the Fall, but hints at it with the angel Uriel's warning to Adam and Eve not to seek knowledge that is beyond them. The final chorus gives  praise to God in supremely Classical style, with the soloists and chorus mingling toward a glorious conclusion in B-flat major.

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