In the last essay, we saw how a libretto by Charles Jennens, intended for Handel in London, may have ended up finally being set forty-five years later by Haydn in Vienna. While we will never know for sure, since the events took place over 220 years ago, the preponderance of the available evidence, along with some reasonable deduction, surely seems to favor this sequence of events. This, however, is not nearly the end of the story, in fact, it is still quite nearly the beginning.
"Only when I had reached the half-way mark in my composition did I perceive that it was succeeding, and I was never so devout as during the time that I was working on The Creation. Every day I fell to my knees and prayed God to grant me the strength for a happy completion of this work."
Griesinger - Biographical Notes Concerning Joseph Haydn (trans. Gotwals) pg. 55
Some form of the libretto must have been available to Haydn by 1796, for he appears to have begun the sketches of The Creation in that year. The degree of musical collaboration between Swieten and Haydn is unclear, but Swieten offered numerous suggestions on the musical setting of the libretto. A story recounted by the well-known poet and playwright, Franz Grillparzer, would make Swieten's musical role important, for the latter:
"[Swieten] had each piece, as soon as it was ready, copied and pre-rehearsed with a small orchestra. Much he discarded as too trivial [kleinlich] for the grand subject. Haydn gladly submitted, and thus that astonishing work came into being which would be admired by coming generations. I have all this from the lips of a well-informed contemporary who himself took part in these pre-rehearsals".
I'm not sure about you, but this was news to me, and one would think, along with Smither, it was something new to Haydn, too. But looking back to the days at Eszterháza, I wouldn't rule out this practice even back then, since when Haydn had his own big band he tells us about trying out various effects. He also tells Artaria in a letter about having to play through some completed quartets, presumably to make sure they sounded as good in reality as they did in his head. Since he was so diligent about practicing before a performance, and noting changes in margins, one can't help but see this habit of trying things out right away as being analogous. I wonder if Swieten didn't undertake this practice at Haydn's suggestion.
One result of it was a great pile of sketches which provide us with a nearly chronological series of changes. It is beyond the scope of this essay to really expand on this concept, but if you are interested in following up on it, Landon3 has presented a series of these sketches with analysis beginning on page 352.
Haydn must have sat down when he returned from London and made some serious career decisions. We have seen, over the last two and a half years, how he abandoned many of the genres which he had mastered. One of them, symphonies, was the basis for his fame, and although it was a genre with no past before his time, it was right on the threshold of becoming the preeminent musical form of the next century. What we have seen is a man closing the books on a major phase of his career; his few keyboard trios were old obligations being fulfilled, the trumpet concerto was a minor favor for a friend, even the Opus 76 quartets may have been a preexisting obligation. With the sole exception of the Opus 77/103 quartets yet to come, the door on instrumental music was now closed.
Instrumental music in those days, as I have been trying to convince you all along, was considered lightweight entertainment, nothing more. True, symphonies were at the breakout moment in their history, but in 1795 you would have still needed a crystal ball to know it. However, Masses and oratorios were the furthest thing from "music with no past'. They had the most exalted past, and in Haydn's world, composers who had mastered those forms had achieved eternal greatness. Haydn's faith allowed him to think in those terms.
Vienna, 15 December 1796
My dear Beethoven!
For your name-day [recte: birthday] tomorrow, I wish you all the best. God give you health and happiness and grant you much luck. If you, my dear Beethoven, should have a free hour, your old teacher invites you to spend it with him. It would give me great pleasure if you would bring the Trio (NB - believed to be one of the String Trios of Opus 9) with you, we could rehearse it straightaway, and since I now have more time I will start directly making the scores.
Yesterday Haydn came to me, he is carrying round in his head the idea of a big oratorio which he intends to call 'The Creation' and hopes to ﬁnish it soon. He improvised some of it for me and I think it will be very good.
Don't forget to look in tomorrow and meanwhile, hearty greetings from
Your Johann Georg Albrechtsberger
[From Silverstolpe's report to Stockholm, 1 April 1797]
… he [NB – Haydn] then lived in the Krüger-Strasse No. 1075; the house was called der blaue Säbel. He only rented this lodging for a short period to be near Baron van Swieten, the librettist of that great musical work on which Haydn had been engaged for some weeks. It was The Creation. Baron van Swieten, at the head of 12 or 13 other music lovers, had ordered the piece so that it could be performed the next year at Prince Schwarzenberg's, who likewise belonged to the Society. 'I find it necessary", said Haydn, 'to confer often with the Baron, to make changes in the text and moreover it is a pleasure for me to show him various numbers in it, for he is a profound connoisseur, who has himself written good music, even symphonies of great value' [NB - this differs greatly from Haydn's private opinion of Swieten's symphonies!]. — Soon Haydn let me hear the introduction of his oratorio, describing Chaos. He asked me to come and sit beside him, so as to follow the scores. When the piece was ended, he said: "You have certainly noticed how I avoided the resolutions that you would most readily expect. The reason is, that there is no form in anything [in the universe] yet."
There are many testaments to Haydn's faith, one can scarcely read about him without seeing something or other. In my opinion, this all gives the impression he was one of those people you sometimes see who clearly missed their calling to the contemplative cloister. But if you pull back and look at the full scope of his biography, what you see instead is a man who, while holding on to the faith he had since childhood, also shared the beliefs of the intelligentsia of his time.
While it can be challenging, at times, to recall to mind all the things we have put together over the last five years, one of the ones which I leaned on most heavily was Haydn's attendance at, and participation in, the Vienna and London salons. There was scarcely any venue which boasted a greater concentration of truly enlightened people anyplace else in Europe save their Paris counterparts. Among the many threads we have previously discussed are Haydn's correspondence with Lavater (about Opus 33) in Zurich, his membership in the Freemasons with all that implies, and his attendance at the salons of the von Greiner's, Genzinger's, and Hunter's. As we have also seen, Haydn was no dullard, and rubbing elbows with this sort of crowd can only have served to sharpen his wit even more keenly.
One thing we haven't really touched upon, though, is his (apparent) passion for books. Although his music books and treatises have always been well known, the mid-twentieth century view, particularly as propounded by biographer Rosemary Hughes9, that Haydn was "the most unliterary of men", who "had nothing but music books in his library", is just plain wrong. Marie Hörwarthner7, gives us an actual look at the contents of the library, and the books there are stunning in their diversity. Even if he didn't read each of them from cover to cover (though we know from Elssler that "After lunch Haydn always … went into his small library and read a book."), the mere fact that he had them puts the lie to his supposed illiteracy. Of special interest to the rationale for The Creation, though, are the many books on Enlightenment philosophy and Freemasonry, and on the relationship of religion to the beliefs of the philosophes. Among others we have seen was Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, whose Geistliche Oden und Lieder (1757; Spiritual Odes and Songs), were a volume of poems and hymns that combined religious feeling with the rationalism of the Enlightenment. As we have already seen, they provided the texts for several of Haydn's partsongs. When you look at the overall picture, there is no way to justify these discredited beliefs about Haydn.
Haydn's personal contacts and reading made him very much aware of the tenets of the Enlightenment. This can be seen in his association with persons such as Franz Sales von Greiner, Gottfried van Swieten, and Johann Caspar Lavater; by his attendance at literary salons which brought him into contact with Johann Baptist von Alxinger, Aloys Blumauer, Michael Denis, Lorenz Haschka, Tobias Philipp Gebler and Ignaz von Born; and by his eventual membership in the Masonic Lodge Zur wahren Eintracht. As a result of these social and literary influences, it is entirely possible that Haydn revised his symphonic approach to bring it into line with the prevailing attitude towards literature. This attitude, very simply, was that literature should serve the goals of the Enlightenment.
11 David Schroeder
And also this:
Haydn was very religiously inclined, and was loyally devoted to the faith in which he was raised. He was very strongly convinced in his heart that all human destiny is under God's guiding hand, that God rewards the good and the evil, that all talents come from above. All his larger scores begin with the words In nomine Domini and end with Laus Deo or Soli Deo Gloria [In the name of the Lord, Praise to God, To God alone the glory]. "If my composing is not proceeding so well," I heard him say, "I walk up and down the room with my rosary in my hand, say several Aves, and then ideas come to me again."
This instance, however, does not indicate intolerant feelings. Haydn left every man to his own conviction and recognized all as brothers. In general, his devotion was not of the gloomy, always suffering sort, but rather cheerful and reconciled, and in this character, moreover, he wrote all his church music. His patriarchal, devout spirit is particularly expressed in The Creation…
8 Griesinger - Biographical Notes Concerning Joseph Haydn (trans. Gotwals) page 54
What is this telling us? I believe this evidence demonstrates that like many in his time, Haydn's belief in a God was very much intact, while his belief in the tenets of a religion may well not have been nearly as much so.
On the other hand, much of this philosophical (by which I mean 'religious') conversation concerning Haydn overshadows the real driving force behind this entire project, Baron van Swieten.
[snip] …I recognized at once that such an exalted subject would give Haydn the opportunity I had long desired, to show the whole compass of his profound accomplishments and to express the full power of his inexhaustible genius…
Baron Gottfried van Swieten Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung 'Vienna, End of December 1798'
From the first time I read this letter which van Swieten wrote in late 1798, I couldn't help but wonder exactly what he was saying. Is there is a way to interpret this sentence other than by coming away believing the real ambition to write The Creation was van Swieten's more than Haydn's? Once we know Swieten's stance on philosophy, it becomes all the more credible to accept this premise: Haydn and the Creation libretto were Swieten's tools to promote his Enlightened beliefs. How so?
Quite by coincidence, the day of Mozart's death (5 Dec. '791) was also the day when the government turned Swieten loose from his obligations (i.e. – he got the sack), which consisted in the following:
He [was] Prefect of the Royal Library in Vienna, a position for which he was well suited by his catholic literary interests. If this post was distinguished rather than influential, his appointment in 1781 as President of the Court Commission on Education, to which later was added censorship, made him one of the most important men in Austrian internal affairs.
Mark Berry tells us how this went:
The policies he propounded and followed were consistently enlightened and frequently came into conflict with the emperor's often more utilitarian objectives. Swieten allied himself unambiguously with the religious reformers who aimed to propagate religious conviction, rather than obedience, as the only sound basis for faith. The affinity Swieten felt between revealed and natural religion is illustrated by the importance he attributed to a thorough grounding for "future instructors of the people" in natural theology and "philosophical ethics."
This is important since The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement which attempted to amend many of society's seeming imbalances like class structure and religious authority. One of the ways it achieved this end was through promoting the teaching of Rationalism, which is the belief that opinions and actions should be based on reason and knowledge rather than on religious belief or emotional response. Needless to say, this was distinctly unpopular with the entrenched authority class, especially since it was backed by the Emperor, which made it hard to fight against. He was hated by many for this imposition of a new order. Do you wonder that Joseph's self-composed epitaph was "Here lies Joseph II, who failed in all he undertook."
Natural religion, or natural theology, is based entirely upon Rationalism. It denies the tenets of revealed truth which were commonly held by proponents of the Christian Church. This was the philosophy which Swieten was instilling in schools. Certainly it had to be controversial in Arch-Catholic Austria! Swieten wasn't forced into retirement because he failed at his task, rather, his enemies viewed him as overly successful, and when Joseph died and Leopold took over, they quickly regained the upper hand and he became the ex-Minister of Education! However, being a true believer, he still didn't miss many opportunities to spread the word. And since his musical activities could now become the focus of his life, the maintenance of the natural theology which the original English author had based the libretto of The Creation upon can be taken for granted.
If you were raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and were asked about the memories and impressions you recall of the creation of the world, I would wager a good many of you would enumerate a few of the same points, like the Garden of Eden, maybe Eve created from Adam's rib, and then, a couple of things which would be on every list; the Fall of Satan, and Eve and the Serpent. Yet Haydn/Swieten make only the most oblique reference to those two things:
Affrighted flee hell's spirits black in throngs;
Down they sink in the deep of abyss
To endless night.
[Aria and Chorus no. 2]
And then the devils are gone from this story. Rationalism has moved on, far away from the pagan bogeymen which dominated the early Church.
Even the famous Serpent only makes the briefest of appearances, and more by implication than in fact:
O happy pair, and always happy yet,
If not, misled by false conceit
Ye strive at more as granted is,
And more to know as know ye should.
[Recit. no. 33]
The Fall of Man is no more a focus of this work than the Fall of Lucifer was. This gives us thoughts which could well lead us to some exploration in a year or two, when the Church decides The Creation is not quite Churchy enough for them. For now, it is interesting to see the Church stating The Creation must never be played in a church because it isn't holy enough. Ironic? Well, at the same time, the primary tool used by Swieten to spread natural theology was, in fact, Joseph Anton Gall, the Catholic Bishop of Linz, Austria! As we see here, from Shawn Eaton8:
… according to Shaftesbury's aesthetic moralism, society's happiness would ultimately be gained through moral virtue. Joseph A. Gall, whom Swieten recruited to teach Enlightenment reforms, taught that the very purpose of God's relationship with mankind was the latter's happiness. Gall's Liebriche Anstalten und Ordnung Gottes die Menschen gut und glückselig zu machen (God's Loving Arrangements and Order to Make Men Virtuous and Happy) teaches:
Let us look at our earth, and see how God has made it into a beautiful and well-appointed dwelling; how the sun lights it up and warms it; how the air, the fertile rains, the springs, brooks and rivers cool and moisten it; how the plants in infinite variety, beauty and fertility grow out of the earth. These conditions make it possible for countless creatures to live on land, in the water and in the air. They find food and, as we can see, they enjoy their existence. But we human beings have cause to take special delight in our existence, since of all living creatures on earth we enjoy most of the good things. For this was God's chief purpose with us human beings, to make us his noblest creatures on earth and to make us exceedingly happy. God is our most benevolent father.
If you already know the oratorio, do I need to analyze how this interesting quote sums up in a nutshell the entire Haydn/Swieten world view which they imposed on The Creation? And finally, Haydn's thoughts:
[To CHARLES OCKL, ST. JOHANN NEAR PLAN, BOHEMIA. German]
Nobly born and most respected Sir !
I have duly received your two letters of the 2nd May and 5th July with which you favoured me, and have noted their contents with pleasure. I was quite delighted to hear that my Oratorio was received by all the music-lovers in your district with the approbation which it has been fortunate enough to enjoy in almost the whole of Europe; but it was with considerable astonishment that I read of the curious happenings consequent on the performance, which happenings, considering the age in which we live, reflect but little credit on the intelligence and emotions of those responsible.
The story of the creation has always been regarded as most sublime, and as one which inspires the utmost awe in mankind. To accompany this great occurrence with suitable music could certainly produce no other effect than to heighten these sacred emotions in the heart of the listener, and to put him in a frame of mind where he is most susceptible to the kindness and omnipotence of the Creator.
And this exaltation of the most sacred emotions is supposed to constitute desecration of a church ?
Have no fears about the outcome of this affair, for I am convinced that an intelligent consistory will learn a good deal from this apostle of peace and unity: it is not unlikely that the listeners went away from my Oratorio with their hearts far more uplifted than after hearing his sermons. No church has ever been desecrated by my Creation -, on the contrary: the adoration and worship of the Creator, which it inspires, can be more ardently and intimately felt by playing it in such a sacred edifice.
If, however, this affair which sounds completely ridiculous to every intelligent person is not settled by the consistory, I am willing to place it before their Imperial and Royal Majesties, for Their Majesties have never heard this Oratorio without being deeply moved, and are quite convinced of the value of this sacred work.
I am, Sir, most respectfully,
Your devoted servant,
Joseph Haydn [m.p] ria.,
Doctor of Music.
The Collected Correspondence & London Notebooks of Joseph Haydn - Landon
Of all the things known and discussed about Haydn's best known work, the seemingly least known, even to having only little more evidence than the Great Libretto Mystery, is anything tangible about the première! While we have some reliable reactions, which we shall see, and of course, dates and places, the privacy of the affair makes it very difficult for researchers to say anything solid about it. We shall do our best though.
Silverstolpe wrote his father in Stockholm on 10 January 1798,
Two grand concerts will be given at Prince Schwarzenberg's (NB - sponsored by the Gesellschaft der Associierten), the music for them being prepared by Haydn, who played me a part of it. It promises to give me great pleasure and is an oratorio called The Creation.
The intention was for these first semi-private performances to take place during Lent. As it happened they were delayed until the very end of April, perhaps because more rehearsal was needed. Finally, they took place on 29 and 30 April. The audience was restricted mainly to the nobility, court functionaries, and the diplomatic corps. Entrance was by invitation. To pay for the work Swieten leveled a fee of 50 ducats apiece on his Associates, raising a sum that allowed Haydn to be paid a handsome honorarium of 500 ducats. 12 Heartz
A huge crowd of onlookers gathered outside the palace to watch the invitees arrive. Twelve policemen and eighteen armed guards were stationed around the palace to keep the crowds at bay. The attendees were among the highest nobility of Austria, Poland and England. Giuseppe Carpani was there:
Who can describe the applause, the delight, the enthusiasm of this society. I was present ; and I can assure you, I never witnessed such a scene. The flower of the literary and musical society of Vienna were assembled in the room, which was well adapted to the purpose, and Haydn himself directed the orchestra. The most profound silence, the most scrupulous attention, a sentiment, I might almost say, of religious respect, were the dispositions which prevailed when the first stroke of the bow was given. The general expectation was not disappointed. A long train of beauties, to that moment unknown, unfolded themselves before us; our minds, overcome with pleasure and admiration, experienced, during two successive hours, what they had rarely felt, — a happy existence, produced by desires, ever lively, ever renewed, and never disappointed.
Carpani – Le Haydine - (plagiarized & translated by Stendhal)
Silverstolpe, as so often, gives us the most interesting information. (Landon3 page 318):
[Silverstolpe's Report #V]
This work [The Creation] was first given on 30 April 1798. I was among the audience, and a few days beforehand I had attended the first rehearsal. At the latter Haydn was surprised afterwards by a present. Prince Schwarzenberg, in whose rooms the work was prepared and later also performed. was so utterly enchanted by the many beauties of the work that he presented the composer with a roll containing one hundred ducats, over and above the 500 that were part of the agreement.
No one, not even Baron van Swieten, had seen the page of the score wherein the birth of light is described. That was the only passage of the work which Haydn had kept hidden. I think I see his face even now, as this part sounded in the orchestra. Haydn had the expression of someone who is thinking of biting his lips. either to hide his embarrassment or to conceal a secret. And in that moment when light broke out for the first time, one would have said that rays darted from the composer's burning eyes. The enchantment of the electrified Viennese was so general that the orchestra could not proceed for some minutes…
I would love to go on from here and describe these first performances. But as we learn from Brown12, beyond their dates (29-30 April 1798, and again, on 7 & 10 May) and the performers, soloists Christine Gerardi (soprano), Matthias Rathmayer (tenor) and Ignaz Saal (bass) with Antonio Salieri playing the continuo on the fortepiano, and Haydn conducting, there is little else to say which hasn't been said already by Silverstolpe and Carpani. Brown estimates by deduction from a variety of sources that there were 60 choristers and 120 players in the orchestra. By Viennese standards this was huge, the sound will have filled the Palais Schwarzenberg to bursting. But we will leave the last word to Griesinger:
I had the fortune to be a witness of the deep emotion and the most lively enthusiasm that several performances of this oratorio under Haydn's own direction wrought in all hearers. Haydn also confessed to me that he could not convey the feelings that mastered him when the performance wholly matched his wishes, and the audience in total silence listened intently to every note. "Now I would be ice cold in my whole body, now a burning fever would come over me, and I was afraid more than once that I should suddenly suffer a stroke."
8 Griesinger - Biographical Notes Concerning Joseph Haydn (trans. Gotwals) page 38
This is not the last time we will hear of The Creation, unsurprisingly it dominates much of Haydn's final years. I'm sure he must have had the transient thought along the lines of "well, I did write other things". And in fact, we shall take a look at one of those 'other things' next time, when Haydn's most famous Mass happens to hit the streets at just about this same time. When things are going your way…
Thanks for reading!
Smither, Howard – A History of the Oratorio – Vol. 3 – The Oratorio in the Classical Era – Univ. of N. Carolina Press (1987)
Temperley, Nicholas – Haydn – The Creation – Cambridge University Press (1991)
Landon, H.C. Robbins – Haydn - Chronicle & Works vol. 4 – University of Indiana Press (1978)
Gotwals, Vernon (trans.) - JOSEPH HAYDN - Eighteenth-Century Gentleman and Genius – Univ. of Wisconsin Press (1963)
Olleson, Edward - Gottfried van Swieten: Patron of Haydn and Mozart - Proceedings of the RMA, 89th Sess. (1962 - 1963)
Berry, Mark - Haydn's Creation and Enlightenment Theology – Austrian History Yearbook No. 39 (2008)
Hörwarthner, Marie – Joseph Haydn's Library – in Haydn & His World ed. Sisman, Elaine – Princeton University Press (1997)
Eaton, Shawn - How the Composer's World View Shapes Musical Meaning - The Artistic Theologian vol. 5 (2017)
Hughes, Rosemary – Master Musicians Series – Joseph Haydn – J M Dent & Sons Ltd (1974)
Schroeder, David - Haydn & Gellert: Parallels in Eighteenth-Century Music and Literature - Current Musicology Vol. 35 (1983)
- Haydn & The Enlightenment - Clarendon Press (1990)
Heartz, Daniel - Mozart, Haydn, Early Beethoven
Brown, A. Peter – Performing Haydn's 'The Creation' – Indiana University Press (1986)