Nimble tigers and crawling worms
In our series “Nature in Music”, Georg Rudiger takes a closer look. Today: Joseph Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation”
At the beginning, a big bang: a single, cutting note in the whole orchestra, which is further hardened by the timpani roll. Then muted strings intensify the uncertainty with chromaticism and dissonance. “The description of chaos” is what Joseph Haydn called the effective beginning of his three-part oratorio “The Creation”. The musical elements are scattered, the harmonies contradictory. The music comes to a standstill. “The Earth was without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep,” is how the archangel Raphael describes this state in the recitative that follows. When the softly beginning chorus spreads hope with the words “Let there be light”, a radiant C major sound in fortissimo provides sudden enlightenment.
Lightning, thunder and floods can be heard among the many images of nature in the first part. In the highly dramatic bass aria “Rollend in schäumenden Wellen”, the fast runs of the strings trace the churning sea. In the second part of the oratorio, the music becomes even more tangible. A low-pitched trill in the strings, brass and contrabassoon portrays a lion’s roar; Haydn traces the “limber tiger” with ascending runs. The fast stag is characterised by a bouncy rhythm that also accelerates to a sixteenth. The image of nature is always heard in the music before it appears in the text of the recitative. Haydn even set the neighing of a “noble steed” to music with a gruff trill figure in the strings. The composer manages the buzzing of the insects particularly effectively through the sul ponticello playing of the strings, when the bow is bowed very close to the bridge, thus producing a raspy sound. Finally, the “crawling of the worm”: close alternating notes in a low register. The third part of the oratorio describes Adam and Eve’s happy life together before the expulsion from paradise and culminates in the sublime, exuberantly jubilant chorus “Sing the Lord, ye voices all!”
Sunday, July 30, 2023, 5:00 pm, Concert Hall, Arena Klosters
Giovanni Antonini (conductor), Nikola Hillebrand (soprano), Maximilian Schmitt (tenor), Florian Bösch (baritone), Basel Chamber Orchestra, The Bavarian Radio Chorus
Joseph Haydn (“The Creation”, oratorio in three parts)