Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/563

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Though Haydn was no longer a young man when he wrote the 'Creation,' he was the most genial of old ones, able to look back with a clear conscience upon a well-spent and not unhappy life, and to throw himself, with all the eagerness of youth, into the enjoyment either of the beauties of Nature or the amenities of Art. Unless we bear this well in mind, we shall never understand how, in the year 1798, when he was not far from seventy years of age, he was able to produce that series of delightful Pictures which has never failed to inspire the Tone-painters of later generations with feelings of mingled admiration and despair. During the twenty-four years which had elapsed since the production of 'Il ritorno di Tobia,' he had taught himself many things: a broader manner, a richer texture, a more perfect homogeneity of conception, which enabled him to articulate the various members of his Oratorio into as consistent a whole as that produced by the four Movements of a Symphony. Moreover—and this is no such small matter as it may seem at first sight—he had learned the true use of the Clarinet, an instrument which proved invaluable to him as a means of producing variety of colouring, and in the management of which few later Composers have excelled him. The words of 'The Creation' were compiled by Lidley from Milton's 'Paradise Lost,' and translated into German by Freiherr van Swieten, at whose suggestion Haydn undertook the preparation of a work which, at his age, must have demanded a terrible strain upon his mental powers. Early in the year 1798 the veteran Composer brought his labours to a successful issue, and announced the completion of the work. It had really been a labour of love to him, for he entered into it with even more affectionate ardour than he had displayed in the production of many of his more youthful effusions; and he himself declared that he was deeply and almost uncontrollably affected at the first performance, which took place at the Schwarzenberg Palace, on April 29, 1798. The Oratorio was repeated on the following day, and again, more publicly, at the National Theatre, on March 19, 1799. Though nominally dramatic—inasmuch as each Solo Singer is invested with a representative personality—the Libretto is really epic throughout, for the principal singers are never employed for any other purpose than that of describing, either the beauties of the 'new-created world,' or the wonders attendant upon its mysterious birth. There is therefore an utter absence of declamatory Music, as well as of those powerful means of expression, passion and pathos. In place of these Haydn contents himself with the only style really suited to the subject—the style which describes without exaggeration, and paints without extravagance. And of this style he proves himself to be a consummate Master. The description of Chaos with which the Oratorio opens, the Creation of Light,[1] the confusion of the 'infernal host,' the lovely Melody which first introduces the mention of the 'new-created world,' these, and a hundred other beautiful passages, are familiar to all of us. The Airs, equally remarkable for their delicious flow of Melody and their masterly Instrumentation, describe the scenes to which they allude, yet always by inference rather than in a realistic spirit, and with a chastened tone which sets the sneer of the hypercritic at defiance. The Choruses far excel any of those to be found in the author's earlier works, and, still more, those produced by other writers of the period, either German or Italian. That they do not equal those of Handel will be easily understood. Had nothing else prevented them from doing so, the improvements introduced by Haydn himself would have had that effect. The elaborate Accompaniments which he knew so well how to use, and actually did use with much telling effect, tended to reduce the scale upon which these grand Choruses were conceived. The Quaver passages which add so much to the brilliant effect of 'The Heavens are telling,' take just as much away from the dignity of its vocal Themes; and in every other Chorus the same phenomenon is more or less perceptible. We must not look upon this as an unmitigated weakness. What we have lost in one way we have gained in another. We owe so much to Haydn for his improvements in Instrumentation, that we can afford a certain amount of diminution in the scale of the works we look upon as the greatest; yet, more than this, the fact remains, that, with increased facilities for utilising the resources of the Orchestra, comes, and always will come, a perceptible falling off of that great quality of breadth, that immense simplicity which most of all leads on towards the sublime—a reduction of the gigantic scale which first made Handel's Choruses unapproachable, and has ever since left them unapproached. We in no wise depreciate the merits of either Composer when we say that the one was the High Priest of the Sublime, and the other the Father of Modern Beauty. Each excelled in his own way, and each way was in itself perfect. Handel could no more have written 'The Creation' than Haydn could have written 'Israel in Egypt'; nor could any one but Haydn have written 'The Seasons'—another work full of delicious imagery, and, if more sæcular in its character than 'The Creation,' only just so much so as was necessary in order to bring the Music into closer harmony with the subject. The words of this Oratorio were also compiled by Freiherr van Swieten, who, delighted with the success of 'The Creation,' took Thomson's well-known poem as the basis of a somewhat similar work, and persuaded Haydn to undertake the composition, though he himself felt unwilling to trust his then manifestly failing powers. The result found Van Swieten to be in the right. Haydn soon overcame his diffidence, entered enthusiastically into the scheme, disputed manfully over points on which he and his friend disagreed, and produced a work as full of youthful freshness as the

  1. It must not however be forgotten that Handel first struck out this grand idea, though with different details, in 'O first-created beam.'