Music History is Thrilling!

Classical Oratorio and Franz Joseph Haydn


A large scale sacred vocal genre based on Biblical subjects without scenery, costumes, or acting. It contains arias, choruses, recitatives, solos, and orchestra

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

While he was under the employment of the Hungarian nobility, the Esterhazys, Haydn was responsible for composing music for an opera company, an orchestra, a chapel, and a marionette theatre. This gave him opportunity to explore many musical genres. The character of his music was found to be beyond its time including terse, angular themes, dramatic dynamics, and daring modulations. His instrumental music included chamber music, of which he preferred the string quartet (“Quinten”), symphonies (The 12 “London” Symphonies), and solo piano works. His vocal music included both sacred and secular themes; his two oratorios, “The Seasons” and “The Creation”, both revealed the composer’s passion for God.

“The Creation” (Part 1, Scene 3)

The oratorio consists of an overture and three movements. The German libretto, derived from the Biblical book of Genesis and John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, was written by Baron Gottfried van Sweiten. It was completed in 1798 and first performed in 1799. The characters are: The Three archangels:

  • Gabriel, soprano
  • Uriel, tenor
  • Raphael, bass

Other characters:

  • Adam, bass
  • Eve, Soprano

The oratorio is about the creation of the world by God. In the overture, called “The Representation of Chaos”, Haydn illustrates the void of the earth by the open octave of C sustained by the entire orchestra. Part 1, scene 3 is about the creation of light. Uriel’s Recitative Secco (No. 12), “And God said, “Let there be light”” is presented with little accompaniment and a free rhythm. Sandwiched between Uriel’s two recitatives is an orchestral interlude which Haydn cleverly applies word painting to illustrate the rising of the sun by the use of a gradual crescendo in the entire orchestra with jubilant brass leading into Uriel’s Recitative Accompagnato (No. 13), “In Splendour Bright”. Haydn again applies word painting in this recitative on the phrases: “In Splendour Bright” The orchestra punctuates Uriel’s text with dramatic chords illustrating the splendour. “Softer beams” Softer dynamics in the low strings and voice and Adagio is introduced here, illustrating the soft light of the moon. “The space immense” Allegro is introduced with jubilant forte orchestral part puntuating Uriel’s text with a dotted rhythm, illustrating the immensity of space. “The Heavens are telling the glory of God” (No. 14) is a Chorus / Trio combination. Key: C Major Form: Chorus-Trio-Chorus-Trio-Chorus Chorus. is first introduced in a homophonic texture with text declamation and full orchestra. Trio. A brief visit to the trio of archangels, alternating with the orchestra, shifts to c minor when they refer to the “night”. Chorus. This time the texture is more polyphonic. The tenors and basses open with the sopranos and altos answering triumphantly. Trio. An imitative texture is used here with the voices overlapping over each other illustrating the text “In all the land resounds”. Chorus. A forte statement with fugal treatment on the texts “The wonder of His works” extended with word repetition. Brass and timpani create a grand closing to the piece.

All information on this article is derived from: Joseph Machlis and Kristine Forney. The Enjoyment of Music, Eight Edition, Standard Version, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1999
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