Creating Chaos in Haydn's Creation
Haydn’s oratorio The Creation opens with nothing short of a musical impossibility—the sound of infinite nothingness. What does nothing sound like? To open pathways of engagement with this piece, especially for those new to Haydn’s Creation, this essay engages matters of musical representation, from the decidedly not silent opening of the “Representation of Chaos” to the musical depictions of weather phenomena and beasts both proud and humble. Central in Haydn’s representations are his invocations of two contrasting aesthetic modes, the pastoral and the sublime, and I offer examples of each here. While the sublime has historically been the more celebrated of the two modes in The Creation, I discuss the organizational structures of the oratorio to demonstrate how Haydn’s sublime moments may be seen to frame pastoral pictures. Finally, I touch on the reception history of The Creation to suggest that what drama the oratorio may lack in and of itself has been amply supplied by its many critics. I conclude with a reevaluation of Haydn’s naturalisms that situates The Creation within the intellectual, political, and religious contexts of the Enlightenment.
© Haydn Society of North America ; Boston: Berklee Library, 2013. Duplication without the express permission of the author and/or the Haydn Society of North America is prohibited.