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"The Creation" And "The Seasons"
Haydn's Crowning Achievement--"The Creation" suggested--The "Unintelligible Jargon"
of the Libretto--The Stimulating Effect of London--Haydn's Self-Criticism--First
Performance of "The Creation"--London Performances--French Enthusiasm--The
Oratorio criticized--"The Seasons."
Haydn's Crowning Achievement
Haydn rounded his life with "The Creation" and "The Seasons." They were the summit of
his achievement, as little to be expected from him, considering his years, as "Falstaff"
was to be expected from the octogenarian Verdi. Some geniuses flower late. It was only
now, by his London symphonies and his "Creation," that Haydn's genius blossomed so
luxuriantly as to place him with almost amazing suddenness among the very first of
composers. There is hardly anything more certain than this, that if he had not come to
London he would not have stood where he stands to-day. The best of his symphonies
were written for London; and it was London, in effect, that set him to work in what was
for him practically a new direction, leading to the production of an oratorio which at once
took its place by the side of Handel's master-pieces, and rose to a popularity second only
to that of "The Messiah" itself.
"The Creation" suggested
The connection thus established between the names of Handel and Haydn is interesting,
for there can be little question that Haydn was led to think of writing a large choral work
chiefly as the result of frequently hearing Handel's oratorios during his visits to the
metropolis. The credit of suggesting "The Creation" to Haydn is indeed assigned to
Salomon, but it is more than probable that the matter had already been occupying his
thoughts. It has been explicitly stated [See note by C.H. Purday in Leisure Hour for 1880,
p. 528.] that, being greatly impressed with the effect produced by "The Messiah," Haydn
intimated to his friend Barthelemon his desire to compose a work of the same kind. He
asked Barthelemon what subject he would advise for such a purpose, and Barthelemon,
pointing to a copy of the Bible, replied: "There! take that, and begin at the beginning."
This story is told on apparently good authority. But it hardly fits in with the statements of
biographers. According to the biographers, Salomon handed the composer a libretto
originally selected for Handel from Genesis and Paradise Lost by Mr Lidley or Liddell.
That this was the libretto used by Haydn is certain, and we may therefore accept it as a
fact that Haydn's most notable achievement in choral music was due in great measure to
the man who had brought him to London, and had drawn from him the finest of his
instrumental works.
"The Creation" Libretto
Before proceeding further we may deal finally with the libretto of "The Creation." The
"unintelligible jargon" which disfigures Haydn's immortal work has often formed the
subject of comment; and assuredly nothing that can be said of it can well be too severe.