Delighting in God: Haydn’s ‘Creation’

Thursday 27th February 2020

‘The Heavens are telling’

I don’t know whether it is true of not, but I was once told that the composer Joseph Haydn was inspired to write his great oratorio, The Creation, after a visit to his friend William Herschel on which he had seen his telescopes and used them to view the stars. Herschel was a musician as well as an astronomer, and both he and Haydn lived during the Enlightenment, a period of great flourishing in science and the arts. Unlike today when some people depict science and religion as being in conflict (see the writings of Richard Dawkins), science was seen as being a servant of religion during the Enlightenment, and there was much emphasis on God’s revelation in ‘two books’ – the Bible and the natural world.

I have chosen Haydn’s Creation for this reflection because it embodies an Enlightenment optimism in which the order and beauty of the universe speak to us of a God who is both good and generous. In the chorus ‘The Heavens are Telling’ Haydn sets verses from psalm 19 – to see the heavens is to see God’s handiwork, and they, and we, offer God praise in response.

The interweaving of the solo and choral voices, the shimmering violins and rich orchestration depict in music the awe we might feel when we look upwards on a dark, clear night and see the Moon, planets and stars arrayed above us – vast, inspiring and filling us with wonder.

Martin Carr

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