2014-10-05 Notes from the Bench

“The Heavens Are Telling” by Franz Joseph Haydn

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate


Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) excelled as a composer in nearly all the genres known to him, writing over 750 works. He is known as the “Father of the Symphony,” having composed 108 symphonies. “The Heavens Are Telling” is a movement for chorus from Haydn’s oratorio, The Creation (Die Schöpfung). This oratorio sets the story of the creation of the world as described in the book of Genesis and epic seventeenth century poem, “Paradise Lost,” by John Milton (1608-1674). Haydn composed “The Creation” between 1796 and 1798, and was likely inspired to write this work following a visit to England where he heard performances of Handel’s oratorios. “The Creation” is one of Haydn’s best-known works and regarded as one of his masterpieces.



Haydn is one of the most celebrated European composers whose music, along with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s (1856-1791), epitomized the Classical Era (c.1750-1820) style of composition. Some of the characteristics of music written during this period are: works typically constructed with balanced forms and proportions with well-defined structures; phrases are usually short and distinct; and the harmonies utilize a familiar vocabulary with clear progressions and regular cadences.

Haydn was born in Rohrau, Austria, a small village near the Hungarian border. His father was a wheelwright by trade and an amateur folk musician. Haydn’s parents recognized his musical talents and arranged for him as a young boy to be an apprentice with a relative, Johann Matthias Frankh, who was the schoolmaster and choirmaster in Hainburg. While in Hainburg, Haydn had the opportunity to study violin and harpsichord, and he sang in the church choir while receiving his education. Haydn was later recruited to sing as a choirboy in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. Upon reaching adulthood, Haydn was able to begin his professional career as a free-lance musician in Vienna at a time when music and the arts were flourishing there. In 1761, Haydn was employed by the Esterházy family, a wealthy family who lavishly supported music and the arts, and who recruited the best singers and instrumentalists to entertain the family and their guests at the grand Hungarian countryside estate, the Esterháza. Haydn maintained a close professional relationship with the family throughout the rest of his life. Haydn was not a virtuoso solo musician like many of his contemporaries and was largely a self-taught composer. However, in addition to his skill as a composer, he was an excellent conductor, a persistent worker, a man with a modest character who maintained cordial relationships with his employers and the musicians he worked with, and was a good businessman who managed his affairs with precision.



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