I am listening to Haydn’s Creation (1796-1798) right now. It is the Representation of Chaos, when the earth is formless and void. After this powerful representation, the angel Raphael shall begin the tale of how God spoke the universe into being. It’s all in German, and I don’t have the libretto, but I know when he says, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,'” because then the orchestra produces something more glorious than the power of Chaos.
It makes the sound of light. There is no other description for what the strings do at that point of the oratorio. (It just happened. Tingly.)
Shortly before CBC butchered Radio2, I heard the beginning of this magnificent oratorio. The announcer mentioned that many people don’t like the Creation because they think it naive. Yes, naive.
I don’t really know how an oratorio can be naive. Now, the reason for the alleged naivete of the Creation is the fact that it recounts the six-day creation of Genesis. Due to the polarisation of popular opinion in the ill-starred Creation-Evolution debate, people are blinded when they come to a piece of art such as this. They think, “Sure, the music is nice, but the content — so naive!”
I would like to argue that there is nothing naive in Haydn’s Creation at all. My first reason is that the claim is utterly ridiculous. If the literal six-day creation of Genesis 1 is simply Hebrew mythology, to make a piece of art representing this story is not naive, as the Creation‘s critics imagine. It cannot be, unless we are to therefore declare Monteverdi’s Return of Ulysses, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, Mozart’s Idomeneo, Wagner’s Ring Cycle and countless other operas naive because they represent mythology. If you disbelieve Genesis 1, this does not mean that art based on the creation story is naive.
Second, you cannot say that an oratorio or an opera is naive because of the contents of the words. In oratorio, the words are an important aspect. Handel’s Messiah would be far less potent without the force of the words combining with the force of the music. Nevertheless, the music is at least, and in some opinions, more important than the words. Haydn felt that an oratorio based on the biblical account of creation was a worthy piece of art. Whether he believed in a literal interpretation of this passage or not has nothing to do with the piece of art ultimately produced. He produces music to enrobe the words of Genesis, to encapsulate them, to imbue them with a life that the word on the page lacks. There is no naivete here, my friends.
Finally, this question raises the question of the interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis. Is it necessary to believe that something must be literal in order for it to be true? I would say no. I would say that if it turns out that God chose to create the universe over billions of years rather than six days, Genesis 1 is still true and relevant to our lives and our art. Myth can be true without being literal (history cannot; is Gen 1-3 myth or history?).
Genesis 1 speaks a deep truth about the universe. Almighty God brought it into existence out of nothing, ex nihilo. He is creator of all things that are, were, and ever shall be. He brought order to chaos. He hung the stars in the sky. His word went forth, and things were made. He looked upon all that he had made, and each stage of creation was individually labelled as good.
The God of the Bible is a Creator God. What he has created is good. These are the foundational statements of the doctrine of creation. And from these and other biblical passages stream the Christian ethic of creation. And God’s creative action in bringing the universe into being, that story we see in Genesis, as a doctrine, has nothing to do with the debate between “creation” and “evolution.”
How, therefore, could Haydn’s Creation be naive? I would argue instead that its critics are naive in saying such.
NB: This is the post promised at the Random Ramblings.