The Creation – Joseph Haydn - Charles Mackerras
Proms at the Royal Albert Hall

This week on television and in the cinema a 30-second advertising campaign is being played that is intended to scare the new generation about all the throw away rubbish lying around, which is attracting rats.  It actually showed people sleeping in their beds and rats walking over their bodies.  It made me shiver.   

This Monday, 5 August 2002, I left home to visit  my mother in the hospital.  The rain was strong and I got completely soaked.  Anyway, I took my mother some soup and went into the washroom on her Helena Ward to get a cup.  When I moved the cup I saw a mouse sitting on a plate.  I went “OH MY GOD!  I CAN’T BELIVE IT.”  I know that there are mice and rats in a lot of places, but I would have never expected to see one in the hospital.  They are dirty little creatures and have been blamed for centuries for causing death and for carrying diseases.  Now that the  rats have arrived at my mother’s ward, I suspect that they will be running across her bed at night, just as the advert.  I even think they may have filmed the advert in my mother’s ward. 

Drainage defects are one cause of the current infestation.  But above all I believe the local pest control services are to blame. They discourage the reporting of problems and some of the privatised council services have cut back spending from pest control.  This country does not have a health/pest regulation inspection in effect.  This horrifies me.  To make a long story short, I could not sleep last night because I was thinking of my mother and the rat that I saw in her room and in my nightmare they were in my bed too!    

I talked to the hospital manager about the rat situation.  She told me that she knew of the problem and assured me that she was going to take care of it, but she did not re-wash the plates.  So my mother and the other people in Princess Louise Hospital, London are eating off plates and possibly cups and silverware that a rat has walked on; it may have urinated on them or left it’s faeces.  If one of the elderly people there died of Weil’s disease (an infection carried in rats’ urine that can lead to liver and kidney failure), no one would ever know. 

Anyway, I left Ladbroke Grove to go to the Proms.  I caught bus 52, which took ages to come, but I still managed to get  in my queue for the Season Ticket Arena in time to grab a chair (my back is killing me!).  Still wet from earlier and still thinking about rats, I tried to relax and enjoy the concert.  This is the first year that I have purchased the Season Ticket Arena. It allows me to see any of the concerts for very little money (70 concerts for less than £2 a day).  The Malaysian friend I meet last year came over to say hello to me.  Soon after I met “The Man in Red”; he was sitting next to me.  He is from Cambridge and travels everyday to London for the Proms.  He is dressed from his shoes to his shirt in red.  I said to him, “So, I can see you like red.”  He also has a large badge on his shirt that says “Proms 78”.  It must represent the first year he attended the Proms.  The following week I saw him in celestial blue, from shoes to hat this time.  I said, “I didn’t know you had any other colours.”  He said, “I have many colours”.  The Promenaders have their own special code of behaviour; they, normally, will not keep places in queue for anyone, but I saw some people in front of me saving places for friends and family.  A couple of my friends came from Italy to go to the Proms and I tried to save seats for them by covering adjoining chairs with my coat, but I was strongly reprimanded – “this is not done” I was told.  So my friends had to sit on the floor and like all horrible foreigners we were talking loudly and laughing like crazy about an opera that fell down in a theatre in Naples.  Laura, my long-time friend from Rome, and her husband Mauricio were on holiday in London.  We had a terrific time; Mauricio is great at telling jokes.  I’m glad that I was able to spend some time with them.   

From Mid-July to Mid-September, most of my free time was spent at the RAH trying to hear as many concerts as I could.  On Sundays my cousin, Vera, comes to talk with me while I am in the queue.  She lives next door in High Street Kensington.  I have to queue very early if I want to get a seat because the places are really standing tickets.  The Prom’s theme this year is divided between Spanish music and music inspired by the Old Testament.  In fact the first Prom this year featured a Spanish fiesta and Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast conducted by Leonard Slatkin. 

My favourite concert was a huge choral-orchestral ensemble.  It was Die SchopfungThe Creation – a masterpiece by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809).  Haydn was born in Rohrau in lower Austria near Bratislava.  He died in Vienna.  As a small boy he was a chorister at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna.  Most of his life he spent as Kapellmeister to the Austrian Esterhazy family. He was a teacher of Mozart and Beethoven.  Before the concert I went to a talk about Franz Josef Haydn’s music and about The Creation to learn more about his life and work, which I found very interesting.  The critics did not like the performance very much.  It did not receive the best reviews.  But I loved it.  I followed the entire performance with my programme.  I also discovered that German is a sublime language when it is sung.  If I had the time I would learn it just to be able to follow The Creation without my programme.  The Proms Director, Nicholas Kenyon, was at the talk and he read a piece that was in the program.  It read, “In my whole life I will not hear another piece of music as beautiful; and even if it had lasted three hours long, and even if the stink and sweat-bath had been much worse, I would not have minded.  For the life of me I would not have believed that human lungs and gut and calf’s skin could create such miracles.  The music all by itself described thunder and lightening and then you would have heard the rain falling and the water rushing and the birds really singing and the lion roaring, and you could even hear the worms crawling along the ground.  In short, I never left a theatre more contented and all night I dreamt of the creation of the world.” (Written by a member of the audience at The Creation’s first public performance in 1799).  The original text is obscure but it has survived.  The author remains unknown. 

Haydn visited London for two seasons (1791-92 and 1794-95) and read Handel’s Israel in Egypt and The Messiah.  In 1791 he returned to Germany with a copy of the text that was taken from the Bible (Genesis and Psalms).  Milton’s Paradise Lost is thought to have been originally written as a libretto for Handel.  Haydn asked for the text of The Creation to be translated into German by the court librarian, Baron Gottfried van Swieten.  The Creation was first performed at the Scwarzenberg Palace in Vienna on 30 April 1798.  The programme reads, “The Creation is divided, a la Handel, into three parts.  Parts 1 and 2 presented through the narration of the archangels Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael, an account of the six days of the Creation itself: the four days, in which heaven, earth, land, sea, plant life and the celestial bodies are made, are described in Part 1.  While Part 2 witnesses the appearance on the fifth and sixth days of birds, beasts, fish and finally man and woman.  The end of each day in marked by a climactic chorus of praise, music which provides the most exalted and overtly Handelian moments in the score.  The shorter Part 3 introduces us to Adam and Eve as they enjoy the delights of Eden.  Here the musical style is deliberately less high – flown; these are not angels singing but a mortal man and woman and Haydn provides them with music which is more popular, more Magic-Flute like in style.  The final chorus, however, as befits the climax of the entire work, is an even more splendid exaltation of praise.” 

The oratorio was composed when Haydn was 66 years old and still in love with the world; he was a profoundly religious man.  He composed 106 symphonies; he was the father of string quartet and symphony and he composed 68 string quartets, 14 Masses, 2 Te Deums, 2 great oratorios – The Creation (1798) and The Seasons (1801).  He said, “ I do not know how to write otherwise.  When I think of God, my heart is so full of joy that the notes flow like a fountain and, since God has given me a joyous heart, He will pardon me for having served Him joyfully.”  He produced more than 20 operas but most were lost and the ones that survived are hardly ever played.    Opera was an important part of his musical duties at the great palace of the Esterhazy family.  He wrote a number of puppet operas, piano sonatas, chamber music and concerts for a variety of instruments.  Haydn said, “the weary and worn, or the man burdened with affairs, may enjoy a few moments of solace and refreshment.”   

Sir Charles Mackerras was the conductor of The Creation at the Proms.  He was born to Australian parents in the USA in Shenectady, New York on 17 November 1925.  He is both a musician and a musicologist.  He said, “Generally, I prefer conducting works by unusual composers or unusual works by famous composers.  I’m always interested in something new and I don’t think that the public are particularly interested in hearing my new interpretation of Beethoven or Brahms symphony when all these virtuoso conductors are doing them all the time.  Of course, choosing a career of this kind means that I have to work much harder, that I must constantly learn new things and be engaged in research. But the reward is that I tend to know more about some area of repertoire than the average symphony or opera conductor and am so familiar with certain works that I can conduct them anywhere more or less at the drop of a hat.”  Mackerras is an authority on baroque music and on the Czech genius Leo Janacek.  During 1948, he saw the communist coup in the Czech Republic and while he was there he learned Czech and studied Janacek’s work.  He examined different editions of his scores, met some of his pupils and other people that had know Janacek.  He also visited his hometown of Brno.  He has performed for the British public and the entire world his much acclaimed Janacek Cycle on records and in theatres.  He received his knighthood after eight years at ENO as the music director.  It was first known as the Sadlers Wells Opera and when it moved to the Coliseum in the West End it became ENO.  This Opera House only plays opera translated into English.  Because of Mackerras, the standard of production and attendance figures at the theatre rose.  He describes those years at the Coliseum as “a marvellous experience. It was wonderful to see ENO improving in quality and in reputation just at the time I was Music Director, though it is hard to tell how much effect I had on it and how much it had on me. All I know is that both it and I improved together.”  He must be disappointed by the situation at the ENO now after its last catastrophic season and shocking operatic productions.  Nicholas Payne is departing as the Director of ENO.

Anyway, back to The Creation, my Malaysian friend said to me the next day that he found it strange that Adam and Eve were not played by a tenor and a soprano.  I answered, “I am not an expert, but I found it perfect!”  (Haydn: “a powerful composer and an apostle of glory”.)  I loved it! As a sinner, I loved this beautiful religious music. 

Night “Papa Joe” ( Papa Haydn’s nickname). 

Verinha Ottoni


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