The Creation – Joseph Haydn - Charles Mackerras
Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
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 Schopfung – The
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
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
Night “Papa Joe” (
Papa Haydn’s nickname).