Joseph Haydn: ‘The Heavens are Telling’ from ‘The Creation’

This famous chorus from Haydn’s epic choral masterpiece, ‘The Creation’, begins immediately with orchestra and choir in full. The piece begins homophonically, with full orchestra and choir; there is also antiphony between the choir and orchestra, for example at bar 5 the orchestra plays four bars of music, then the choir joins in for four bars, and this “call and response” continues until bar 30 when the three soloists have joined in. The key of the movement is C major, but Haydn does hint at other keys for some sections; from bar 26 to bar 37, C minor is hinted at. This section also employs word painting, as Haydn has shifted to this minor key while speaking about the night-time: ‘the night that is gone to following night’. The texture begins to vary slightly at bar 38, as two parts start coming in at a time, as opposed to all four coming in at once. This occurs again at bar 43, and bar 49. Throughout, Haydn remains strongly in C major, and this continues at bar 57, when the texture thins to just the three soloists and the orchestra. Initially, each soloists comes in at a different time, in a slightly imitative sense, before joining together homophonically at bar 63. The imitative returns at bar 74, still in C major, before another homophonic section from bar 80 to bar 95. At bar 95, the chorus returns with the text that opens the chorus: ‘The Heavens are telling the glory of God; the wonder of his works displays the firmament’. The imitative nature of the movement then reaches the chorus, which starts in bar 109; from here, Haydn starts hinting at other keys, including A minor at bar 122 and also A major shortly at bar 132. Once the chorus returns homophonically at bar 145, there is a perfect cadence of C major at bar 153, before an incredible tension begins to build up, in particular by the unrelenting quavers played by the orchestra; this makes us expect a perfect cadence into C, but this comes only in two areas before the end of the piece: one at bar 174, and two in the last few bars of chorus. In this section, Haydn adds lots of accidentals to make the key of the piece quite unclear, and there is lots of imitation and counterpoint between the voice parts. Haydn also uses lots of dominant seventh and diminished seventh chords to increase the tension. Eventually, at bar 188, there is a chain of perfect cadences before two orchestra perfect cadences in C major finish the movement.

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