Preview: Haydn’s Creation by the University of Portsmouth choir and the Havant Symphony Orchestra

University of Portsmouth

University of Portsmouth Choir marks 20 years of the directorship of Professor George Burrows with a special version of Haydn’s Creation to be performed at 3pm on Sunday 12 May at St Mary’s Church, Portsea, accompanied by the Havant Symphony Orchestra.

Long considered one of the greatest of choral works, The Creation was inspired by Haydn attending a massed performance of Handel’s Messiah at Westminster Abbey in 1794. He left London with a wordbook, which had reportedly been offered to Handel but was never set by him. On returning home to Austria, Haydn had the text translated and he set it in German but, because many of his subscribers for the first published edition of Creation were English-speakers, Haydn produced the first ever bilingual score, with English featuring alongside the German.

Once Haydn’s publication reached subscribers in England, the English setting was found to be clumsy and incomplete in parts. One of those subscribers was Anne Hunter, a Scottish poet who had written a set of canzonettas with Haydn during his first visit to London. She took it upon herself to produce a new text for Creation in around 1804 but her libretto was left undiscovered until 1993, when it came to light in the archives of the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS). It was there because Anne was the wife of John Hunter, a founder of modern surgery, whose ‘Hunterian Collection’ of anatomical specimens can be viewed at the RCS to this day.

Although a performance of Hunter’s version of Haydn’s Creation was staged by doctors in 1993, her text was poorly fitted to the music and an additional but critical song that she inserted in the work was left out. That song comes in Part 3 of Creation which draws on Milton’s Paradise Lost to depict Adam and Eve enjoying the sublime and unspoiled nature of Eden and their love for one another. In Haydn’s score, Eve is not given a solo aria at all but sings almost entirely in duet with Adam. Hunter obviously felt Eve needed more of a voice of her own and so she inserts a three stanza ‘Song Intended for Eve’ in Part 3, albeit without any indication of what music should be used.

Gayathri Khemadasa, a leading composer from Sri Lanka has been commissioned to set that song for the performance in May and a completely new edition of Creation has been prepared in order to better fit Hunter’s poetry. UoP choir alumni will swell the ranks of the 80-voice choir for what promises to be a grand and unique performance marking the culmination of a practice-research project to address how Hunter’s words are best fitted with respect to Haydn’s music and the implications of that exercise.

Tickets can be purchased from the University of Portsmouth’s online store via this link:

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