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Beethoven, Haydn, and the Concept of Creation

Beethoven, Haydn, and the Concept of Creation

Ami Mukerjee
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Among the influential composers of classical music,  there have been few  who have contributed so much in both talent, creativity, and style as Joseph Haydn and Ludwig Van Beethoven. Both extremely talented in the art of classical composition, Haydn and Beethoven placed their heart, soul and ingenuity in their music as is clearly illustrated in Haydns The Creation and Beethovens The Creatures of Prometheus. Both composers display sheer genius in their very effective ways of displaying complex themes through their musical works – in this case, the concept of creation is common to both pieces under study.

Haydns connection to the concept of Genesis and its subtleties is quite evident thought his entire composition. Looking at Haydns religious piety and as some would argue, unrealistic optimism, it is only fitting that Haydn expressed the concept of creation as an oratoria, which is the biblical counterpart to opera; instead of the various propounded themes of then-contemporary opera, the underlying theme is strictly of biblical concepts and stories. The opening pitch and dynamic of the work are absolutely equal. The overture is introduced in fortissimo and without vigor. The possible reason for such a SLOW pace was to make it hard for the listener to ascertain a steady pulse. In aiming for such ambiguity, Haydn intentionally fails to express a definite key, chord or melody in the first few bars, and as a result the listener is met with a rather formless initial introduction. Upon the completion of those initial bars of music, the listener is thrown a stray of fragmented melodies with no cadence. The normal convention of tonality is cleverly ignored by Haydn. It is quite interesting to note that the piece ends in an unusual way; he lands it on C minor, an avant garde practice created only a short time earlier by Mozart. The use of mutes throughout the entire beginning and of a blank unison C without order seem to be in itself quite a chaotic move, but Haydn doesnt stop there. He adds dissonance and doesnt allow the played keys to fully develop. Although Haydn brings in solo instruments, they arent allowed to blossom as is usually expected in comparative music, and along with the above techniques, help formulate the sense of chaos that Haydn believed was present prior to the creation.

Haydns expressive genius in conveying great feeling does not end with the overture of his work. The first recitative is sung by Raphael, who is a bass – Haydn, I believe, chose Raphael because of his low voice – after all the listener is still upon the darkness of chaos. The choir enters in sotto voce. To connote a sense of transition, Haydn moves from the ominous key of C minor to the more stable and majestic major of the same key. In providing for the creative theme, Haydn analogizes the birth to light; The choir sings let there be light, and there was while the instruments are played pizzicato. After such, the instruments are given a beat of rest  where the transition from muteness to open-sounding occurs, and both the choir and the instruments are reintroduced on light with a positive-feeling C major chord, played fortissimo. This event is much louder than anything previous and is in stark contrast. the chorus represents and acts  the heavenly host to the listener, elaborating on each creation and accomplishments in ever-increasingly excited tones. Later in the work, (3 Uriel & Chorus), Haydn, unlike most composers, alternated between sharps & flats; He started in C minor but begins this aria in A major. Divided into four parts, the second part plunges back into darkness with the lowest part of the tenor range in c minor. The chorus then enters, still in chaos with stark contrasts to the first part (loud, polyphonic). The fourth part brings forth gods new creation again, with musically depicted order  (A major). In these last two line, Haydn reveals a subtle new chord that seems to signify an uplifting new world.

In the second part of the work, Haydns most impressive musical illustrations are seen. The melodic lines of the aria (Gabriel) are constantly rising, creating the majestic uplifting we find so appealing. Haydns wonderful musical manipulation to draw imagery of animals is incredible. For the lark he uses a solo clarinet, and adds a bassoon to reflect the dove and its cooing. With the dynamics constantly in rise, Haydn introduces a whole cast of animals in Raphaels recitative: the contrabassoon for the roar of the lion, upward leaps of the orchestra for the leap of the tiger, tempo changes for the stag, triplets for the horses hooves, flutes for the pastoral cattle and sheep, tremolos in strings for the insects, and an adagio pace with low ranges of the orchestra for the worm. Interestingly enough, Haydn introduces the cast through music first, only then through language.Haydn, I believe, chose to do this because of his confidence in his musical ability as well as the audiences imaginative ability.

The Creatures of Prometheus  is the other work under our study and is equally as majestic in its purpose – to convey and express the feeling and emotions that go along with the concept of creation.The ballet is composed of sixteen scenes, most of which start slow and speed up which makes sense when looking at the growth dynamics of life around us.The introduction and overture are connected and there doesnt seem to be any indication of when Prometheus brings forth his creatures.Like Haydn, Beethoven uses a large orchestra to convey important moments, and is vividly seen in this introduction/overture.

Perhaps most indicative and unique to Beethoven is his use of extreme dynamics in his compositions, often with no transitional queues between the contrasting dynamics. In addition to the unbalanced dynamics, Beethoven incorporates multi-octave ranges and shocking changes in tempos, as well as using much more repetition than his contemporaries. It seems to me that Beethoven uses these devices to create an audible tension, all the while adding rhythmic motions and instruments; The climactic moments of Beethovens works are much longer in comparison the those of other composers.

In scene I, the creatures brought to life sound very hesitant and unsure in their first steps; this is achieved by unfluid lines and the chords are very simplistic in nature. Prometheus on the other hand is illustrated through beautiful, flowing lines and excited, prancy melody. In scene IV, Prometheus shows his creatures to Apollo who was the god of the sun, music, the arts, and medicine. Prometheus has a purpose for showing them; he wants Apollo to grant them reason and emotions. This scene is in D major and is contrasted with simple lines, and plain instruments without harmonies and still provide a feeling of definite hesitance; there are long pauses throughout this time. The above techniques give rise to an image of Prometheus pushing and cajoling the creatures forward towards the mighty Apollo – the creatures have very little melodic shape and sophistication. Scene V-VI is by far the largest scene of the ballet and depicts the immense power of music. The different god are represented by different instruments: Orpheus and the harp, Euterpe and the flute, Amphiou and the bassoon, Ariou and the clarinet., and Apollo in the cadenza with the cello.Apollo feels that there is great power in music, and Beethoven revels this with very delicate lines. He tries to demonstrate how music can transform the creatures. Apollo is shown with cello, because of the inherent characteristics associated with strings; they have been connected with reason, rationale, intellect, and balance – all of which Beethoven tried to embody in Apollo. In an avant garde move comparable to Haydn, Beethoven removes the winds in the final crescendo leading up to Apollos entrance. During Beethovens time, the cello was only used in accompaniment and never as a solo instrument. Furthermore, Beethoven correctly identifies Apollo as a young man by lifting the cello solo into the tenor range, which was also hardly ever employed. Beethoven wanted a unique instrument to represent Apollo, after all he represented the notion of powerful music; Other stringed instruments like the violin were much too common for this purpose. Beethoven continues to entertain the listener by using multiple combination of instruments as if all the gods of Apollos court are involved in the transformation. Upon the gods collaboration, the creatures are definitely not the same. The same chords are used as before but an important difference is seen – the chords this time are more developed and full and break in to an allegro pace. Scene VIII brings on a military feel in D major. The glory of war, and consequently the tragedy of such in D minor is displayed. The music gleams with exotic scales and tremolos in strings which add to the desired effect. In scene IX, Prometheus dies and the scene, which is unusually split into two adagios progresses from an E flat to C minor denoting the feelings of tragedy. The finale is back to happiness and triumphance as Prometheus is praised for his achievements and his remarkable creatures. Though departing from the original story, it is a wonderful end, and is conveyed as such (E flat major) through Beethovens use of themes from three of his other works, and display  the success of Prometheus actions and his virtuosity.

After having studied both works, it is apparent to me, that the only major difference between the two composers methods in which they display the concept creation, is the fact that Haydn uses spoken language as an adjunct to his music, while Beethoven relies solely on his musical prose. I feel that Beethovens efforts were more effective simply because by concentrating upon the music alone, he was able to hone the imagery more precisely, not relying upon words to  concretize his ideas. Haydn showed remarkable insight when choosing instruments and other subtleties when trying to convey his emotion. Beethovens incredible crafting through the use of extremes, however,  was not excessive as one could superficially see but in fact intrinsic to displaying such vivid imagery.

Subject: Music
Grade: A-
School System: Ivy League School (Vassar College)
Author Comments: good paper, very impressive if i say so myself.
Teacher Comments: “Nice job! Well organized.”
Date: November 12th, 1996

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