Haydn’s Creation and Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam

For the performance of Haydn’s Creation by the combined forces of the Renaissance Singers, the Palmerston North Choral Society, and the Manawatu Sinfonia, the publicity material features Michelangelo’s depiction of the Creation of Adam, located on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and painted around 1510.

In Joseph Haydn’s masterpiece Creation, the master set out to illustrate, with colour and a sense of celebration, the beginning of the world, the emergence of life, and the appearance of mankind.

Michelangelo depicts God the Creator as a grey-bearded man surrounded by celestial beings in human form. (These were the infantile ‘cherubs’ of Christian mythology, invented in ignorance of the true character of ‘kerubim’: winged sphinxes with a human head on the body of a bull or a lion, guarding the throne of a god or a king.) The female human being who is embraced by God’s left arm would presumably be Hawwah/ Eva, the first woman, who is not yet created, but is presumably in the mind of God before the first man thinks about his need for a helpmate.

But let us try another line of interpretation (although it may never have entered the head of the artist).

In Genesis 1:26-27 we read (my translation of the Hebrew): God said, Let us make Humankind (Adam) in our own image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over ... all the earth; ... male and female he created them, in the image of God ....

This should logically or literally mean that God has a feminine side, if humans are constructed according to the divine image. Without going so far as saying that God is a hermaphrodite, we can accept a male and female and human nature for God in this story, though eventually it is acknowledged that God is Spirit, that same Divine Spirit which brooded over the surface of the waters of chaos (Genesis 1:2).

In the English libretto set to music by Haydn, the archangel Uriel declares: And God created Man in his own image, in the image of God created he him . Male and female created he them. [Cp. Gen 1:27] He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and Man became a living soul. [Cp. Gen 2:7]

Moving on to the second account of creation in Genesis 2-3. Here the ‘woman’ (‘isshah) is created from the first Human (‘adam), who is now a ’man’ (‘iish), although he is still referred to as “the ‘Adam”. (All the apostrophes in these words stand for the Hebrew consonant named ‘Aleph, represented by an ox-head and used by the Greeks and Romans for the vowel A [the head is inverted]; but it is a ‘glottal stop’, something the choristers have heard about lately.)

Now, Christians tell the story with a rib being taken from Adam, and it is used for constructing Eve (and some earnest believers will tell you that males still have one missing). But in the Jewish Bible that I have before me, with Hebrew and English side by side, God does not take a rib but a side, a whole half of the first Human (Genesis 2:22). This idea has the original human as being a composite of male and female, and when the two halves were separated they would always wish to be united again.

For me, then, this painting could show that God has a female side (the left side, in this depiction). But the ‘Adam he has created out of the ‘adamah (the red-coloured ground) only has male characteristics (and we had better avoid the scholastic pedantic question why he has a navel if he was never in a womb). However, that red-headed female beside God is probably prefiguring ‘woman’, eventually to be named by ‘Adam as Hawwah (or Havvah), meaning ‘Life’, and mother of all living (Genesis 3:20), just before they were expelled from the Paradise Garden, which was situated east of Eden, or  else eastward in Eden. Other possibilities for the female are: Lilith (‘woman of the night’?), known in Jewish folklore as the first wife of Adam, who flew away and became a malevolent demon; Asherah, the West Semitic consort of El (God), who was banished in Jewish theology, but she could have been considered the female side of Yahweh the God of Israel.

There is still a mystery about the outstretched arms and the two hands pointing at each other but not touching. The Scripture (Genesis 2:7) has Yahweh God forming the Human from the dust of the ground and breathing life into his nostrils so that he became a living soul (notice: he was, not had, a soul). Then God planted the garden for him. The man in the picture seems to have already achieved that state of being: he is looking at God and responding to him. We can imagine sparks of creative energy crossing the gap between the fingers, and it has been suggested that the inspiration for this detail came to Michelangelo from the mediaeval hymn entitled Veni Creator Spiritus (Come Creator Spirit): at one point ‘the finger of the paternal right hand’ (digitus paternae dexterae) is requested to grant speech, love, and strength to the supplicants.

Brian E. Colless


A celebration of Beginnings

It has been a regular part of the concert programmes of both the Palmerston North Choral Society and the Renaissance Singers to celebrate the advent of Christmas with an appropriate concert.

In the case of the Choral Society Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio are obvious vehicles for such celebration. Though the Renaissance Singers has also staged successful Messiahs its Christmas focus has been more frequently programmes of carols and sacred Christmas music for smaller choirs. On November 30 both choirs will combine with the Manawatu Sinfonia to present here for the first time since 1980 a performance of Haydn’s great oratorio Creation as Haydn meant it, with the full colour of the orchestra.

In 1980 conductor Guy Donaldson’s began his term as conductor of the Palmerston North Choral Society, which lasted until 1997, with a performance of Haydn’s Creation in All Saints Church. An orchestra led by Charles Lawn contained many members of the Sinfonia, some of whom will be involved in this performance, and the soloists included Jean Paterson and Edward Driscoll of Palmerson North and Roger Wilson of Wellington. The performance was to begin a long musical association of Guy’s with Ted and Roger.

Creation is a work that Haydn intended as his masterpiece. Haydn devoted the longest time to this work as he had ever spent on a single composition. In fact, he worked on the project to the point of exhaustion, and collapsed into a period of illness after conducting its premiere performance.

It was probably the first work which was written with texts in two different languages – in German and in English, though the archaic English results at least partly from the German translation of the original English poem being the basis of a translation back to English.

Haydn used in his orchestra the relatively new clarinet, and also the trombone, which Beethoven was not to use until his fifth symphony. Most strikingly we have in this work the appearance for perhaps the first time in an orchestra of still the deepest of its instruments, the contra-bassoon, and one of only a handful of such instruments in the country will feature in this gala performance.

It is in the content of the work, however, that the notion of Beginnings is most clearly to be found.

After an overture depicting primordial chaos, Haydn startled his audience at the premiere of this work on 19 March 1799 in Vienna with one of the most bold and striking effects they had heard at the point of the creation of light. According to a friend of the composer: at that moment when light broke out for the first time, one would have said that rays darted from the composer's burning eyes. The enchantment of the electrified Viennese was so general that the orchestra could not proceed for some minutes.

Haydn tells the story through three of the seven archangels, who were no doubt chosen for their role because of their presumed witnessing of the event. These parts are to be sung in our performance by one of New Zealand’s leading young sopranos, Morag Atchison, tenor Richard Phillips, and Palmerston North baritone Hadleigh Adams. The chorus acts as a chorus of angels celebrating each day of creation as it occurs. The work is divided into three parts, the third celebrating the creation of Adam and Eve and their appearance in the Garden of Eden. Morag and Hadleigh also sing these roles. The word Adam in Hebrew means Mankind.

The idea of beginnings also suggests endings, and next year will be the bi-centenary of the death of Joseph Haydn.

Guy Donaldson

Haydn’s ‘CREATIONis to be  presented by the Renaissance Singers, the Palmerston North Choral Society,  and the Manawatu Sinfonia at the Regent on Broadway on Sunday 30 November 2008 at 3pm.     Conducted by Guy Donaldson.    Soloists: Morag Atchison, soprano, Richard Phillips,  tenor, and  Hadleigh Adams, baritone.

In 2007 rising opera star Anna Leese approached conductor Guy Donaldson to express her interest in singing another Messiah with the Renaissance Singers. She and her brother, Matthew, both past members of the choir had appeared in their 30th anniversary performance of the work in 2005, and she regarded it as one of the best New Zealand performances she had participated in.

Guy suggested the alternative of Haydn’s Creation, which has a prominent and exciting role for soprano, and a performance that would include the Palmerston North Choral Society and the Manawatu Sinfonia as a community event. Anna enthusiastically agreed. Unfortunately before the year was out Covent Garden had approached Anna to sing in one of their productions that was to be staged at the time of our planned performance. Anna had little alternative but to forsake the Garden of Eden for Covent Garden.

A combined committee of the three organizations was already committed to the venture of a collaboration focused on a performance of one of the greatest choral and orchestral works. We are delighted that another of New Zealand’s leading young sopranos with a distinguished overseas solo experience, Morag Atchison, will lead our team of 3 soloists. They include Richard Phillips, tenor, who performed with distinction in the Renaissance Singers 2005 performance of the St John Passion, and Palmerston North  baritone Hadleigh Adams, who is already making a name for himself in New Zealand as a baritone with a future.

Though Handel’s Messiah is usually thought of as the great Christmas piece, Haydn’s Creation is in many respects more appropriately a Christmas work, dealing as it does with the idea of beginnings, and of the entering of the Divine into the world.  While the biblical Creation story, in its depiction of the 6 days of God’s work, operates for most at the level of myth rather than any grand drama, Haydn himself chose to set his musical depiction with a lightness of touch and a charming lyricism, so that the audience might enjoy the ultimate creative act as associated with beauty and in places even with child-like awe.

The two local choirs will join to form a grand choir, and Haydn wrote for the largest orchestral forces at his disposal with the intention of doing justice to the scope of the work. This gala performance by three of our leading community music organizations promises to be a significant event in the musical life of the city.

The Palmerston North Choral Society and Creation

The forthcoming presentation of Haydn's Creation, with two choirs and a full symphony orchestra at the Regent on Broadway, will be the tenth time that the Palmerston North Choral Society has sung this major work in a public concert. It is with great pleasure that, on this occasion, the Society is combining with the Renaissance Singers and Manawatu Sinfonia, under the baton of Guy Donaldson, Musical Director of Renaissance Singers. Guy is also a Vice-Patron of the Choral Society and a past Musical Director. He has conducted Creation with the Choral Society twice before; in 1980 with the Manawatu Sinfonia and in 1987 with organist Janet Gibbs.

The first and second Choral Society presentations of Creation were in 1925 and 1933 under Mr J. Holmes Runnicles, both at the Opera House with a chamber orchestra. Over the years other conductors have led the choir in this brilliant and inspiring work; Colin Pickering in 1957 with organ accompaniment, Gilmour McConnell in 1959 at the Concert Chamber with the Alex Lindsay String Orchestra and organist Stuart Panting, John Muntze in 1969 with the Manawatu Sinfonia, Bruce Cash in 1998 and Alison Stewart in 2005, both with organ accompaniment.

Messiah was the founding choral work of the society, and has been the choir's most performed oratorio. However, Creation is a very significant treasure in their repertoire. The Choral Society will be celebrating its 90th anniversary next year and a highlight of the concert programme for 2009 will be Messiah on 5th December with the Manawatu Sinfonia at the Regent on Broadway.

C. Donoghue   14 October 2008

Carrol Donoghue is a singer in both choirs

In the photograph she is the seventh soprano from the left in the second row