A 'word painting' by the Philharmonic

Haydn's The Creation comes to life in the Cathedral

Heaven and nature will sing in the breathtaking interior of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Photo by Geoff L. Johnson

IF YOU live in Savannah, you know you're lucky to live among unrivaled natural beauty year-round. It's January, and we can stroll through Forsyth Park beneath a canopy of dripping moss and sprawling oak, throw on a jacket and walk along the Atlantic Ocean, squish our toes in the salt marsh at Skidaway Island.

We know this. But sometimes—when work encompasses us, when our phones won’t stop blowing up, when we’re shuffling kids to innumerable after-school activities—we take it for granted. Sometimes, we need a reminder.

The Savannah Philharmonic is ending January with the perfect wake-up call. Regarded by many to be Haydn’s masterpiece, The Creation comes to life in one of downtown’s historic architectural treasures: the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

Beneath gilded arches and cerulean panels, the Savannah Philharmonic will bring a new kind of beauty to a timeless story, chronicling the emergence of all the flora and fauna that surround us.

Austrian Joseph Haydn was a prolific composer of the Classical period, fondly dubbed the “Father of the Symphony.” At 29 years old, he was made “house officer” to the affluent Esterházy family, a job that included composing, running the orchestra, and filling their multiple palaces with chamber music.

Though it was an extremely demanding gig, it was great for Haydn as a musician—with access to his own small orchestra, Haydn wrote countless compositions in his near-thirty years with the family. And with such an engrossing job, he was totally isolated from musical trends, and, in his own words, “forced to become original.”

Drawing inspiration from the biblical books of Genesis and Psalms, as well as Milton’s Paradise Lost, The Creation was composed and debuted at the height of Haydn’s career. The first performance was an invitation-only affair; nobility, patrons of the arts, and government officials filled Vienna’s Schwarzenberg Palace.

By that time, Haydn was a household name—the streets outside the palace were so flooded with fans that 30 police officers had to be on-site to keep the peace.

Let’s hope the SCMPD isn’t going to have to block off Abercorn (be smart—get those tickets in advance). But there’s no denying that the Savannah Philharmonic’s production spotlights some of our town’s most in-demand vocalists: soprano Tina Zenker-Williams, tenor Stephen Dobson, and bass Kyle Hancock. They’ll portray archangels Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael respectively, as the earth comes to fruition around them.

“It will most definitely be their most energetic and high-spirited performance of the season thus far,” says Savannah Philharmonic Chorusmaster Monica Harper.

Haydn himself actually preferred that the English translation be performed for English-speaking audiences, so that all may understand the depths and subtle complexities of the beautiful prose. In keeping with his wishes, Savannah Philharmonic’s Creation will be sung in English.

Employing “word painting,” a musical technique in which the arrangements reflect the literal meaning of a song, the orchestra will bathe the audience in sonic interpretations of the sun’s grand premiere, the first steps of various creatures, and, perhaps most significantly, the famous depiction of the Chaos before the creation.

The Creation sequentially follows the story as most know it. In Part 1, light, earth, water, weather, and plant life are introduced. Part II ushers in sea creatures, birds, animals, and man, with Part III set in the Garden of Eden. No cunning serpents here, though: The Creation is all pre-Fall of Man, showing Adam and Eve in their most content moments. Uriel alludes to the inevitable toward the end of Part III, explaining to the couple that they’ll stay happy if they refrain from wanting to have, or wishing to know, more than they should. But that’s the beauty of The Creation—while most stories make the Fall the epicenter of the story, Haydn’s shows the beauty in formation of earth.

Hearing it in such a gorgeous man-made creation as St. John’s Cathedral, only to step out into the oak-and-moss beauty of Lafayette Square, is sure to leave the audience in admiration of nature.

“When we surround ourselves with beautiful music in beautiful spaces, it can only make us more beautiful people,” says Harper. “The chorus is excited to sing Creation because we know the wonderful people of Savannah will appreciate its brilliance.”


About The Author

Anna Chandler

Connect Savannah Former Arts & Entertainment Editor Anna Chandler started writing about music after growing hoarse from talking about it nonstop. Born in Tennessee and raised in South Carolina, she has been a proud Savannahian for 8 years. She sings & plays guitar & accordion in COEDS and Lovely Locks.
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