Sunday, May 13, 2007

No Hidin' from Haydn

[Wow, that's a bad post title. Sorry.] It had to happen. Less than 48 hours after complaining about my dis-affinity for Haydn, we sang "The Spacious Firmament on High" in church this morning. Not only is this based on the famous "The Heavens are Telling" chorus from The Creation, but this is one of the worst examples I know of words that don't fit a tune. I don't have any big objections to the Haydn chorus - it's got a nice rousing choral fugue. The tune is rather on the square side, especially the second phrase that goes up the scale, but this is certainly one of the most successful moments in the oratorio, set up beautifully by the tenor recit that precedes it.

As for the hymn below, the words were written by Joseph Addison in 1712, The Creation was created by Haydn in 1798 and, around 1845, someone had the bright idea of supergluing the former to the big tune from the latter. The character of the tune fits the words just fine, but many unaccented syllables fall in accented places. The worst would be firmaMENT, OrigiNAL, and publishES. Still, I really can't blame Haydn for this. In fact, there's a long history of taking "great classical melodies" and turning them into hymns without really working out all the kinks, as if a highbrow tune will always carry the day. Anyway, here's what verse 1 of this unfortunate concoction looks like. [Click on it to hear the tune.]

No comments: