The masterpiece of Franz Joseph Haydn’s maturity, if not his entire career, Die Schöpfung/The Creation — its German and English titles are equally appropriate, as the oratorio was conceived, composed and published with dual German and English texts — continues to fascinate and inspire interpreters.
Sir Georg Solti was so devoted to the piece that he not only programmed it twice during his tenure as Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director, he also recorded the complete work both times. Former CSO principal conductor Bernard Haitink led the work in his native Holland back in 1958 and returned to it more than half a century later in 2011 with the CSO at downtown subscription concerts. Former Ravinia music director James Levine programmed and conducted his first Creation in 1977 with the CSO at the summer festival, leading it again at Ravinia in 1985 and now for a third time, 40 years on from the first, on Aug. 8.
Levine also was the only conductor, apart from Karajan himself, to conduct the work at the Salzburg Festival during the Karajan years. A Levine-led recording made with the Berlin Philharmonic was released in 1991 featuring soprano Kathleen Battle, who had been part of the first Levine performance at Ravinia.
After making a triumphant (if rain-soaked) return to Ravinia last season to revisit Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony as a commemoration of the 45th anniversary of his Ravinia and CSO debuts, Levine chose once again to program Die Schöpfung (he has always preferred the German version) for his second work back at the festival he led for over 20 years. Next year, he begins his tenure as Ravinia’s conductor laureate for at least the next five summers.
Though in the 19th and 20th centuries Haydn’s music fell somewhat into obscurity, The Creation itself has never gone out of style and has never stopped being performed by amateurs and professionals alike.
This is an excerpt of an article published in the Ravinia magazine; to read the complete version, click here.