Haydn: Representation of Chaos

“Chaos” is the overture to Haydn’s oratorio, the Creation, one of his undoubted masterpieces. The English libretto, by an anonymous author, was given to him during his second London tour, possibly after Handel had turned it down. The work took eighteen months to complete, and was first performed to an invitation-only audience in Vienna in April, 1798.

Chaos, with its slow tempo and muted strings, is in the brooding key of C minor. The noticeable absence of recognisable cadences, the conventional endings of musical phrases, contribute to the feeling of utter musical anarchy and confusion, very avant garde for the late 18th century.

Listen out for crashing chords contrasting with the flute’s bird-like trill, and the gentle, throbbing pulse of the second violins. This very visual piece is a superb example of musical painting. Close your eyes, and see the mists and firestorms swirling through the darkness over the formless void, awaiting the light, awaiting God.