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Prom 2 fever - The Creation

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Denis McCaldin Denis McCaldin | 12:31 UK time, Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Johann_Peter_Salomon.jpgSuzanne Aspden, my fellow blogger rooting for Handel, says that she went to the BBC TV launch for the Proms recently, and that she didn't meet any of her fellow bloggers there. I was sorry to miss her, and the launch, especially as Suzanne has written some very interesting things about the Handel/Haydn connection on her site.

All four BBC 'Composers of the Year' feature prominently in the Proms programme, and in a more modest way, so I believe will their blogmasters. I shall certainly be taking part in the Proms Plus session on The Creation at the Royal College of Music with Louise Fryer and David Wyn Jones on Saturday 18th July (Prom 2). The format, as many readers will know, is that a couple of us stand up and share some thoughts about the music, and then invite questions and comments from the floor. For instance, did Haydn really like the English, or were his visits to England based on the belief that there was serious money to be made here? And would The Creation have turned out differently if Haydn had not heard Messiah and Israel in Egypt in Westminster Cathedral?

Perhaps the biggest problem of all concerns the words. Salomon gave Haydn an English libretto - possibly written by the same man who wrote the text for Messiah - when he finally left London in 1795. Back in Vienna, Haydn gave it to his friend Baron van Swieten, and asked him to translate it into German. Haydn then set the German translation to music. But the composer had a hunch that the oratorio could be a big success in England, and so asked van Swieten to re-translate it back again, so that it could be published in both languages. The results were bizarre. For example, who in the UK today would know that 'On mighty pens' means 'On mighty wings'?! And there are many more mangled phrases which make nonsense of the original. Paul McCreesh, the conductor of the 2009 Prom performance, is just the latest in a long line of musicians who have tried to produce a good, singable English text. It will be very interesting to hear what people feel about his version when it is performed next Saturday.


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