Haydn’s classical masterpiece put in a modern perspective

The Creation

Joseph Haydn, René Jacobs, Collegium Vocale Gent, B’Rock Orchestra, Julian Rosefeldt

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Conducted by René Jacobs, Collegium Vocale Gent, baroque orchestra B’Rock and three top singers perform Haydn’s classical masterpiece The Creation (Die Schöpfung). An accompanying film by Berlin based artist Julian Rosefeldt shows vast expanses of desert and mountains. People seem small and insignificant in comparison, searching, yet determined to carry on. It’s the perfect image to match the oratorio, which is based on the Bible’s Genesis and Psalms as well as John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. Rosefeldt’s film puts Haydn’s idealised creation story in the perspective of modern man, who has radically changed God’s Creation to suit his own purposes.


Background information

A tremendous tutti chord dissolves in a primordial musical soup of volatile harmonies, unfocused motives and an atmosphere of vague formlessness. In the futuristic opening sequence of Die Schöpfung (The Creation), Joseph Haydn pulls out all the stops to convey the chaos of the early universe. It's the introduction to an overwhelming musical panorama of the divine creation.

 In less than two hours, he takes us from the first light, the first plants and animals to the creation of the first humans: Adam and Eve. After a successful premiere at the 2015 Ruhrtriennale, the Collegium Vocale Gent and B'Rock baroque orchestra perform Die Schöpfung at the Holland Festival. German video artist Julian Rosefeldt's accompanying film radically brings Haydn’s creation oratorio into the 21st century.

In the summer of 1796, Joseph Haydn received a note from Baron Gottfried van Swieten, asking whether he would be interested in writing a large oratorio 'in the spirit and the manner of Handel'. The Esterházy Kapelmeister didn't have to worry about the cost, the project would be funded by Van Swieten's Gesellschaft der Associierten (an association of rich, music-loving noblemen). And a libretto had been written as well. In the previous months, the Baron had taken it upon himself to write the story of the Creation – loosely based on John Milton's epic verse Paradise Lost supplemented by sections from the biblical books of Genesis and Psalms. The public premiere of The Creation at Vienna's Burgtheater in 1799 was a huge success. The lofty theme and the spectacular choral scenes (indeed very much 'in the spirit of Handel') captured the imagination; not to mention Haydn's inventive tonal representations of the creation of light (a radiating C major chord) and the turbulent primordial seas (swaying strings). Also, The Creation fits in seamlessly with the enlightened spirit of the late eighteenth century. Haydn's work presents the creation as a harmonious whole of cosmos, flora and fauna, with man as the undisputed crowning glory of God's miraculous work – in all his dignity, beauty, wisdom and rightfulness. The fact that the fall of man only gets one line in Haydn’s Creation speaks volumes. 

Julian Rosefeldt jumped at the chance to shoot an accompanying film to Haydn's masterpiece. 'What immediately sprang to mind were the immense, desolate sets that I'd seen a year before when I visited the Atlas Film Studios in Morocco,' the video artist recalled. As well as these ranging mountain landscapes, Rosefeldt shot derelict industrial works in the German Ruhr Area. 'Both locations show relicts of human civilisation,' he explains. 'Whether it's the reconstructed ruins of old civilisations or the remains of the industrial age, they both show our human creative urge, and in doing so connect the past with the present. In a sense the footage almost works as a counterpoint, juxtaposing what we hear in the music. This is a conscious decision. I think it's very important for the shots to convey serenity and spaciousness, images of vast, desolate landscapes, which the music and lyrics need to fill.'



Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) is considered one of the most important founders of the Classical style. In the middle of the 18th century, he pioneered classical genres such as the sonata, the symphony and the string quartet. Haydn was born to a wheelwright's family in the Austrian village of Rohrau. 

Having noticed that their son was musically gifted, his parents sent him to Vienna in 1740, where young Joseph worked as a chorister at St Stephen's Cathedral for the next nine years. Making a name for himself amongst the nobility, Haydn was appointed 'Kapellmeister' at the court of the Esterházy family. Under the auspices of the music-loving Prince Nikolaus I, Haydn assumed responsibility of the court orchestra and started to compose a huge amount of music,. He experimented with various genres, ranging from chamber music to vocal works, opera and religious music. He also made revolutionary strides in writing string quartets and symphonies. From 1779 Haydn, now a free-lance composer, started targeting the fast growing music publishing market. His string quartets Opus 33, Opus 50 and Opus 64, as well as the Paris Symphonies brought him international fame. In the 1790's he built on his reputation with two hugely successful concert tours to London. After having returned to Vienna for good, Haydn led a successful life as a public figure and independent composer. He wrote his last series of string quartets and large-scale masses such as his Nelsonmesse (Nelson Mass) and the Paukenmesse (Kettledrum Mass), as well as his famous oratorios, including Die Schöpfung (The Creation) and Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons). From 1803, his health prevented him from composing. Haydn died on 31 May 1809, aged 77. 

With more than 260 recordings to his credit and an intensive career as singer, conductor, scholar and teacher, René Jacobs has achieved an eminent position in the field of Baroque and Classical vocal music. He received his early musical education as a choirboy at St Bavo cathedral in his native city of Ghent. Remaining active as a singer during his university studies and degrees in Classical Philology, his encounters with Alfred Deller, Gustav Leonhardt and the Kuijken brothers were to determine his orientation towards Baroque music and specialization as countertenor, in which he very soon established his reputation as one of the most prominent singers of his time. In 1977 he founded the ensemble Concerto Vocale, exploring 17th century vocal chamber music and operatic repertoire and made a series of impressive recordings for Harmonia Mundi, many of them international award winning and “World Premieres”. René Jacobs made his debut as an opera conductor in 1983 with a production of Antonio Cesti’s Orontea at the Innsbrucker Festwochen, where later he held the position of artistic director from 1997 to 2009. His long and successful collaborations with the Berlin Staatsoper Unter den Linden as principal guest conductor since 1992, Theater an der Wien (Vienna) since 2006, Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie (Brussels) and other leading international stages and festivals have led him to conduct from Early Baroque to Rossini and from most unknown to most famous opera titles. His work as a conductor is distinctive for its pioneering spirit and his deep studies of historical sources have often resulted in outstanding interpretations remarkable for a unique fusion of scholarship and musical instinct. An example of such is his internationally acclaimed Mozart operas recordings. His Nozze di Figaro was rewarded by a Grammy as best opera and the prestigious Gramophone magazine (UK) quoted in an article: “René Jacobs’s Mozart opera series are one of the recorded marvels of our time”. Alongside to his extensive operatic activity, performing sacred music and oratorio on a regular basis has always been a very important part of Jacobs’ career. His recording of J.S. Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion (Echo Klassik Award 2014 in Germany) was celebrated as “making reference” in the recording history of this masterwork His latest recordings are including Mozart’s Entführung aus dem Serail published in September 2015 (Caecilia award for the best opera in 2015) and Johann Sebastian Bach’s Saint John Passion (released in March 2016). Elected Doctor Honoris Causa at the University of Ghent, René Jacobs has received the most prominent prizes from international Critics. At Holland Festival he has appeared in 2010 conducting Francesco Conti’s Don Chisciotte in Sierra Morena and in 2014 with Handel’s Orlando.

Julian Rosefeldt (1965) studied architecture in his home town Munich before continuing his studies in Barcelona. After receiving his diploma in 1994, he began working in collaboration with fellow Munich graduate Piero Steinle. Since 1999 he has worked as an independent artist, based in Berlin. Rosefeldt’s work consists primarily of elaborate, visually opulent film and video installations, ranging in style from documentary to theatrical narrative. In addition, he's also created several videos for music and theatre productions. Prior to his film for Haydn's Die Schöpfung (The Creation) he created film installations at the Schaubühne in Berlin a.o. for Martin Crimp and Mark Ravenhill's The City / The Cut (2008, directed by Thomas Ostermeier) and Falk Richter's Electronic City (2004, directed by Tom Kühnel). As well as in film and video, Rosefeldt also works as a photographer. He has exhibited in museums and galleries around the world, including Haus der Kunst Munich; Hamburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart and KW Institute for Contemporary Art, both in Berlin; Tate Modern London, Kunsthalle Wien, Centre Georges Pompidou Paris, ACMI Melbourne, Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the British Film Institute in London. In 2009 and 2010, Rosefeldt was visiting professor at the Bauhaus University Weimar's Media Art faculty. Since 2010, he is a fellow of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts' Film and Media Art department in Munich and Professor of Digital and Time-base Media at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. 

Collegium Vocale Gent was formed in 1970 by conductor Philippe Herreweghe. At the time they were a pioneering ensemble in early music, spearheading the use of new ideas from historical music practice in the performance of vocal repertoire. Their authentic, text-oriented and rhetorical approach brought them international acclaim, with performances at major concert venues and music festivals in Europe, Israel, the United States, Russia, South America, Japan, Hong Kong and Australia. Since their formation, the Collegium Vocale Gent have grown into a flexible ensemble performing an extensive repertoire from various style periods. For each project they can assemble an ideal group of performers. Renaissance music is performed by an ensemble ranging from six to twelve singers. German baroque music, more specifically the vocal works of J.S. Bach, is preferably performed by a small ensemble, with the singers taking both choral and solo parts. Over the years, Collegium Vocale Gent have also branched out into classical, romantic and contemporary oratorio repertoire. As well as with their own baroque orchestra, the ensemble frequently collaborate with various external historically informed ensembles, including Orchestre des Champs Élysées, Freiburger Barockorchester and Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin. They have also collaborated on projects with deFilharmonie, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, the Budapest Festival Orchestra and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. The ensemble have worked with an impressive roster of guest conductors, including Nikolaus Harnoncourt, René Jacobs, Sigiswald Kuijken, Marcus Creed, Edo de Waart, Iván Fischer, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and many others. 

Baroque orchestra B'Rock was set up in Ghent in 2005 with a mission to bring about renewal and rejuvenation in early music. Hailing from various countries around the world, the orchestra's musicians are all specialists in historically informed performance practices with great flexibility in repertoire and playing style. B'Rock's programming includes core repertoire as well as lesser known music from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The orchestra also mix early and contemporary music, creating new forms, as well as performing new music on historical instruments. Crossing over into other genres is also part of the orchestra's DNA, combining early music with theatre, art and video. 

B'Rock regularly work with internationally acclaimed guest conductors and soloists, including René Jacobs, Jérémie Rhorer, Leonardo García Alarcón, Peter Dijkstra, Bejun Mehta, Alexander Melnikov, Kristian Bezuidenhout, and Sophie Karthäuser; as well as with world class choirs including RIAS Kammerchor, Collegium Vocale Gent, Nederlands Kamerkoor and Cappella Amsterdam. In opera and music theatre, the orchestra has set up partnerships with De Munt/La Monnaie and Muziektheater Transparant. Each season, the orchestra perform some 45 concerts in Belgium, the Netherlands and around Europe.



Joseph Haydn
Gottfried van Swieten
musical direction
René Jacobs
Julian Rosefeldt
Tobias Staab
music dramaturgy
Jan Vandenhouwe
Sunhae Im (soprano), Thomas Walker (tenor), Johannes Weisser (bass-baritone), B'Rock Orchestra, Collegium Vocale Gent
Ruhrtriennale - Festival of the Arts
Duitse Federale Cultuurstichting
funded by
Kulturstiftung des Bundes
with the friendly support of
the association of friends and supporters of Ruhrtriennale e.V.

This performance was made possible with support by