This is a very paltry discussion of a great matter, but no more space can be given to it here. In spite of all that has been written since Haydn drew the final double-bar of the D symphony, all the twelve are yet worth days and nights of study. All that Haydn is not may be freely granted; but when we learn to know the London symphonies we learn to realize in some degree what a mighty inventive artist and workman he was.
During his stay in London, Haydn’s good wife had asked him to buy her that house in the suburbs of Vienna which would come in so conveniently when he left her a widow. The request was not entirely wasted—that is, he bought the house, made some additions, and from 1797 lived in it himself. Here he composed The Creation, The Seasons, and the bulk of his church music; and here he died.
It is said that the notion of composing the Austrian National Hymn was suggested to Haydn by the Prussian National Hymn which George I. had brought to England with him from his beloved Hanover; but however that may be, and whether the abominable melody known then and now as “God Save the King” inspired him or not, he determined to write a tune for his countrymen, and he did. On the Emperor’s birthday in 1799 the new tune was played in every theatre in the Empire. Next to the Marseillaise, it is certainly the finest thing of the sort in existence.
Salomon had wanted Haydn to write an oratorio in London, and handed him a copy of a libretto of The Creation, which one Lidley had compiled from the Bible and Milton’s “Paradise Lost” for Handel. The proposal came to nothing then, but when Haydn got comfortably settled down in Vienna van Swieten repeated the suggestion. This van Swieten had been a parasitic patron of Mozart. He was an enthusiast for the older-fashioned forms of music, and he had concerts of oratorio in an institution of which he was librarian. Haydn passed on Lidley’s book to him, van Swieten had it translated and doctored to suit his own taste, and Haydn set to work. He faced the task with a degree of seriousness and solemnity which the music would never suggest. In April of 1798 it was given for the first time, privately, at the Schwartzenburg Palace; in March of the following year it was given publicly at the National Theatre. From the beginning it was an electrical success, and was immediately performed everywhere. Haydn had been guaranteed 500 ducats for it, but gained very much more. In the end, in the way I have previously mentioned, it became the property of the Tonkuenstler Societaet of Vienna. In England it was for over half a century the “Messiah’s” one great rival. Lately it has dropped out of the repertories of London and provincial choral societies. Fashions in sacred music, like fashions in popular preachers, have a trick of changing.