Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Bang!

Remember the experience with Haydn's The Creation oratorio I reprised Saturday. I suggested it first in a Boston Globe column way back when, then in An Intimate Look at the Night Sky, and finally as a post on this blog in 2006. I'm reminded that it had one more incarnation.

I was invited to give a talk at the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord, New Hampshire, sometime in the 90s I suppose it was. After a brief introduction with the lights on, in which I told the audience what they were going to hear, I asked them to lean back in their reclined seats and close their eyes. "Don't peak," I instructed, "just listen. You will know when to open your eyes."

On my instructions, the operator in the control room put Haydn's oratorio on the sound system. Out of the silence, a faint C-minor chord, a premonition, out of nowhere. Scattered fragments of music, delicate, as if God were gathering his thoughts -- clarinet, oboe, a trumpet note. Then, a hushed silence. The first voice, the archangel Raphael: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, and the earth was without form an void, and darkness was on the face of the deep." The chorus, barely audible: "And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters; and God said, 'Let there be light.'" The voices whispering: "And there was light."

A blazing, room-rattling C-major chord! A big bang of sound. Every eye popped open in the darkened planetarium to a dome now brilliant with stars and the summer Milky Way. Troppo! Perfection!

I told the story of how when in England, in 1782, Haydn visited the astronomer William Herschel, the discoverer of Uranus, at his observatory near Slough, and possibly had a look through the great man's telescope. He surely heard Herschel expound on how gravity condensed the stars and planets out of chaos and darkness. Herschel was himself a musician, and Haydn had a keen interest in astronomy. I imagine the two men grooved on each other. The visit may have been an inspiration for the oratorio, one of the great works of western music.

If you don't know The Creation, get a copy and have a listen. Seldom have art and science so beautifully complemented each other. Bravo, maestro! Bravo!