Many of us have doubtless heard, sung, or played The Creation, Joseph Haydn’s great oratorio and probably never given a second thought to the trombone writing. After all, it is such a well-established cornerstone of the choral and orchestral repertoire and is performed so frequently that we are all familiar with the great choruses and arias. Or are we? If we start to scratch the surface and re-examine some of the early performance materials, it becomes apparent that there is more to this work than first meets the eye.
The Creation opens with a purely orchestral portrayal of the Earth before being touched by The Hand of God: The Representation of Chaos. Yet if we examine this work from the very outset, even the casual listener cannot fail to notice that certain instruments are missing from the orchestration of this prelude. We know that Haydn included parts for a third flute as well as a bass trombone and contrabassoon, but not one of these three features in The Representation of Chaos. Prominent parts exist for horns, trumpets, alto and tenor trombones, but nowhere do we see either of the aforementioned instruments in the score. Was this an oversight on Haydn’s part or did he deliberately leave them out?
We can answer the question by looking further into the work. The third flute only appears in the third part of the oratorio, supplementing the first and second flutes to make a trio. This, then, was not an oversight, but rather the deliberate inclusion of an instrument solely for the purpose of completing the orchestration of one isolated passage. This leaves the question of the trombones and the contrabassoon, which is altogether thornier and can be better understood by considering the various sources available.
There exists an extensive series of sketches in Haydn’s hand for The Creation. These shed no light, however, on this question as they are essentially melodic jottings and small drafts of score. Unfortunately, we do not have the autograph score to refer to, as this was purportedly given to Baron Gottfried van Swieten, the librettist, and never returned, or so Haydn claimed. Evidently it must have disappeared along with the entire library belonging to the Baron some time after 1803. What is of interest, though, is a fragment of the alto and tenor trombone parts for No. 19 The Lord is Great (bars 178 to end) and a complete draft in Haydn’s hand of the contrabassoon part.
Naturally, with the absence of an autograph score, second best must be the scores prepared by Haydn’s copyists. These often bear the composer’s own notations. Of these, four survive, of which three are indisputably authentic. It is one of these scores which was used as the basis of the first edition, published in early 1800. These sources are listed below, together with a brief description:
This is a twelve-line score which was originally Haydn’s conducting score. It contains, interestingly enough, Haydn’s own cues for various orchestral parts for which there was no room, given the constraints of using twelve-line paper. It is so named after the Tonkünstler-Societät, in whose archives it was housed before it present location, the Wiener Stadtbibliothek. The Tonkünstler-Societät would often give performances of The Creation at their bi-annual charity concerts in aid of the widows and orphans of musicians.
This sixteen-line score came from Haydn’s library and was, like the Tonkünstler Score, prepared by Johann Elssler, Haydn’s personal copyist together with some others from Esterházy. It contains some emendations in Haydn’s hand.
Another sixteen-line score, also supposedly (according to H. C. Robbins Landon) “based on, or prepared under the supervision of, the Elssler copyist group.” There are, however, no corrections in Haydn’s hand, which makes this questionable as an authentic source.
This, the most complete surviving score, now belongs to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna. It was copied by Johann Elssler and served as the engraver’s copy for the first edition. An eighteen-line score, it is identical in every respect to the first published edition.
The first edition, which was prepared from the Engraver’s Score, was published by Haydn, later (as part of the Gesamtausgabe) by Breitkopf & Härtel in the 1920s, edited by Mandyczewski, the then archivist of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna.
There are, in addition to these scores, four sets of orchestral parts, all of which, bar one, are indisputably authentic:
This is a complete set of orchestral parts from the archives of the Tonkünstler-Societät in Vienna. The parts were prepared by the same copyists who were responsible for the Tonkünstler Score. There are parts for:
- 4 solo voices (S.A.T.B.)
- 1 Direttore (Leader or Concertmaster)
- 8 additional first violin parts
- 9 second violin parts
- 6 viola parts
- 11 cello/bass parts, including basso continuo
- parts for:
- 2 flutes
- 2 oboes
- 2 clarinets
- 2 bassoons
- 2 horns
in three groups – “Erste, Zweyte, und Dritte Harmonie”
- 1 third flute for the “Erste Harmonie”
- 1 contrabassoon for the “Erste Harmonie”
- duplicate first and second clarino parts marked “oblig.” and “ripieno”
- duplicate alto and tenor trombone parts
- 1 bass trombone part
- 1 “Tympano oblig. solo” and 1 second “ripieno” timpani part
- 10 tenor chorus parts
- 10 bass chorus parts
Many of these orchestral parts bear Haydn’s own corrections and amendments. The existence of these parts was known to C. F. Pohl, archivist at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna, who commented on them to Johannes Brahms. They were, however, not known to his successor, Eusebius Mandyczewski, and were therefore not used in the preparation of the Breitkopf & Härtel Gesamtausgabe during the 1920s, for which he (Mandyczewski) was responsible and which has, until now, been considered the “definitive” edition.
This is a complete set of orchestral parts written out by some of the same copyists who prepared the Tonkünstler Parts from Haydn’s library. The parts now form part of the Esterházy collection of the National Széchényi Library in Budapest. The following exist:
- 2 first violin parts
- 2 second violin parts
- 1 viola part
- 2 cello/bass parts
- 3 flute parts (I,II,III)
- 2 oboe parts (I,II)
- 2 clarinet parts (I,II)
- 1 bassoon part containing two parts
- 1 contrabassoon part
- 2 clarino parts (I,II)
- 1 alto trombone part
- 1 tenor trombone part
- 1 bass trombone part
- 1 timpani part
- 3 solo voices (S.T.B.)
- Chorus parts:
- 2 (1 lost?) soprano part
- 3 alto parts
- 3 tenor parts
- 1 (2 lost?) bass parts
This unusually accurate set contains many small corrections but appears not to have been altered by the composer.
This is an incomplete set of parts in the hand of Johann Elssler, Haydn’s personal copyist. It belongs to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. The only extant parts are those for the violins, cellos and third flute.
Here the last set of parts, from the Sonnleithner family estate, is essentially complete, save for the absence of a bass trombone. It would appear that Haydn had little of nor direct involvement with the use of these parts, which, while they may be copied by some of the same hands which prepared the Tonkünstler and Estate Parts, have no authentic background as they mix music from both pre- and post-first-edition performances. We can only assume that they may have been used for one or more Viennese performances with which Haydn was only very loosely associated.
We know from examining these sources that varying numbers of personnel would have been employed for the many performances of The Creation while it was still in its infancy. Purely taking the Tonkünstler Parts into account, with two players to each string part and one for each woodwind, brass and timpani part, an orchestra numbering some 120 players would not have been an unusual sight to see for the larger scale renditions. There were, of course, many smaller-scale performances, but nonetheless, those which employed the full forces specified in the Tonkünstler Parts must have sounded very impressive.
The trombone parts
So now to the question of the trombones. From examining the sources, it is clear that, for example, the bass trombone stands out as being a lone instrument on a par with the contrabassoon and the third flute, which we have already accounted for. But why would Haydn have had two each of first and second trumpets and trombones, not to mention three each of first and second horns and bassoons, yet only one contrabassoon and one bass trombone?
To answer this question, one must consider the notion that Haydn scored The Creation originally for just alto and tenor trombones. The scoring of The Representation of Chaos would appear to bear this out, as well as the wind band interlude in the original setting of The Seven Last Words and the parts in an early choral work, Insanae et vanae curae. Also, comparison with The Seasons, the sequel oratorio with which Haydn attempted to recapture the successes of The Creation, shows a marked difference in the composer’s approach to writing for the trombones, where they are treated as a group, rarely playing individually, and certainly with far less independence in the bass trombone part. There is no bass trombone in The Representation of Chaos as it was the then accepted practice in Vienna to score simply for alto and tenor trombones and not include a part for the bass trombone, though we know from Mozart’s writing that this was probably not the case in Salzburg, which persisted in the doubling of alto, tenor and bass choral parts on the alto, tenor and bass trombones. Indeed, Albrechtsberger, who wrote a concerto for alto trombone, complained in 1790 in a work he penned on the subject of harmony and thorough-bass: “Many usages sanctioned by long custom can hardly be justified … trombones written in unison with alto, tenor, or bass voice.”
Ludwig, Ritter von Köchel, who, in addition to providing us with a compendium of Mozart’s works, also researched and wrote about the history of music in the Hapsburg imperial court from 1543 until 1867, states: “The trombone was first a very preferred instrument for accompanying voices, especially in the chapel; one composed for alto, tenor and bass trombones, and sometimes for a fourth. The first inclusion of them in the accounts of the court chapel was in the year 1680. Much earlier they were listed under other accounts. The number of trombones varied in 1740 from 3 to 5. Reutter himself felt that only 2 were absolutely necessary and after 1772, this was the number of trombones.”
Thus Viennese practice was to write for alto and tenor trombone only, while in Salzburg, the ago-old doubling of voices by a trio of alto, tenor and bass trombones persisted. This then, together with the disappearance, to all intents and purposes, of the old-fashioned long bass trombone in F, E flat, or D (which may well have survived in Salzburg, though we cannot be sure), must have led to the lowest of the three trombone parts being played on a larger-bored Bb instrument with an appropriately sized mouthpiece where the older instrument and, moreover, specialist players, were not available.
According to recent research conducted, for example, by Howard Weiner, the bass trombone was in a state of flux during the 18th century. The discovery of an early trombone method by Viennese trombonist Andreas Nemetz would appear to indicate that the old F bass trombone had been all but superseded in “Art Music” (i.e. not military music) by a B flat instrument, the same pitch as a tenor trombone, only played with a larger mouthpiece. In fact, the earliest evidence, in André Braun’s trombone method, would suggest that the alto, tenor and bass trombones were all B flat instruments. The only differences were in mouthpiece size and notation: the alto was played with a trumpet mouthpiece and the bass trombone with a mouthpiece larger than that of the tenor; the different clefs in use (alto, tenor and bass) indicated what instrument should be used to play each part. Weiner states: “The bass trombone in F, E flat or D went out of style in Vienna sometime early in the 18th century. The Viennese (or at least Imperial Kapellmeister J. J. Fux) apparently didn’t like the sound of it. When 3 trombones were called for (until near the end of the century this was rather the exception; just 2, alto and tenor, being the norm) the third part was played by a tenor trombone in B flat. Later in the century and after 1800 it certainly had a larger mouthpiece and bore, making it a “bass” trombone, but still in B flat.”
It is, therefore, not surprising in the light of this statement, that most of the bass trombone part in The Creation is playable on a straight B flat instrument and is, moreover, probably more comfortable to play as such rather than on a longer instrument, given the wide compass demanded of the player. Weiner goes on to say: “I am sure that someone will now object, and ask “What about the low E flats, Ds and Cs in Haydn’s Creation? They were surely not played on a B flat trombone.” To which my answer is: Yes they were. Although I can’t prove it yet, I’m convinced that the Viennese trombonists of the 18th and early 19th centuries were practised in playing the low falset notes.” There are, after all, not that many low notes which lie below the bottom E on a B flat trombone that might have been demanded of a lower-pitched bass trombone, certainly in The Creation, so it is not inconceivable that the players of the day would have played them as “privileged” or “falset” notes, though this remains, as yet, conjecture.
Having said this, the fact that the bass trombone part is so independent from the alto and tenor parts and so closely allied to that of the contrabassoon, not to mention that these two instruments are completely absent from The Representation of Chaos, is evidence that Haydn must have added them at a later stage, in order to reinforce the bass end of the wind section. It is possible that he did this to address this deficiency in the large-scale performances, experience of which he had already had when he went to the Handel celebrations in Westminster Abbey in 1791, which William Gardiner (who later translated a work by Frenchman L. A. C. Bombet on the lives of Haydn and Mozart) commented upon: “The loud parts, which it was thought would have been too violent for the ear to sustain, fell far short of that breadth of tone in the bass, which was desired. The foundation was too slight for so vast a superstructure; there was not a sufficient mass of sound in the lower part – nor did it sink deep enough.”
There are numerous passages in the pre-first-edition parts which do not appear in the appendixes to the Engraver’s Score and the first edition, or Mandyczewski’s 1920s Breitkopf & Härtel edition. The Tonkünstler, Estate, and Sonnleithner parts include eight additional passages scored with the bass trombone and/or contrabassoon. Six of these passages feature the bass trombone doubling the contrabassoon, one in which the contrabassoon doubles the basses and one more in which it doubles the second bassoon:
- No. 3. Aria and Chorus (“Now vanish before the holy beams”)
Contrabassoon doubles double bass part in tutti passages of Aria. Bass trombone doubles contrabassoon in lead into Chorus.
- No. 4. Recitative (“And God made the firmament”)
Bass trombone and contrabassoon act as bass to wind band.
- No. 7. Aria (“Rolling in foaming billows”)
Bass trombone doubles contrabassoon in tutti passages.
- No. 19. Trio and Chorus (“Most beautiful appear”)
Bass trombone doubles contrabassoon also in bars 149-152.
- No. 22. Aria (“Now heav’n in all her glory shone”)
Bass trombone doubles contrabassoon until trio (bar 74).
- No. 26. Chorus and Trio (“Achieved is the glorious work”)
Contrabassoon doubles second bassoon from bar 38. (Found in most early sources, but not in Haydn’s hand.)
- No. 28. Duet with Chorus. (“By Thee with bliss, O bounteous Lord”)
Bass trombone doubles contrabassoon from bar 83.
Although some may think these doublings strange, it must be remembered that the normal role of the trombone in Austria was to double the alto, tenor and bass choral parts and thus the sound expected of the trombonist would have been more akin to that of the bassoon and horn, not the overbearing, brassy sound which was used from the time of Hector Berlioz onwards.
H. C. Robbins Landon has also pointed out that Viennese performance practice lent a special meaning to certain dynamic markings, such that fortissimo indicated a passage should be played “as loudly as possible” and pianissimo “as softly as possible”. If we examine the score to The Creation, it is not difficult to see how and why this would be implemented as the vast majority of dynamic markings alternate between piano and forte. Occasionally, though, we see fortissimo in the trombone parts, and in the large-scale performances, No. 21, for example, the bass recitative in which the angel Raphael narrates the creation of various animals, saw the lion roar much more loudly than in the relatively meek scoring of the first edition.
The original orchestral parts differ here, as in other places, from the more commonplace performing edition and include parts for no less than twelve woodwind and brass instruments (three first bassoons, three second bassoons, one contrabassoon, two alto trombones, two tenor trombones, one bass trombone) compared with the more usual five (one each of first and second bassoons, contrabassoon, alto trombone and tenor trombone), naturally in addition to the strings in their appropriate numbers.
An interesting amendment to the scoring of No.2, the recitative and chorus, during which we hear the famous passage “Let there be Light̶ is the addition of trombones to the great C major chord which marks the appearance of light. This passage was, then as now, generally regarded as a masterstroke and originally did not feature the trombones underpinning the rest of the orchestra. This in itself is not surprising, given the age-old association which the trombone has had with the underworld and death. In the Tonkünstler, Estate and Graz scores, therefore, the trombones are not scored in bars 28-31, the appearance of light. They are added by Haydn himself in the Tonkünstler Parts (and also appear thereafter in the Estate Parts and the Sonnleithner Parts, though interestingly not in the Elssler Parts) some time after the first performances and are subsequently always included, initially in the appendix only of the Engraver’s Score and the First Edition, later in the main staff of the Breitkopf & Härtel Gesamtausgabe, edited by Mandyczewski.
In conclusion, it is impossible to establish a definitive performing edition of The Creation, given the substantial differences between the various scores and orchestral parts. It is certain that the Engraver’s Score and the first edition provide the basis of an end version, though with thorough analysis, we can see this is far from what Haydn actually used for the earliest performances. The first edition, far from being a publication generally available to the music-appreciating public, was intended by Haydn to be a lucrative source of income. It was a souvenir, printed, no less, on special paper and bearing a title page signed by the composer, destined, therefore, for the libraries of the aristocracy and the gentry who were on The Creation’s subscription list. There were no parts published in conjunction with the first edition score. It was, after all, not for performance purposes that Haydn had had it published, so anyone wanting to have the work performed would have to go through the necessary expense of having the parts copied.
The composer himself may very well have reserved certain effects only for specific performances, so we have no way of knowing which, if any, score is an accurate performing edition. There are, as we have seen, numerous passages involving either one or both of the bass trombone and contrabassoon, which simply do not appear in the performing editions we are, by now, used to seeing. Probably the most common in the United Kingdom is the Novello edition, which has none of these aforementioned passages.
We would be much the poorer were it not for A. Peter Brown, who has worked with the Oxford University Press to publish a performance edition which includes many of the hand-written corrections and amendments in the Tonkünstler and Estate materials and which has, thankfully, started to make its appearance in live and recorded renditions of this most popular and exquisite work. Far from being a definitive edition, it represents at the very least an attempt to go back to Haydn’s own original performance materials and remove some of the accretions which have built up over time. We, as trombonists, have to thank scholars like A. Peter Brown, who have finally held up this masterpiece to the true light of day and shown us what Haydn really intended.
- Performing Haydn’s “The Creation”: Reconstructing the Earliest Renditions
by A. Peter Brown
Published by Indiana University Press
Publication date: March 1986
- The Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments (Cambridge Companions to Music)
by Trevor Herbert (Editor), John Wallace (Editor)
Published by Cambridge University Press
Publication date: October 1, 1997
- The Soloistic Use of the Trombone in Eighteenth-Century Vienna
by C. Robert Wigness
Published by The Brass Press
Publication date: 1978
- Haydn: The Creation No. 26
by Douglas Yeo