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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: July 2017

13 - The Creation

from Anne Hunter's life

Summary

In about 1803 or 1804 Anne wrote an alternative libretto for Haydn's Creation. The original English text has been lost and its authorship is conjectural: Thomas Linley is a possibility, but on the basis of meticulous research Neil Jenkins has recently suggested the librettist Charles Jennens, and has pointed out that the text has echoes of the work of the poet James Thomson. Whatever its original authorship, the libretto is clearly based on Milton's Paradise Lost, mainly Book VII, but also Books IV and VIII, though with only a few direct borrowings from the text. It also includes several verses taken word for word from the Book of Genesis. It was this text that was taken by Haydn to Vienna in 1795 and then translated into German by Gottfried van Swieten, the Director of the Vienna Court Library, before being performed in Austria in 1798. The work was first published in a bilingual edition in Vienna in February 1800.

On hearing that the score had been published, John Ashley, the London conductor, immediately sent a messenger to Vienna to acquire a copy—it was in his hands by nine o'clock on Saturday evening, 22 March. He moved so fast that, within two days, he was able to announce that the first performance would take place the following Friday at the Covent Garden Theatre. To Salomon's extreme annoyance his own copy arrived by post the day after Ashley had acquired his, but he quickly arranged a second performance at the King's Theatre on 21 April. Both these impresarios produced versions of the libretto that are virtually identical to each other, and differ from the bilingual version in only a few details. Anne probably attended at least one of these performances or others given later in the same year.

However, the English text in the bilingual edition is not Haydn's original source material, but a poor translation back from the German, and the resulting libretto is awkward and clumsy in the extreme and was much criticized. Anne rose to the challenge and wrote a new version of her own. Although known about since 1897, the manuscript in her own hand lay dormant in the archives of the Royal College of Surgeons of England until being rescued from obscurity by Dr Aileen Adams.

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The Life and Poems of Anne Hunter
  • Online ISBN: 9781781388464
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