Today is the 200th anniversary of Haydn's death, and in celebration, his oratorio The Creation (Die Schöpfung) is being performed in concert halls and churches across the world. We went to one a day early, namely last night's performance at St Martin-in-the-Fields in the heart of London by the Belmont Ensemble. Lurking in the back of the concert hall, however, was the ghost of another great anniversary of the year: Charles Darwin.

Belmont Ensemble at St Martin-in-the-Fields
Belmont Ensemble at St Martin-in-the-Fields

Let me explain. The Creation is a large scale work: a couple of hours of music for orchestra, choir and soprano, tenor and bass soloists (the pick of the performers last night was the soprano Elizabeth Weisberg: a clear and satisfying voice mercifully free of overdone vibrato). The work is an expression of simple, pure devotion: Haydn's joy and wonderment at the beauty of the world and its Creator shine through every note. It's a hugely pictorial work, from the vivid opening depiction of chaos to the crashed chords to "and there was light", which hit you like a sledgehammer, the glorious depiction of the light rising over the waters and throughout.

During Haydn's long life, he grew in stature from a tradesman's child to one of the greats of the Enlightenment: throughout this process, he retained an intense and simple Christian faith. You can almost hear Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss in the music repeating his mantra that "All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds".

Charles Darwin was born in the same year as Haydn died, and The Origin of Species was published fifty years later. Many Christians are happy to reconcile their faith with Darwinism, but it's impossible to accept Darwin's work and retain the simple world view of seven days of glory that shines through Haydn's music.

In these intellectually more troubled and nuanced times, I may not be able to share Haydn's simple, powerful faith in the glorious work of a benevolent Creator. But I can certainly take simple, powerful delight in his music.

31st May 2009