Symposium: The Creation in Context

Event time: 
Saturday, April 28, 2012 - 8:45am
Event description: 

A Symposium examining the musical, liturgical, and literary contexts of Haydn’s masterpiece

Presented in conjunction with the performance of Die Schöpfung by Yale Schola Cantorum and Juilliard415 on Saturday, April 29


Symposium to be held at:

Sterling Memorial Library Lecture Hall

120 High Street, New Haven (enter on Wall Street)


Symposium Schedule


12:45 PM | Check-in and Refreshments

1:00 | Keynote Address: Melanie LoweCreating Chaos in Haydn’s Creation

2:00 | John RogersMilton and Creation

2:45 | Coffee Break

3:15 | Ellen F. DavisThe Drama of Creation

4:00 | John GrimCosmology in a Contemporary Key

4:45 | General Discussion

5:30 | Symposium Ends

Presenter Biographies and Abstracts



Ellen F. Davis is the Amos Ragan Kearns Professor of Bibal and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School. She is the author of eight books and many articles, with research interests focusing on how biblical interpretation bears on the life of faith communities and their response to urgent public issues, particularly the environmental crisis and interfaith relations. Her most recent book, Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible(Cambridge University Press, 2009), integrates biblical studies with a critique of industrial agriculture and food production.  Her other publications include Wondrous Depth: Old Testament Preaching (Westminster John Knox, 2005); Who Are You, My Daughter? Reading Ruth through Image and Text (Westminster John Knox, 2003), an annotated translation accompanying woodcuts by Margaret Adams Parker; Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament (Cowley, 2002); and The Art of Reading Scripture(Eerdmans, 2003), co-edited with Richard Hays.


The Drama of Creation

The biblical texts with which Haydn worked – the first chapter of Genesis and the Psalms – are liturgical drama in poetic form, which press the question: What is the place of humans in the created order? We shall consider how the texts engage us in the ongoing and open-ended drama of creation as we hear and speak them.



John Grim is currently a senior lecturer and senior research scholar at Yale University teaching courses that draw students from the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Yale Divinity School, the Department of Religious Studies, the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, and Yale College.  He is coordinator of the Forum on Religion and Ecology with Mary Evelyn Tucker, and series editor of “World Religions and Ecology,” from Harvard Divinity School’s Center for the Study of World Religions.  In that series he editedIndigenous Traditions and Ecology: the Interbeing of Cosmology and Community(Harvard, 2001). He has been a professor of religion at Bucknell University and at Sarah Lawrence College, where he taught courses in Native American and indigenous religions, world religions, and religion and ecology. His published works include: The Shaman: Patterns of Religious Healing Among the Ojibway Indians (University of Oklahoma Press, 1983) and a volume edited with Mary Evelyn Tucker entitled Worldviews and Ecology(Orbis, 1994, 5th printing 2000), and a Daedalus volume (2001) entitled, “Religion and Ecology: Can the Climate Change?” John is also President of the American Teilhard Association.

Cosmology in a Contemporary Key

We have for the first time an integrated scientific story of the vast emergence of galaxies and stars, planets and solar systems, life and human creativity. This epic of evolution brings us to a fresh sense of our participation in Creation in a time of environmental and social crisis. Hayden’s masterpiece speaks with even greater clarity to the magnificent processes of life and the anthropocosmic role of humans.



Melanie Lowe ​is Associate Professor of Musicology at Vanderbilt University. Lowe’s research interests include late 18th-century music, difference, electropop, and the scholarship of teaching. Publications include Pleasure and Meaning in the Classical Symphony (Indiana University Press, 2007) and articles and reviews in such journals and volumes as the Journal of Musicology, American Music, Popular Music and Society, Beethoven Forum, The World of Music, The Journal of Music History Pedagogy, Popular Music Scenes (Vanderbilt University Press, 2003), The Cambridge Companion to Haydn (Cambridge University Press, 2004), The Oxford Handbook of Topic Theory (forthcoming), and Oxford Bibliographies Online (forthcoming). Lectures and scholarly papers presented throughout the United States, Canada and Australia. Numerous awards, including the Madison Sarratt Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (Vanderbilt University, 2001), the Reverend James Lawson Lectureship for Service and Leadership (Vanderbilt, 2008), the Blair Faculty Excellence Award (Vanderbilt, 2010), and the Princeton Graduate Alumni Excellence in Teaching Award (Princeton University, 1993). Member of the Advisory Board for the Journal of Musicology. Blair School since 1998.

Creating Chaos in Haydn’s Creation

In 1797 Joseph Haydn completed the work that was immediately hailed as his greatest, The Creation. Scored for solo singers, chorus, and orchestra, this enormous oratorio opens with a musical impossibility—the sound of infinite nothingness. What follows would seem another nonstarter, especially given the elegance, balance, and symmetry of late eighteenth-century musical style—the Representation of Chaos. Melanie Lowe’s keynote lecture will begin with the exploration of an aesthetic impossibility in Haydn’s most sublime work. To prepare for the performance of Haydn’s Creation on Sunday, Professor Lowe will also discuss structural and expressive aspects of the oratorio while exploring how their intersection reveals a subtle and sophisticated optimism in Haydn’s idealization of nature. Finally, she will suggest that such pastoral optimism lies at the heart of the contradictory opinions in the critical reception of the work. Composed at the dawning of musical romanticism, Haydn’s oratorio flirts with another aesthetic incongruity—the situation of a perfect pastoral paradise within a story of such ultimate sublimity. Ironically, it may be this aesthetic friction that creates the only true chaos in Haydn’s Creation.



John Rogers is a Professor of English at Yale University and former Master of Yale’s Berkeley College. Having received his B.A. and Ph.D. from Yale, Rogers is the author of The Matter of Revolution: Science, Poetry, and Politics in the Age of Milton, which was awarded the Modern Language Association First Book Prize as well as the Milton Society of America’s James Holly Hanford Prize for Best Book. He is currently working on a book on Milton’s relationship to antitrinitarian heresy, entitled Milton and the Heresy of Individualism.

Milton and Creation
The controversial libretto for Haydn’s Creationhas long been recognized for its indebtedness to John Milton’s representation of Creation in his seventeenth-century epic, Paradise Lost.  The libretto, like Book Seven of Milton’s poem, moves uneasily between dutiful scriptural paraphrase and wild, often unseemly, bursts of poetic creativity.  In its close adherence to the Miltonic interplay of pious transcription and explosive invention, the Creation taps, and exploits, the religious and political heterodoxy marking Milton’s revolutionary poem.