In 1795 composer Franz Josef Haydn was handed a libretto — something for which a symphonist would have no need. The title was "The Creation of the World." Nashville Symphony Chorus director Tucker Biddlecombe describes the piece it became, Haydn's Creation, as a gateway piece of orchestral music for choral singers.
Host Colleen Phelps spoke to Tucker Biddlecombe early in the 2017/2018 Nashville Symphony season — when preparation of Creation was just getting started — to discuss this masterwork of the choral/orchestral repertoire. Biddlecombe and Phelps highlight favorite moments from the piece, while also breaking down the role of a symphony chorus director.
While the conversation for Keeping Score was about Creation, Biddlecombe did give us some bonus content: a list of his favorite moments in oratorio history:
Giuseppi Verdi: Requiem - Tuba Mirum
"Everybody knows the Dies Irae of Verdi, but it’s the end of the movement that transitions into what I think is one of the more exciting moments of Oratorio. The movement elides with the opening trumpet calls of judgement day — climaxing with the “Tuba Mirum” unison between the tears and basses."
Felix Mendelssohn - Elijah
"The end of the overture careening into the singers crying “Help LORD!” Always gives me shivers. The rest of the work feels somewhat bloated to me at times, but that opening overture is so clean and perfect, and creates the perfect momentum into the action."
(the moment he refers to occurs at 4:30)
JS Bach - St. Matthew Passion
"When Jesus predicts that one of the disciples will betray him, they panic and break into a hushed chorus of “Herr, bin ichs?” Or “Lord, is it I?” The motive occurs 12 times. "
George Frederic Handel - Messiah
"The opening chords of “Comfort Ye” always strike me - such a simple beginning to a complex work."
"Also, some of the choruses we love are so biting and mocking. For example — “He trusted in God that he will deliver him” is the crowd mocking Jesus on the cross — essentially, prove to us you're the Son of God... free yourself. Heavy stuff."
Johannes Brahms - Ein Deutsches Requiem
"By far the best we’ve got in terms of chorus, orchestra, solo work and text. The role of timpani in the second movement — the ever-impending funeral dirge — always strikes me."
To hear about Tucker Biddlecombe's approach to Haydn's Creation, be sure to subscribe to Keeping Score wherever you get your podcasts.