“I was never so devout as during the time that I was working on The Creation,” mused Joseph Haydn. “Every day I fell to my knees and prayed to God to grant me the strength for a happy completion of this work.” Haydn might have been disappointed to learn, however, that religious conservatives of his time considered new music – anything composed after Palestrina – to be profane. His great oratorio, in their minds, would have been oratorio a non orando: prayerful music during which no one prays. It was too sensual, theatrical, and operatic; it was banned from places of worship.

None of this seemed to matter by the middle of the 20th century when, in July 1941, citizens of Melbourne attended their first Creationat St Paul’s Cathedral, where the church choir was accompanied by the ABC orchestra under A.E. Floyd. “The soloists were competent and sympathetic,” reported one newspaper. “Dr Floyd brought out the beauty of the music in many charming and brilliant choral effects. A large congregation was privileged to hear the inspired strains of Haydn’s popular oratorio.”

Likewise, a large audience was privileged to hear the inspired strains of Haydn’s popular oratorio on Thursday night, performed...