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Belshazzar’s Feast, for baritone solo, mixed chorus and orchestra (1930–1)

• Composition: 1930–1. Revised considerably in 1948, and again very slightly in 1959
First Performance: 8 October 1931. Town Hall, Leeds. Dennis Noble baritone, Leeds Festival Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent conductor. The Leeds Triennial Festival.
Duration: About 35 minutes
Text: Selected and arranged from the Bible by Sir Osbert Sitwell (1892–1969). The text is excerpted from Psalms 81 and 137, and the Book of Daniel.
Commission: Commissioned by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Dedication: “To Lord Berners”
Craggs Catalogue Number: C23
Performing Forces: Baritone solo - Double mixed chorus (SSAATTBB) – Semi-chorus (SSAATTBB) - 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, cor anglais (only if no saxophone), three clarinets in B-flat (first doubling clarinet in E-flat, third doubling bass clarinet in B-flat), alto saxophone in E-flat, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon – 4 horns in F, 3 trumpets, 2 tenor trombones, bass trombone, tuba – timpani, 3 or 4 percussion (side drum, tenor drum, triangle, tambourine, castanets, cymbals, bass drum, gong, xylophone, glockenspiel, wood block, slapsticks, anvil) – 2 harps – piano (optional) – organ – strings. -
Two brass bands (optional), each consisting of: 3 trumpets, 2 tenor trombones, bass trombone, tuba.
Manuscript: There is no known surviving manuscript.
William Walton Trust. Three pages of manuscript in pencil, revisions to the brass and organ parts, from figures 74 to 77. Donated by Roy Douglas.
Frederick R. Koch Collection. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Catalogued as FRKF 1052. A copy of the printed vocal score, first edition, with inscription from Walton to Edward Clark.
Publication: Oxford University Press. Vocal score, 1931, 019 3384612. Re-printed with sol-fa, 1933 (discontinued). Full score, 1957, 019 3384604 (discontinued). Study score, 1957, 019 3384647. Deluxe full score signed by the composer, 1978, 019 3384639. Score, vocal score, and parts are available on hire.
[Purchase online from SheetMusicPlus.com: Vocal score]
[Purchase online from SheetMusicPlus.com: Study score]
[Purchase online from SheetMusicPlus.com: Deluxe full score]


Baritone Chorus and Orchestra Conductor Year Compact Disc Timing
Dennis Noble Huddersfield Choral Society, Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Sir William Walton 1943 EMI Classics 7 63381 2 33’30”
Donald Bell Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus Sir William Walton 1959 EMI Classics 5 65004 2 36’06”
Walter Cassel Rutgers University Choir, Philadelphia Orchestra Eugene Ormandy 1961 Sony Classical 63039 36’00”
Donald McIntyre BBC Chorus, BBC Choral Society, Christ Church Harmonic Choir, BBC Symphony Orchestra Sir William Walton 1965 BBC Legends 4097-2 36’08”
Robert Peterson University of Utah Civic Chorale, Utah Symphony Orchestra Maurice Abravanel 1971 Vox Allegretto 8153 34’23”
John Shirley-Quirk London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus André Previn 1972 EMI Classics 7 64723 4 37’27”
Sherrill Milnes Scottish National Orchestra and Chorus, Scottish Festival Brass Bands Sir Alexander Gibson 1977 Chandos CHAN 6547 33’20”
Benjamin Luxon Brighton Festival Chorus, Collegium Musicum of London, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra André Previn 1986 RPO MCAD-6187 36’13”
David Wilson-Johnson London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Richard Hickox 1988 EMI Eminence 5 65235 2 36’52”
William Stone Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Robert Shaw 1989 Telarc 80181 37’02”
Gwynne Howell The Bach Choir, The Philharmonia Sir David Willcocks 1989 Chandos CHAN 8760 34’09”
Sir Thomas Allen London Philharmonia Orchestra and Choir Leonard Slatkin 1990 RCA Victor 60813-2 34’13”
Stephen Roberts BBC Singers, London Philharmonic Choir, BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Sir John Pritchard 1995 BBC Music 5021-2 35’33”
Bryn Terfel Waynflete Singers, L’Inviti, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Andrew Litton 1995 London 448 134-2 36’19”
Thomas Hampson Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Sir Simon Rattle 1997 EMI Classics 5 56592 2 34’21”
Christopher Purves Huddersfield Choral Society, Leeds Philharmonic Chorus, Laudibus, English Northern Philharmonia Paul Daniel 2001 Naxos 8.555869 34’13”


    Thus spake Isaiah:
    Thy sons that thou shalt beget
    They shall be taken away,
    And be eunuchs
    In the palace of the King of Babylon
    Howl ye, howl ye, therefore:
    For the day of the Lord is at hand!

    By the waters of Babylon,
    By the waters of Babylon
    There we sat down: yea, we wept
    And hanged our harps upon the willows.

    For they that wasted us
    Required of us mirth;
    They that carried us away captive
    Required of us a song.
    Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

    How shall we sing the Lord’s song
    In a strange land?

    If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
    Let my right hand forget her cunning.
    If I do not remember thee,
    Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.
    Yea, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

    By the waters of Babylon
    There we sat down: yea, we wept.

    O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed,
    Happy shall he be that taketh thy children
    And dasheth them against a stone,
    For with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down
    And shall be found no more at all.

    Babylon was a great city,
    Her merchandise was of gold and silver,
    Of precious stones, of pearls, of fine linen,
    Of purple, silk and scarlet,
    All manner vessels of ivory,
    All manner vessels of most precious wood,
    Of brass, iron and marble,
    Cinnamon, odours and ointments,
    Of frankincense, wine and oil,
    Fine flour, wheat and beasts,
    Sheep, horses, chariots, slaves
    And the souls of men.

    – – – – – –

    In Babylon
    Belshazzar the King
    Made a great feast,
    Made a feast to a thousand of his lords,
    And drank wine before the thousand.

    Belshazzar, whiles he tasted the wine,
    Commanded us to bring the gold and silver vessels:
    Yea! the golden vessels, which his father, Nebuchadnezzar,
    Had taken out of the temple that was in Jerusalem.

    He commanded us to bring the golden vessels
    Of the temple of the house of God,
    That the King, his Princes, his wives
    And his concubines might drink therein.

    Then the King commanded us:
    Bring ye the cornet, flute, sackbut, psaltery
    And all kinds of music: they drank wine again,
    Yea, drank from the sacred vessels,
    And then spake the King:

    Praise ye
    The God of Gold
    Praise ye
    The God of Silver
    Praise ye
    The God of Iron
    Praise ye
    The God of Wood
    Praise ye
    The God of Stone
    Praise ye
    The God of Brass
    Praise ye the Gods!

    Thus in Babylon, the mighty city,
    Belshazzar the King made a great feast,
    Made a feast to a thousand of his lords
    And drank wine before the thousand.

    Belshazzar whiles he tasted the wine
    Commanded us to bring the gold and silver vessels
    That his Princes, his wives and his concubines
    Might rejoice and drink therein.

    After they had praised their strange gods,
    The idols and the devils,
    False gods who can neither see nor hear,
    Called they for the timbrel and the pleasant harp
    To extol the glory of the King.
    Then they pledged the King before the people,
    Crying, Thou, O King, art King of Kings:
    O King, live for ever…

    And in that same hour, as they feasted
    Came forth fingers of a man’s hand
    And the King saw
    The part of the hand that wrote.

    And this was the writing that was written:
    In that night was Belshazzar the King slain
    And his Kingdom divided.

    – – – – – –

    Then sing aloud to God our strength:
    Make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob.
    Take a psalm, bring hither the timbrel,
    Blow up the trumpet in the new moon,
    Blow up the trumpet in Zion
    For Babylon the Great is fallen, fallen.

    Then sing aloud to God our strength:
    Make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob,
    While the Kings of the Earth lament
    And the merchants of the Earth
    Weep, wail and rend their raiment.
    They cry, Alas, Alas, that great city,
    In one hour is her judgement come.

    The trumpeters and pipers are silent,
    And the harpers have ceased to harp,
    And the light of a candle shall shine no more.

    Then sing aloud to God our strength.
    Make a joyful noise to the God of Jacob.
    For Babylon the Great is fallen.

    — Sir Osbert Sitwell (1892–1969), from Biblical sources