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Musical Interlude (“On the Path of Decent Groove”): Belshazzar’s Feast

Summary:
We are continuing with our occasional Friday musical feature, as suggested by Bob H. A general suggestion: if you are recommending works similar to the one featured (“If you enjoyed what you heard today, you might like this too”), please post that in comments. If you want to highlight something in a different vein, as the subject of a future post, please send it to yves-at-nakedcapitalism-dot-com with “Musical Interlude” in the subject line. Disclosure: I like big bombastic choral pieces (think Carmina Burana). So I am subjecting you to a composition along those lines. Oddly this isn’t something I listen to regularly due to my weird habits (it’s long-ish and best heard at once, while operas and operettas are neatly chunked into scenes and songs, so you can enjoy short bits in isolation),

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We are continuing with our occasional Friday musical feature, as suggested by Bob H. A general suggestion: if you are recommending works similar to the one featured (“If you enjoyed what you heard today, you might like this too”), please post that in comments. If you want to highlight something in a different vein, as the subject of a future post, please send it to yves-at-nakedcapitalism-dot-com with “Musical Interlude” in the subject line.

Disclosure: I like big bombastic choral pieces (think Carmina Burana). So I am subjecting you to a composition along those lines. Oddly this isn’t something I listen to regularly due to my weird habits (it’s long-ish and best heard at once, while operas and operettas are neatly chunked into scenes and songs, so you can enjoy short bits in isolation), but when I do listen to it, I think “Why don’t you play this more often? It’s both really good and unusual.”)

The reason you have likely not heard of Sir William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast is that this was Walton’s most celebrated work (as in he’s not a generally famous composer), and it’s utterly cray cray (as in costly!) to produce. It has a a double chorus (eight voices as opposed to four, so two soprano parts, two altos, etc.) and an over the top orchestra: a double brass choir, a sax, an organ, 2 harps. Oh, and piano optional. When I saw it performed in Carnegie Hall (back before the redesign ruined its acoustics), they had to put the double brass choir in the balcony boxes nearest the stage; it had no place else to go.

I find all the choral sound very moving; I got quite a few shivers up my spine while listening. And I am not alone. Per Wikipedia, “In 1947 Herbert von Karajan called it ‘the best choral music that’s been written in the last 50 years.'”

I like this version because the baritone is William White as opposed to Byrn Terfel (I do not understand why Terfel is popular; I find his voice disagreeable) and it’s done in Leeds Town Hall, where it was first performed (then and here with the Leeds Festival Chorus; I’m impressed that it’s such a durable group), this time with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Lyrics below. Enjoy!

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:
‘MENE, MENE, TEKEL UPHARSIN’
‘THOU ART WEIGHED IN THE BALANCE
AND FOUND WANTING’.
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.
Alleluia!

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.
Alleluia!

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