Belshazzar's Feast

May 14, 1995, 07:30 PM
Paul Salamunovich, Conductor
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Seven Ghosts Libby Larsen
Lesley Leighton , Conductor, Soprano
James Drollinger , Baritone
Hymnus Amoris Carl August Nielsen
Lesley Leighton , Conductor, Soprano
Greg Fedderly , Tenor
Belshazzar's Feast William Walton
James Drollinger , Baritone

Seven Ghosts
by Libby Larsen

Phillis Wheatley arrived in Boston in 1761 on the slave-trade schooner Phillis. She was purchased by Susanna Wheatley, wife of the wealthy merchant John Wheatley. Tutored in the Wheatley home, she rapidly became one of the great poets of her time. As such, Phillis was freed from slavery in 1773. She married John Peters and bore three children. In 1775 while traveling the East Coast marketing her poems, she met George Washington. The meeting occasioned this poem of entreaty and encouragement. It was subsequently published in both the Pennsylvania Magazine and the Virginia Gazette.
Celestial choir! enthron'd in realms of light,
Columbia's scenes of glorious toils I write.
While freedom's cause her anxious breast alarms,
She flashes dreadful in refulgent arms.
As mother earth her offspring's fate bemoan,
And nations gaze at scenes before unknown!
See the bright beams of heaven's revolving light
Involved in sorrows and the veil of night!
The goddess comes, she moves divinely fair,
With olive and laurel binds her golden hair:
Muse! bow propitious while I relate
How her armies pour through a hundred
thousand gates:
In bright array they seek the work of war,
Where high unfurled the ensign waves in air.
Shall I to Washington their praise recite?
Thee, first in place and honours, we demand
The grace and glory of thy martial band.
Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side,
Thy every action let the goddess guide.
A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine,
With gold unfading, WASHINGTON! be thine.
Jenny Lind toured the United States between 1850 and 1852. Wherever she sang she was immediately beloved for both her magnificent voice and her extraordinary humanity. Jenny Lind took a particular interest in abolition, making contributions to the causes of Harriet Beecher Stowe, whom she greatly admired. The two met in New York while Stowe was being interviewed about Uncle Tom's Cabin and Lind was about to give her farewell concert. Lind gave Stowe tickets to her concert. For a thank you to Jenny, Harriet sent Jenny a note and a copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin. In return the following letter was written.
"My Dear Madam, Allow me to express my sincere thanks for your (very) kind letter. You must .... know what a deep impression Uncle Tom's Cabin has made on every heart that can feel for the dignity of human existence: so I with my miserable English would not even try to say a word .... but I must thank you for the great joy I have felt from your book.
(Mid pleasures and palaces, wherever you may roam, be it ever so humble
there's no place like home. A charm from the skies seems to hallow us
there, which seek through the world, is never met with elsewhere.)
I have the feeling about Uncle Tom's Cabin that great changes will take place by and by..... and that the writer of this book can fall asleep today .... with the bright sweet conscience of having been a strong means in the Creator's hand of essential good. God bless and protect you and yours, .... and certainly God's hand will remain with a blessing over your head.
Yours most truly,
Jenny Goldschmidt, nee Lind"
At the age of 24, Clyde Tombaugh discovered the planet Pluto at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. The only American to discover a major planet, Tombaugh was a self-taught astronomer, growing up on a farm in Burdette, Kansas. Hired to facilitate the third and final search for Planet X, Tombaugh devised his own methodology in which he studied and photographed 30,000 to 60,000 stars in a day's work. He discovered Pluto on February 20, 1930.
Clyde William Tombaugh
A brilliant night,
fair, with a light wind.
I work all night long
in an unheated dome, in winter.
The objects drift
from day to day.
Aquarius and Pisces
to Aries;
Gemini and Taurus
to Scorpius
and Sagittarius
Blinking, searching,
Thirty thousand,
Forty thousand,
Fifty thousand,
Sixty thousand
One hundred thousand stars .....
each tidy. ... .
and more .... .
I work all night long
in an unheated dome, in winter.
Centered on the starfield Delta Geminarium,
blinking the east half
from the south end,
Thirty thousand
Forty thousand
Fifty thousand
Sixty thousand
One hundred thousand stars .....
I spied an object popping in and out.
That's it!
Charles Lindbergh, Grandson of the Swedish expatriot August Lindbergh (Ola Mansson), son of Congressman Charles August Lindbergh, grew up simultaneously on a farm in Little Falls, Minnesota, and in Washington, D.C. He bought his first barnstorming airplane in 1923. He enlisted in the army where he flew night mail in 1925/26. In 1927 Charles Lindbergh made the first non-stop flight from New York to Paris in "Spirit of St. Louis': immediately catapulting him into world notoriety. He lived his life as an aviator, scientist, soldier, conservationist, and advisor to the government on industry and flight. His integrity as a person infiltrated every area in which he worked.
Charles Lindbergh
I used to imagine myself with wings on which I could swoop down off our roof into the valley. I used to imagine myself soaring through the air from one river bank to another.
In 1935 the United Hot Clubs of America was launched with six clubs to which musicians could belong for $2 a year. In these clubs, musicians could go anytime and jam. The six original clubs were: New York Hot Club, Yale Hot Club, Chicago Hot Club, Boston Hot Club, Cleveland Hot Club, and Los Angeles Hot Club. Following a tour of Europe in 1932, Louis Armstrong had this to say:
"When we got back to London, I went over to have a look at Paris and take a little rest for a week before I had to get back home. I landed in New York the day President Roosevelt was elected, November 2, 1932. It had been a short trip but I got home thinking swing music was a lot more important than I knew before, and I guess maybe I was feeling a little important about my own playing, too - you know how you can get sometimes. Those High-C's certainly did wow 'em. Man!"
A choral/instrumental jam session quoting from the following: Basin St. Blues, Lady Be Good, Claire de Lune, Brahms, When The Saints Go Marchin' In, and Tiger Rag.
Text taken from Swing That Music, Louis Armstrong, Da Capo Press, New York, 1936.
Nielsen's Hymnus Amoris and
Walton's Belshazzar's Feast
by Richard H. Trame, S.J., Ph.D.
Carl August Nielsen's (1865-1931) early and broadly varied music education resulted in an ability to perform on brass and string instruments, play the piano, and conduct. He is considered Denmark's most preeminent and influential composer. An art connoisseur, Nielsen was also noted for a fine autobiography of his childhood.
Hymnus Amoris was inspired by a painting by Titian which Nielsen saw during a trip to Italy with his sculptor wife, Anne Marie Brodersen. The painting depicts a jealous man killing his lover. Begun in 1891, Hymnus Amoris was completed in 1897 between the composition of the First and Second Symphonies. In the preface to the published score, Nielsen provides an insightful analysis of the work:
“Even though I consider it best that works of art - including sculpture, painting and music - speak for themselves in their own medium, nevertheless I find it necessary to provide a few remarks regarding the use of the Latin language in the text, since a number of my friends have expressed their amazement at its use.
“My idea was to let the power of love be praised for all centuries, its perfection and transcendence to be seen as a reflection of the supernatural. I am indebted to Dr. Axel Olrik who gave my loosely constructed poem strong form and color. I am also indebted to Professor J .L. Heiberg who knew how to clothe the poetry with a suitable Latin translation.
I am responsible for the selection of Latin for the text as it is a monumental language that lifts us above mere subjective and personal feelings and fittingly embodies the universal power of love as conveyed by a polyphonic choir. Latin also bears repetition more easily than Danish or German. At performances I suggest that the audience be furnished with a translation of the Latin.
Love, in all its dimensions, finds apt treatment in the music. It is a life-receiving love, life-giving love, love of young man and woman, enduring love, fulfilling love, tranquil love, peace-bringing love, angelic love, and, finally, love as the reflection of the heavenly order of God's love.
William Walton (1902-1983) received his commission from the BBC to compose his massive and tightly compressed oratorio Belshazzar's Feast for the Leeds Festival of 1931. The Festival had also programmed the Berlioz Requiem - with its extensive orchestra and brass - and thus provided Walton the opportunity to exploit the huge forces there assembled.
Belshazzar's Feast (along with Vaughan Williams' Sancta Civitas of 1925) has come to be generally recognized as the biggest oratorio landmark since Elgar's Dream of Gerontius of 1900. Unlike the lengthy Handelian-style oratorios of the 19th century, both Vaughan Williams and Walton compressed their works to slightly more than half an hour in length. Walton's work exhibits taut, vivid and highly dramatic episodes which are paced and unified by an orchestra and chorus. The frankly pagan overtones of Belshazzar's Feast- especially in its depiction of the ephemeral grandeur, wealth and pride of the Babylonians and their King - rendered it for a time quite unacceptable for the cathedral atmosphere of the famous Three Choirs Festival. The first international performance of Belshazzar's Feast took place in Amsterdam in 1933.
Walton's close friend, Constant Lambert, greatly influenced his music. Both composers incorporated American jazz idioms into their compositions. It was, however, an idiom transformed into sophisticated symphonic dimensions by what Lambert called "highbrow European composers." Lambert's principles found full realization in Rio Grande of 1927 which directly inspired Walton in his approach to Belshazzar's Feast.
Both composers collaborated with the Sitwells, Lambert with Sacheverell and Walton with Osbert, in formulating the texts of the two works. Osbert Sitwell organized his libretto for Walton from Psalm 137, the fifth chapter of the Book of Daniel, and Psalm 81 in that order. This was not Walton's first collaboration with a member of this famed literary family. On and off between 1920 and 1930, Walton lived with the Sitwells as an "adopted or elected brother." Not only did he compose his popular "entertainment" Facade to Edith Sitwell's poems, but other works including the overture Portsmouth Point, the Sinfonia concertante and Walton's orchestral masterpiece, the Viola Concerto, all emerged from this beneficial cultural exchange.
Belshazzar's Feast, following immediately upon the Viola Concerto, found no precedent in any of his previous works. At the time, the choral parts were judged to be exceedingly difficult. By today's standards, however, they are regarded as a significant but attainable challenge to many choral societies. Moreover, the initial musical shock enthusiastically received by the audience at Leeds in 1931 has receded as the rhythmic, harmonic, and instrumental modernities of the score have become integral part of our musical heritage.
Commentator Edward Greenfield writes: "Walton does much more than provide a brilliant setting of one of the Bible's most colorful stories, he matches the religious feeling behind that story with choral music of an intensity rarely matched in any oratorio."
Belshazzar's Feast is comprised of three segments. The work opens with a simple trumpet blare after which the unaccompanied voice of Isaiah announces exile to the Jews. A simple recitative device is used several times throughout the oratorio to heighten and enhance the orchestral and chorus entrances as well as adding musical color. The choir represents the lamenting Jews by the waters of Babylon as they invoke curses upon their captors.
As the scene shifts, all forces depict in vivid musical colors the magnificence and wealth of Babylon. The overbearing pride of King Belshazzar is displayed at a banquet where he drinks from sacred temple vessels and thus highlights his wantonness. This episode receives brilliant musical treatment. A finger then traces fateful words on a wall to eerie orchestral accompaniment. After the chorus shouts "slain!" to the terse announcement of the monarch's demise, it returns to its role as the Jewish people, this time exulting in the glorification of the God of Jacob in Psalm 81. Triumph reaches its climax with the ecstatic repetitions of Alleluia!

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