Berkshire Choral International

Biblical Themes are Focus of Walton's and Handel's Works

Drawing from the Psalms and the books of Isaiah and Daniel, William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast celebrates the downfall of the Babylonian tyrant and the anguish of the Babylonian Exile.

Opening with Isaiah’s prophecy in Chapter 13 (“Howl ye, howl ye, therefore: For the day of the Lord is at hand!”, the oratorio moves into the sadly beautiful words of Psalm 137 (“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept  when we remembered Zion.”)

The greater part, however, is from Daniel 5, describing the decadence that the Babylonian empire had devolved into. The lyrics tell the story of the literal handwriting on the wall that appeared at the feast: “Mene, Mene, Tekel Upharsin” (“Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.”) Belshazzar was not only found wanting, but was found murdered that very night.

Walton (1902-1983), an Englishman, debuted Belshazzar’s Feast in 1931 and it was an immediate success. Its socio-political themes continue to resonate.

King George II personally chose Georg Friedrich Handel to compose the anthems for his coronation. It is possible that the fact that George I had made Handel a British citizen shortly before his death in 1727 that the honor went to Handel.

The auditioned chorus in Saratoga Springs will sing two of the anthems, Zadok the Priest and My Heart is Inditing. Also drawn from the Old Testament, 1 Kings 1:38-40 and Psalm 45, these anthems were part of the Coronation rite going back to at least 1685.

Zadok was the priest who, with Nathan the Prophet, anointed Solomon. In My Heart is Inditing (composing or writing) the psalmist expressed heartfelt words to a bride and groom at a wedding. This anthem would have been used when the Queen Consort, Caroline, was being crowned.

The Arthur Zankel Music Center comprises three buildings that create an arts quadrangle near Skidmore College’s front entrance. Mr. Zankel was a trustee of the college and has many connections to it. Two of his sons were graduated from Skidmore as were a nephew and daughter-in-law.