Robert L. Edwards, Conductor, Consultant, Photographer

William Walton “Belshazzar’s Feast”

Walton Belshazzar's Feast CD cover
Born in an industrial town, Walton’s earliest musical experience was in his father’s church choir where he became familiar with standard choral repertoire. He attended Oxford University, spending hours in the music library studying new music scores. He left the university in 1920 without a degree and the three Sitwell siblings, all budding poets, invited him to lodge with them. As a result, he met and befriended some of the most important musical and literary figures of the time, including Ernest Ansermet, Ferruccio Busoni, Frederick Delius, Serge Diaghilev, Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. But most of the time, Walton stayed in an upstairs room at the Sitwell home composing enthusiastically. His star as a composer rose quickly.

While the world of composition change around him, Walton continued to compose in his own unique style, enjoying numerous commissions by leading artists including an excellent Cello Concerto (1957) for Gregor Piatigorsky, a Partita for Orchestra (1958) for conductor George Szell, Variations on a Theme of Hindemith (1963) for the Royal Philharmonic, and a Passacaglia for Violoncello Solo (1980) for cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. During these later years of his life, Walton lived on the island of Ischia, near Naples. He remained an active composer until his death there in 1983. His reputation remains as a significant compositional star of English music, occupying an exalted place between Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten.

Walton Belshazzar’s Feast Excerpts
 - Live Performance
Scranton Singers Guild, Greater Hazleton Oratorio Society
Robert L. Edwards
- 1983

(If the performance excerpt does not begin to play automatically within 30 seconds, you can click this link. Belshazzar's Feast )

First performed in 1931 with the Leeds Festival Chorus, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting, this 35-minute, tri-part oratorio commissioned by the BBC, calls for an expanded orchestra which includes some instruments not commonly used in symphony orchestras: bass clarinet, alto saxophone, contrabassoon, bass trombone, piano, organ, two brass bands, and 4 percussionists handling a battery of instruments: side drum, tenor drum, triangle, tambourine, castanets, cymbals, bass drum, gong, xylophone, glockenspiel, wood block, slapsticks, anvil! (Here's a percussionist's secret - an anvil doesn't always sound like an anvil should – so percussionists substitute other objects. Our brilliant percussionist, Bob Nowak, created exactly the right sound by smashing a ball peen hammer into a brake drum he had  removed from his car! - Yes, he put it back so he could drive home.) In addition to an expanded orchestra, the vocal forces utilize double mixed choir and semi-choir – that's 16 voice parts (SSSSAAAATTTTBBBB)!  Monstrous indeed, it is rarely performed live because of the massive choral and orchestral forces required, yet it remains an imposing element in English choral repertoire. Shockingly, there is no known surviving complete manuscript.

In order to provide permanent documentation of the important sociological and musical contributions of the Greater Hazleton Oratorio Society, Singers’ Guild of Scranton and Sinfonia da Camera to the lives of residents in Northeastern Pennsylvania, some of the 1977-1986 live performance analog recordings of these community groups were rescued, restored, and converted to a digital format. Those restorations and the performance excerpts that appear on this website are intended as historical documents not as an entertainment product. The copying or dissemination of these excerpts is strictly prohibited.

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