by Walton and Elgar -
'Sargent's vitality matches Walton's ...'
Belshazzar was never king in Babylon. He was the Prince Charles, while his
father Nabonidus had journeyed four hundred and fifty miles for a ten-year
sojourn in Saudi-Arabia; but Belshazzar's granny did die at a hundred and one.
The bible muddles the names, but let that be. Osbert Sitwell made a splendid
text from the book of Daniel, tightening the action so that Belshazzar
can be bumped off almost as soon as the fingers of the hand have made their
remarkable graffito on the dining-room wall, and before Daniel has had a chance
to be summoned and produce his interpretation. But indeed Babylon, after the
return of king Nabonidus, fell to Cyrus the Persian in 539 BC.
Walton's score remains an astonishing production for a man not yet thirty,
and Sargent seems never to have tired of it. It has been said that the music
for the impious Babylonians drinking out of the sacred vessels is too little
differentiated from that of the Jews exultant over Babylon's fall. This seems
to me psychologically precise. On moral grounds, as we know only too well
in the 21st century, there is little to choose between the two teams.
Copyright © 29 June 2004
Robert Anderson, London UK