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Belshazzar's Feast Suite, Op 51
composer

Recordings
'Sibelius: Pelleas and Melisande & other works' (CKD220)
Sibelius: Pelleas and Melisande & other works
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Details
No 1: Oriental procession
No 2: Solitude
No 3: Nocturne
No 4: Khadra's dance

Belshazzar's Feast Suite, Op 51
The early 1900s, a heady time for theatre in Finland, was also the time of Sibelius’s most intense activity in writing for the stage. Very quickly after Kuolema (1902) and Pelleas and Melisande (1905), he produced music for Hjalmar Procope’s play Belshazzar’s Feast. In contrast to Maeterlinck’s masterpiece, Procope’s play really only survives now through Sibelius’s music—and critics at the time were not slow to point out the superiority of the music to the drama.

Belshazzar’s Feast was premiered at the Swedish Theatre in Helsinki in November 1906. Sibelius provided a score of ten numbers, and although the concert suite (which Sibelius premiered himself in 1907) has only four movements, it incorporates all the significant material from the full score. The opening 'Oriental Procession' is the nearest Sibelius came to conjuring up the colour and exoticism of the east—comparable to ‘Anitra’s Dance’ and the ‘Arabian Dance’ in Grieg’s music for Peer Gynt. This procession arrives from the distance, and disappears again with a broad, stately tread. 'Solitude' was originally a song for Leschanah, the Jewish woman of the play who sings ‘Jerusalem, how can I forget thee’, but in the suite the vocal line is compellingly rescored for solo viola and cello. The intensely beautiful 'Nocturne' features a long sad melody on solo flute. It accompanied a beautiful stage setting of the starry night. The final movement 'Khadra’s dance' integrates two of the original movements, 'Dance of life' and 'Dance of Death'.

from notes by Rob McEwan 2003

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