Danzi, Franz Ignaz
Demersseman, Jules-Auguste Edouard
Doppler, Albert Franz
Hüe, Georges Adolphe
Molique, Wilhelm Bernhard
Reinecke, Carl Heinrich Carsten
Taffanel, Claude Paul
Widor, Charles Marie Jean Albert
“Nocturne” from the Suite “Belshazzar’s feast” Op. 51
Music for the "Belshazzar’s feast" play by Hjalmar Procopé was written in 1906. The first public performance was held at the Swedish Theatre in Helsinki, on 7th November 1906, conducted by Jean Sibelius.
The incidental music contains ten pieces. The story is based on the feast of Belshazzar in Chapter 5 of the Book of Daniel. It depicts the events surrounding the prophecy that King Belshazzar of Babylon will be killed by the Jewish girl Leschanah. In the play, Leschanah (whom Belshazzar falls in love with) and Khadra (a court dancer who competes with her for the King’s attention) are the key characters, whose jealousy and competition propels the plot toward Belshazzar’s death.
The first is the counterpart of the Oriental Procession in the orchestral suite. In the play, the people in the procession must bow to an idol. The Jewish prophet Ben Oni does not bow down before the idol, and he is suspected of being part of an assassination plot. The king's favourite female slave, Khadra, falls in love with the Jew. At the same time, the real assassin, the beautiful Leschanah, meets the king.
This is followed by the second part: “Solitude”, immediately invoking a quiet cold night.
The following third part is the beautiful “Den judiska flickans song” (The Jewish Girl’s Song), sung by the homesick Leschanah yearning for Jerusalem. Sibelius orchestrated the aria as “Nocturne”, giving it due honor in the Suite.
The instrumental version of this lovely melody ended up in the orchestral suite under the name of Solitude. Sibelius also prepared a separate song from it in 1907 and presented a new arrangement of it to Marian Anderson in 1939.
Sibelius used only Oriental Procession, Solitude, Nocturne, and Khadra's Dance in his orchestral suite, with suitable modifications. Belshazzar's Feast was almost the only occasion on which Sibelius was inspired by orientalism.
BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo (conductor), Chandos, 2018
Silvia Raia (flute), Miika Hartikainen (organ), live performance at the Naantali cloister church, 18.05.2022, Finland
Jean Sibelius (1865 - 1957) was a Finnish composer, known as the most noted symphonic composer of Scandinavia.
Born in Hämeenlinna, the oldest inland city of Finland in a family of Swedish medical doctor.
His first music adviser was his uncle who gave him a violin encouraging him to actively take part in various chamber music projects at home. Even though he aspired to become a violin virtuoso and even had some acclaimed performances he ultimately chose to become a composer. He changed his name from Janne to the French form Jean, inspired by the business card of his seafaring uncle.
Jean continued his studies at the Helsinki Music Institute, later moving to Berlin and Vienna, broadening his knowledge and experiences (including the premiere of Richard Strauss's Don Juan), greatly influenced by the music of Wagner and Liszt, and especially by Anton Bruckner.
He received his first acclaim in 1892 with Kullervo, a composition for orchestra, chorus, and soloists, inspired by the epic poem Kalevala. The following year the Karelia Suite tone poem was premiered, greatly contributing to rising self-awareness of Finnish national identity. This notion was further developed by the Russian emperor Nicholas II's attempt to restrict the powers of the Grand Duchy of Finland in 1899, the year when Sibelius was working on his 1st symphony. The premiere of the symphony was accompanied by the patriotic Song of the Athenians for boys' and men's choirs which made Sibelius a national hero. The following year Sibelius went on tour presenting his works to international audiences, and his 2nd Symphony (1901), inspired by Mozart's Don Giovanni brought even more recognition.
Despite problems of managing money which Sibelius loved to spend on wining and dining, he built a family house Ainola, 45 km north of Helsinki, where he composed most of his later works, including incidental music for Belshazzar's Feast (1906).
In 1907 he underwent a serious operation for suspected throat cancer that led him to give up smoking and drinking as well as vigorously continue to compose his 4th symphony. The following years brought moderately successful tours all over Europe and a less favourable reception in the US.
World War I brought a substantial financial problem since his royalties from abroad were interrupted and only a fund-raising campaign helped to pay a considerable amount of his debt. The Finnish Civil War that started after the Russian Revolution in 1917 brought further turbulence and only in 1919 life came back to normal. To mark that change Sibelius decided to change his image by shaving off his thinning hair. Along with his increasing recognition, he started to experience a growing tremor in his hands. Even though he managed to compose two more symphonies and had various successful appearances in 1925, he experienced growing problems with his trembling hands which he tried to treat with proportional intakes of alcohol. After the 7th Symphony, he managed to compose only a few significant works: incidental music for Shakespeare's The Tempest and the tone poem Tapiola. And for most of the last thirty years of his life, he avoided talking publicly about his music.