Belsazar - (2007)
for high voice and piano
Marcus R. Bosch gewidmet
Die Mitternacht zog näher schon;
In stummer Ruh lag Babylon.
oben in des Königs Schloss,
Da flackert's, da lärmt des Königs Tross.
Dort oben in dem Königssaal
Belsazar hielt sein Königsmahl.
Knechte saßen in schimmernden Reihn
Und leerten die Becher mit
Es klirrten die Becher, es jauchzten die Knecht;
So klang es dem störrigen Könige recht.
Des Königs Wangen leuchten
Im Wein erwuchs ihm kecker Mut.
Und blindlings reißt der
Mut ihn fort;
Und er lästert die Gottheit mit sündigem Wort.
er brüstet sich frech, und lästert wild;
Der Knechtenschar ihm Beifall
Der König rief mit stolzem Blick;
Der Diener eilt und
Er trug viel gülden Gerät auf dem Haupt;
aus dem Tempel Jehovahs geraubt.
Und der König ergriff mit frevler
Einen heilrigen Becher, gefüllt bis am Rand.
Und er leert
ihn hastig bis auf den Grund
Und rufet laut mit schäumendem Mund:
"Jehovah! dir künd ich auf ewig Hohn -
Ich bin der König von Babylon!"
Doch kaum das grause Wort verklang,
Dem König ward's heimlich im Busen
Das gellende Lachen verstummte zumal;
leichenstill im Saal.
Und sieh! und sieh! an weißer Wand
kam's hervor wie Menschenhand;
Und schrieb, und schrieb an weißer
Buchstaben von Feuer, und schrieb und schwand.
stieren Blicks da saß,
Mit schlotternden Knien und totenblass.
Die Knechtenschar saß kalt durchgraut,
Und saß gar still, gab keinen
Die Magier kamen, doch keiner verstand
Zu deuten die
Flammenschrift an der Wand.
Belsazar ward aber in selbiger Nacht
Von seinen Knechten umgebracht.
[ 13 pages, circa 9' 30" ]
The story of the end of the Babylonian king, Belshazzar, is drawn from
literary sources, from Xenophon as from the book of Daniel, chapter 5. The
story itself was set in an oratorio by Handel, Belshazzar, as well as
in Gioachino Rossini's early opera, Ciro in Babilonia, and the 20th
century British composer William Walton's Belshazzar' Feast. Heine's
ballad setting of the text was set by Robert Schumann as his op. 57. The
renown Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn painted a dramatic scene known as
Das Gastmahl des Belsazar, in about 1635, though the Hebrew characters
are utterly incorrect. A historical novel in two volumes by Margita Figuli,
titled simply Babylon, deals with this story as well.
Rembrandt's Das Gastmahl des Belsazar
Midnight drew nearer already;
In mute rest lay Babylon.
above, in the king's castle,
lights are flickering and the king's retinue
And above, in the king's hall,
Belshazzar holds his
The knights sat in shimmering rows,
goblets of sparkling wine.
The goblets clinked, the knights cheered;
and so they made noise for that headstrong king.
The king's cheeks
through wine his courage grew bolder.
And blindly, his
courage pulled him forward,
and he maligned God with blasphemous words.
And he boasted impertinently and blasphemed wildly
while the crowd of
knights bellowed their approval.
The king called with a haughty
the servant hurried off and soon came back.
back on his head many golden treasures
that had been plundered from
And the king grasped with his criminal hand
sacred goblet and filled it to the brim.
And he drained it hastily to
and then called loudly with foaming mouth:
proclaim to you my eternal scorn,
for I am the king of Babylon!"
But hardly had those terrible words died away,
when the king grew
secretly fearful in his heart.
The ringing laughter fell silent at
the hall grew deathly still.
And behold! behold! on the
there appeared something like a human hand;
wrote and wrote on the white wall
letters of fire; it wrote and
The king sat staring there,
with knocking knees, pale
The crowd of knights sat cold and filled with horror,
and sat entirely still, without a sound.
Magicians came, but no one
and find the meaning of the flaming script on the wall.
But Belshazzar, that very night,
was murdered by his knights.
Translation from German to English copyright © by Emily Ezust
Used by kind permission
Emily Ezust created and manages The Lied and Art Song Texts Page,
a free web archive of texts and translations to Lieder and other art songs,
as well as choral texts, madrigals and part songs. This fine site and
resource's URL is
www.recmusic.org/lieder/ and is highly recommended for those interested
in lieder, their texts and translations as available.
tessitura in the high setting
Originally conceived for a dramatic soprano or tenor, the tessitura is quite
like any of the expected operatic roles for these voices. The piano
accompaniment is meant to be of many colors, and a performer's individual
interpretation, rubati and phrasings are encouraged.
The scene is set with widely spaced chords, and the dissonance of the minor
second against the tonal tonic is decorated with a "jeu de clochettes,"
which come to point to perhaps rimonim, crowns with many small bells,
which would decorate a scroll of sacred scriptures.
After the opening statement establishing the tonal domain and atmosphere of
the setting, and 3/4 meter accompanies the setting of the scene in the
The setting accelerates in both tempi, dynamic range and tessitura as the
fulcrum of the storytelling brings us to Belshazzar's "sinful words."
The king commands a servant to bring forth sacred vessels, and here the
opening "quiet" of Babylon is again disturbed by the small bell-like motive
above the darker dissonances.
The harsh challenge to Jehovah is accompanied by the minor seconds in
combination with parallel triads within the tonal region, until the words
ring out loud and long.
After these challenging words are uttered, a musical pall comes upon the
scene as the altered quartal chords descend into utter quiet, and then the
dissonance of seconds introduces a fiery moment in the supertonic of D
minor, as running triplets course along under the scene of the human-like
hand writing fiery letters on the wall. Inserted into Heine's text at this
point, I include the Hebrew words as found in the book of Daniel to complete
the word painting alongside the musical interpretation thereto.
The song setting ends with these various themes repeated, the "quiet" of
Babylon becoming a bitter, momentary requiem for the king at the close of
the work. From the opening gestures' widely spaced chords, the lowest C
sharp has pulled downward at the seeming tonality of D minor and then the
other related tonal regions, until at the end the story of the king's fall
is also the long arch from D to C sharp over the duration of the song
Over a beer after a performance, I asked about and Marcus answered that
among his favorites poet was Heine. So it is that I chose this ballad to
set, with broad musical gestures and a dramatic flair. We had met during a
production of Tristan und Isolde in Verona, and in the last season
performed a concert version of Die Walküre at the Eurocongress in
Aachen, as well as Der fliegende Holländer in this year and a concert
version of Parsifal in the next. Marcus Bosch has served as General
Music Director of the city of Aachen since 2002, after serving theaters in
Osnabrück, Wiesbaden, Halle and Saarbrücken. He has been guest conductor at
Teatro Filharmonico Verona, Orchestre National de Lyon,
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken, Deustches Symphonie Orchester Berlin
and Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz.
The score for Belsazar is available as a free PDF download, though
any major commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited
without prior arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for
this piano-vocal score.