Belshazzar (Handel)

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Belshazzar (HWV 61) is an oratorio by George Frideric Handel. The libretto was by Charles Jennens, and Handel abridged it considerably.[1] Jennens' libretto was based on the Biblical account of the fall of Babylon at the hands of Cyrus the Great and the subsequent freeing of the Jewish nation, as found in the Book of Daniel.

Handel composed Belshazzar in the late Summer of 1744 concurrently with Hercules, during a time that Winton Dean calls "the peak of Handel's creative life".[2] The work premiered the following Lenten season on 27 March 1745 at the King's Theatre, London with Ann Turner Robinson as Daniel, John Beard (tenor) as Belshazzar/Gobrias and Henry Theodore Reinhold as Cyrus.[1] The work fell into neglect after Handel's death, with revivals of the work occurring in the United Kingdom in 1847, 1848 and 1873.[3]

Dramatis personæ[edit]


Act 1[edit]

  1. Overture

Act 1, scene 1[edit]

  1. Accompagnato, Nitocris: "Vain, fluctuating state of human empire!"
  2. Air, Nitocris: "Thou, God most high, and Thou alone"
  3. Recitative, Nitocris and Daniel: "The fate of Babylon, I fear, is nigh."
  4. Air, Daniel: "Lament not thus, O Queen, in vain!"

Act 1, scene 2[edit]

  1. Chorus of Babylonians: "Behold, by Persia's hero made"
  2. Recitative, Gobrias and Cyrus: "Well may they laugh, from meagre famine safe"
  3. Accompagnato, Gobrias: "Oh, memory!"
  4. Air, Gobrias: "Oppress'd with never-ceasing grief"
  5. Air, Cyrus: "Dry those unavailing tears"
  6. Recitative, Cyrus: "Be comforted: safe though the tyrant seem"
  7. Accompagnato, Cyrus: "Methought, as on the bank of deep Euphrates"
  8. Recitative, Cyrus and Gobrias: "Now tell me, Gobrias, does not this Euphrates"
  9. Air, Gobrias: "Behold the monstrous human beast"
  10. Recitative, Cyrus: "Can ye then think it strange, if drown'd in wine"
  11. Air, Cyrus: "Great God, who, yet but darkly known"
  12. Recitative, Cyrus: "My friends, be confident, and boldly enter"
  13. Chorus of Persians: "All empires upon God depend"

Act 1, scene 3[edit]

  1. Air, Daniel: "O sacred oracles of truth"
  2. Accompagnato, Daniel: "Rejoice, my countrymen! The time draws near"
  3. Air, Daniel: "Thus saith the Lord to Cyrus, his anointed"
  4. Chorus of Jews: "Sing, O ye Heav'ns, for the Lord hath done it!"

Act 1, Scene 4[edit]

  1. Air, Belshazzar: "Let festal joy triumphant reign"
  2. Recitative, Belshazzar and Nitocris: "For you my friends, the nobles of my court"
  3. Air, Nitocris: "The leafy honours of the field"
  4. Recitative, Belshazzar and Nitocris: "It is the custom, I may say, the law"
  5. Chorus of Jews: "Recall, O king, thy rash command!"
  6. Recitative, Nitocris and Belshazzar: "They tell you true; nor can you be to learn"
  7. Duet, Nitocris and Belshazzar: "O dearer than my life, forbear!"
  8. Chorus of Jews: "By slow degrees the wrath of God to its meridian height ascends"

Act 2[edit]

Act 2, scene 1[edit]

  1. Chorus of Persians: "See, from his post Euphrates flies"
  2. Recitative, Cyrus: "Ye see, my friends, a path into the city"
  3. Air, Cyrus: "Amaz'd to find the foe so near"
  4. Chorus of Persians: "To arms, to arms, no more delay!"

Act 2, scene 2[edit]

  1. Chorus of Babylonians: "Ye tutelar gods of our empire, look down"
  2. Air, Belshazzar: "Let the deep bowl thy praise confess"
  3. Accompagnato, Belshazzar and Babylonians: "Where is the God of Judah's boasted pow'r?"
  4. Recitative, Belshazzar: "Call all my Wise Men, Sorcerers, Chaldeans"
  5. Symphony (Enter Wise Men of Babylon)
  6. Recitative, Belshazzar and Wise Men: "Ye sages, welcome always to your king"
  7. Chorus of Babylonians: "Oh, misery! Oh terror, hopeless grief!"
  8. Recitative, Nitocris and Belshazzar: "O king, live for ever!"
  9. Air, Daniel: "No, to thyself thy trifles be"
  10. Accompagnato, Daniel: "Yet, to obey His dread command"
  11. Recitative, Nitocris: "Oh, sentence too severe, and yet too sure"
  12. Air, Nitocris: "Regard, O son, my flowing tears"

Act 2, scene 3[edit]

  1. Air, Cyrus: "O God of truth, O faithful guide"
  2. Recitative, Cyrus: "You, Gobrias, lead directly to the palace"
  3. Chorus of Persians: "O glorious prince, thrice happy they"

Act 3[edit]

Act 3, scene 1[edit]

  1. Air, Nitocris: "Alternate hopes and fears distract my mind"
  2. Recitative, Nitocris and Daniel: "Fain would I hope. It cannot surely be."
  3. Air, Daniel: "Can the black AEthiop change his skin"
  4. Recitative, Nitocris, Arioch, and Messenger: "My hopes revive, here Arioch comes!"
  5. Chorus of Jews: "Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth!"

Act 3, scene 2[edit]

  1. Air, Belshazzar: "I thank thee, Sesach! Thy sweet pow'r"
  2. A Martial Symphony (during which a battle is supposed, in which Belshazzar and his attendants are slain)

Act 3, scene 3[edit]

  1. Air, Gobrias: "To pow'r immortal my first thanks are due"
  2. Recitative, Cyrus: "Be it thy care, good Gobrias, to find out"
  3. Air, Cyrus: "Destructive war, thy limits know"
  4. Duet, Nitocris and Cyrus: "Great victor, at your feet I bow"
  5. Recitative, Cyrus and Daniel: "Say, venerable prophet, is there aught"
  6. Soli and chorus: "Tell it out among the heathen"
  7. Accompagnato, Cyrus: "Yes, I will rebuild thy city, God of Israel!"
  8. Soli and chorus: I will magnify Thee, O God my king!

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b G.F. Handel, "Belshazzar", ed. Friedrich Chrysander. Leipzig: 1864. Reprint by Kalmus Miniature Scores. Melville, NY: Belwin Mills.
  2. ^ Dean, Winton. Handel's Dramatic Oratorios and Masques. London: Oxford University Press, 1959. pp. 435
  3. ^ Macfarren, G. A., "Handel's Belshazzar" (1 June 1873). The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, 16(364): p. 115.

External links[edit]