Klaus Mäkelä conducts works by three different composers who worked in the shadow of the great world wars. Gustav Holst, Ernest Bloch and William Walton all found inspiration in biblical personalities.
Gustav Holst (1874–1934) produced some of his most popular works during the first world war. His orchestral suite The Planets was written during the first war years, from 1914–16. When Holst wrote his Hymn of Jesus in 1917, the war had become a catastrophe of inconceivable dimensions, and the composer had lost several of his own friends. The work is based on the Gnostic text Acts of John from the 1st century, and in contrast to the suffering of war, the music comes across as light and filled with hope.
Ernest Bloch (1880–1959) was born in Geneva, Switzerland, but moved to the United States in 1916 – the same year that he composed his Schelomo for cello and orchestra. The piece is the last in a series of works where he explores his own Jewish identity as a composer. Schelomo is the Hebrew name for the biblical King Solomon, and the cello voice represents the king himself, while the orchestra represents his environment. Schelomo builds on texts from the Book of Ecclesiastes.
William Walton (1902–1983) also drew on biblical sources in his magnificent oratorio Belshazzar’s Feast from 1931; namely Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon, described in the Book of Daniel. The story of decadence and the fall of kingdoms had parallels with contemporary society, but the work was first and foremost a great artistic triumph. Despite its faithfulness to the biblical texts it was based on, the oratorio was not given permission to be performed in churches before the 1970s – the final chorus’ celebration following the fall of the enemy might have proved a touch too exhilarating!
(Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa)
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