Despite choristers blushing and the Anglican Church declaring it “unsuitable,” Belshazzar’s Feast went on to conquer the world.

Composers are not always the most obedient or predictable of clients. There are many instances in the history of 20th-century music where they have not quite delivered what was asked of them, but one of the most spectacular instances of ‘disobedience’ would have to be William Walton (1902-1983) and the circumstances behind his gargantuan ‘cantata’, Belshazzar’s Feast.

In August 1929, the...

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