Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Music



Major Professor

Nasser Al-Taee

Committee Members

Rachel M. Golden, Angela L. Batey


This study investigates aspects of Orientalism found within the genre of the English oratorio, specifically William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast (1931). Building on Edward Said’s research on Orientalism, analyses of Orientalist representations in music exploded the field of musicology in the 1980s and 90s. However, the examination of Orientalism in sacred genres remains lacking. Bringing forth cultural, political, and musical conflicts between East and West, Walton’s oratorio encourages further investigation in previously unaddressed genres. I argue that, by combining dramatic operatic elements with sacred text, Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast reflects a continuation of Orientalist ideologies through binary opposition aimed at perpetuating the predominantly negative stereotypes of the Middle East and its people while celebrating the superiority of Western culture.

Examining political, social, cultural, and musical contexts for Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast in England between the wars, I draw on eighteenth through twentieth-century Western compositions, including opera and symphonic repertory, that appropriate the Orient in similar ways. Close examination of Walton’s oratorio reflects his adherence to standard tonal, harmonic, and orchestral signifiers that differentiate between East and West as established and canonized by Orientalist composers before him. Furthermore, I argue that Walton’s exposure to Orientalist works from an early age, as well as rising nationalistic sentiments in interwar England, shaped his conception of the Orient as a place of violence, savagery, and barbarity while promoting the West, represented by the Israelites in Belshazzar’s Feast, as rational, monotheistic, and civilized.

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