Rex Isenberg - Messiahs False and True (2014 rev 2019) FINAL first page only.jpg


choir (SATB with divisi), organ, bass drum, narrator

45 minutes

TEXT: choir: biblical, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance; narrator: various political and religious figures

LANGUAGE: choir: Latin, English; narrator: English

COMMISSION: Cantori New York

PREMIERE: March 7, 2015, Cantori New York, Mark Shapiro (conductor), Kathleen Chalfant (narrator), Church of St. Luke in the Fields, New York, New York

CONCERT NOTES: Messiahs are a constant motif in human history. During periods of crisis or cultural change, people naturally turn to charismatic individuals delivering messages of redemption and salvation and elevate them to prominence in the hopes that they will lead them out of darkness. Over the centuries, societies have fashioned many such individuals; some grew to become our greatest heroes, and others became our most hateful villains. Nevertheless, with each new crisis, we repeat the cycle once again.

Messiahs: False and True (for choir, organ, bass drum and narrator) examines the effects of this phenomenon by narrating the rise and fall of a messianic leader. The libretto does not trace the history any specific leader, but instead combines texts of various authorship, recited by a narrator, describing or spoken by messianic figures and charismatic leaders in history. These texts are juxtaposed with passages from the Old and New Testaments, sung in Latin by the choir, which follow the events of the story. Much of the biblical text is borrowed from Handel's Messiah, but presented in the Latin Vulgate translation. Only the very last chorus is sung in English - a poem included in the prologue to Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self-Reliance.

This work is not meant to endorse or condemn any single individual figure represented herein. Instead, it seeks to explore and raise questions about this fascinating aspect of our human nature. Is there not perhaps a better way?