M a t h i a s a n d t h e S t o r m
Orchestra (126.96.36.199. 188.8.131.52 timp+2. hp. strings)
"As the darkness faded into grey of a winter morning,
he listened for the church bells,
—and for another sound, that always amused him here;
the whistle of a locomotive."
– Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop
There is a piece of folklore that is pervasive in my hometown of Dubuque, Iowa. It is an anecdote that many Dubuquers learn in grade school as it has passed from generation to generation. The story, which weaves historical fact together with fantastical imagery, goes as follows.
Mathias Loras, a priest originally from France, was appointed the first bishop of Dubuque in 1837 and arrived in the town two years later. He was a man of prayer and was deeply devoted to his new Iowan diocese, so much so that he climbed to the top of one of the tallest bluffs in Dubuque and prayed that the city would never be subjected to the wrath of a tornado. Since that time, and despite being in the heart of Tornado Alley, the City of Dubuque has never been decimated by a cyclone. Be it pure happenstance or that Loras did indeed pray that the city be spared, this story has a continuing presence in Dubuque folklore, despite there being no known source that corroborates this tale.
Mathias and the Storm is a fanciful take on this story. In my imagining of it, Loras is shouting his prayer atop the bluff in the midst of a raging thunderstorm. Thunder bellows, rain pours, lightning illuminates the darken heavens, and Loras, filled with intense passion for his new home, quells the storm through sheer fortitude and steadfast prayer.
This work was commissioned by and written for William Intriligator and the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra.
Dubuque Symphony Orchestra (William Intriligator, conductor) - 30 April 2017; Dubuque, IA
Dubuque Symphony Orchestra (William Intriligator, conductor) - 29 April 2017; Dubuque, IA
Orchestral Masters Volume 7, Brno Philharmonic Orchestra (Mikel Toms, conductor), Ablaze Records, 2020. CD. [forthcoming]