Five Prophecies


for voice and cello (2014)




16 min.

Program Notes

Michel de Nostredame, Nostradamus was a 16th century physician made famous by his mystifying and eerily accurate prophecies.  Although he was born to Jewish parents the Edict of 1501 required his both parents and Michel to convert and become baptized. As a doctor, Nostradamus treated many victims of the plague, even going into the countryside to help destitute peasants.  However, the Black Death claimed his young wife and children in 1538.

Nostradamus made his most well-known predictions in his collections of 942 quatrains (4-line poems).  These quatrains were organized into groups of 100, or centuries. The word century has nothing to do with time, and, indeed, Nostradamus explicitly noted that his predictions are not in chronological order.  In fact, the predictions are often puzzling, and it is often difficult to recognize what they refer to until after the fact. To compound the problem, his prophecies are written in a combination of French, Latin, Greek, & Italian.  Translations can vary widely. In addition, his quatrains are full of wordplay, allusions, and anagrams. This confusion was partially intentional: Nostradamus was intentionally obscure to avoid being persecuted as a wizard by the inquisition.

His most famous early prophecy illustrates this principle:

The old lion will be defeated by the younger one,
On the field of battle in single clash.
Through a golden cage he will penetrate his eyes,
Two injuries as one.  He will die an agonizing death.
Centurie 1, Quatrain 35

Three years after this predictions was made, in 1559, Henry II held a tournament to celebrate the weddings of his sister and daughter.  Henry and his jousting partner, Montgomery, a younger Captain of the King’s Guard, ended the first joust with a draw. Henry called for a second.  The Captain was aware of Nostradamus’ prediction and tried to bow out. Henry insisted. In the second joust, a splinter from Montgomery’s lance slipped through the king’s golden visor and pierced his left eye.  The wound both blinded him and penetrated into his brain. Ten cruel days later, he was dead.

In 1566, Nostradamus died.  However, according to legend, that is not the end of his story.  He was buried (standing upright!) in the walls of Church of Cordeliers at Salon, but his told was opened by superstitious city officials in the year 1700.  They found a skeleton with a gold medallion hung around its neck. Inscribed on medallion was the date, “1700.”

The mysterious character Hister not only sounds intriguingly similar to another “proud, wicked man,” Hitler, but it is also a homophone of the region of Germany (south of the lower Danube) where Hitler was in fact born (of poor parents, no less).  The Misty Knoll is distinctly reminiscent of the mystery surrounding the assassination of President John Kennedy.

Rarely does Nostradamus  give a straightforward prediction, so the fact that the famous The King of Terror quatrain gives such an apparently clear-cut date (July, 1999) should in itself have been a clue that the obvious interpretation was not the correct one.  In retrospect, it seems that 1999, may instead refer to its inversion, 9/11/1. The apparent reference to July is also misleading. Firstly, the French word sept may be instead a reference to September.  Even more likely, though, is that Nostradamus was referring to the Julian calendar used at the time, in which the 7th month is, indeed, September. Also, it is interesting to note that New York City lies between 40˚ and 45˚ north latitude.

Finally, the phrase, “Resusciter le grand Roy d’Angoulmois,” is often translated as “He will resurrect the ancient king of the Mongols.”  Of course, the most renowned ancient king of the Mongols is Genghis Khan. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the capital of his kingdom was eventually located in present day Kabul, the location of the seat of power of the bin Laden’s Taliban. An Idiot Heir prophecies a nation ruled by the idiot child of an old leader.  It also indicates the woes that his nation will face in war. The Great Famine includes prophecies that seem to describe an environmental catastrophe caused by the warming of the atmosphere and its effect on the oceans. Blood and Substance gives a dark and mysterious look at the future.  Rome, in this context, may refer to the Roman Catholic church.

Justin Merritt Music

Composer Justin Merritt was the youngest-ever winner of the ASCAP Foundation Rudolph Nissim Award. He is also the winner of a host of other awards including the McKnight Fellowship, the Copland Award, and the Polyphonos Prize. His music has been played by the Minnesota Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphony, and on A Prairie Home Companion.

His evening length cantata, The Path, was premiered at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis in April 2018. The work is a setting of a collection of Buddhist Pali scriptures translated by the composer and set for multiple choirs, soloists, and large orchestra.

He received his Bachelors from Trinity University and his Masters and Doctorate from Indiana University. He studied composition with Samuel Adler, Sven-David Sandstrom, Claude Baker, Timothy Kramer, Don Freund, and electronic and computer music with Jeffrey Hass. He is currently Professor and Chair of Music at St. Olaf College. He resides in Northfield, Minnesota with his wife Faye and their children Cullen Fang Ouxiang and Molly Fang Qinghe.

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