Flood requiem makes U.S. premiere at Cornell College

As Iowa and other areas of the country continue their long-term recovery from major floods, Cornell College will present an artistic response with the U.S. premiere of Dutch composer Douwe Eisenga’s “The Flood, Requiem” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, in King Chapel. 

Dutch composer Douwe Eisenga
Dutch composer Douwe Eisenga

Cornell’s combined symphony orchestra and choirs will perform the large-scale work, written in 2003 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the North Sea flood of 1953 that killed 1,845 in the Netherlands. Cornell’s orchestra will swell in size for this concert with the addition of music faculty and area professionals. 

The soloist will be Iowa City mezzo-soprano Kelly Hill, whose recent work includes Handel’s “Messiah” with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, New Haven Symphony Orchestra, and the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra; and alto soloist in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the Yale Philharmonia. 

Enhancing the music will be multimedia projections of 1953 Dutch flood images that inspired the work, as well as images from the events of the last 20 years in the U.S. The composer will be on campus for final rehearsals and the performance, with support by the Performing Arts Fund NL in the Netherlands.


Listen to “The Flood, Requiem” in full on soundcloud.com or in excerpts on Youtube.


“We chose the requiem not only for its beauty and accessibility but because of the impact recent flooding has had in Iowa and across the U.S.,” said Professor of Music and orchestra director Martin Hearne, a Louisiana native who experienced Hurricane Katrina in 2005. His wife and musical collaborator, Professor of Music and choral conductor Lisa Hearne, is preparing the choirs.

Texts for “The Flood, Requiem” include parts of the Latin Mass, a sea elegy by a Russian poet, and poetry by Christopher Levenson, a young Canadian rescuer during the 1953 floods. Some of Levenson’s descriptions bring Iowa floods to mind:

Who wades through this harvest of water,
where windmill and telegraph poles, askew and crazy,
disturb the skyline with wrecks?

Professor Martin Hearne
Professor Martin Hearne

“In modern requiems it’s hip to skip the Latin Dies Irae [‘day of wrath’] because it’s so old-fashioned–it’s a harsh text about final judgment,” composer Douwe Eisenga said during a phone interview from Holland. “It’s not a modern expression of religion but I thought, let’s keep it there because when that flood happened over 60 years ago there was a lot of discussion in Holland that this might have been a punishment by God.”  

Interestingly, the Hearnes witnessed the same reaction from New Orleans natives and outsiders following Hurricane Katrina.

The Nov. 8 concert will be the first of two large-scale concerts in 2019–20 for the Hearnes, who will retire at the end of the school year after 28 years at Cornell. Their final concert April 17 features a performance of Karl Jenkins’ 2010 composition “Gloria.” To celebrate the event, Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School and Solon High School choirs under the direction of Cornell alumni Storm Ziegler ’94 and Joel Foreman ’05 will join the Cornell Orchestra and Choirs for this large production at 7:30 p.m. in King Chapel.