Thursday, December 20, 2012

El Cant de la Sibil-La

Bette Burgoyne  recently introduced me to El Cant de la Sibil-La and boy am I glad she did!
"The Song of the Sibyl" is an apocalyptic gregorian chant, a vast and sad liturgical drama. It has apparently been performed on Christmas Eve almost uninterruptedly since Medieval times in certain Majorca, Alghero and Catalan Churches.
It is a musical end time prophecy.
There have been numerous versions of this music throughout time. It began as a poem before taking on Gregorian melody and moving through several lingual interpretations. I hardly have the knowledge to enumerate all of these progressions here as they baffle me with their complexity. At one point it was even put down by the Council of Trent as much too dangerous and unpleasant in it's connotations. But this powerful force simply could not be quelled and it showed up on the island of Majorca not long afterward and has been traditionally embraced ever since, more or less.
The song is conceptually supposed to be sung by a woman (a "Sybil" is a prophetess) but has more often than not throughout history been sung by a little boy. This was originally due to the fact that women were ludicrously disallowed from singing in Church for a great many years.
These days it is still performed by boys often, though the female voice has taken it's rightful place at the melodic helm on a few special recordings. Particularly, it seems, on the copy that Bette sent me- put together by Jordi Savall and Montserrat Figueras in 1988. (one cover image pictured above) I believe this recording contains all the presently known versions. 
I didn't put it together until later that one of my favorite singers Lisa Gerrard took a stab at a section of the work as well on the Dead Can Dance album Aion.
During live performance in  Church, the entire song cycle is to be sung while holding an erect sword. Upon completion, the sword is used to slash a cross into the very air itself.
About these performances I can only wonder, but the music on the above recording is profoundly sad. There is a very strange crossroad in the heart where sadness and beauty either reconcile or conspire. This music sounds exceptionally old. It sounds like the completion of an echo that has been gradually ringing toward my ear drums for hundreds and hundreds of years now.


A very Merry Christmas from Secret Lexicon.

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