The short (and very unusual) motet Vae tibi Babylon et Syria
takes a text from the Apocryphal book 2 Esdras concerning the impending annihilation of cities hostile to the Jews. The inhabitants of these cities are invited to clothe themselves with sackcloth and hair shirts: this line of text is extended over nearly two minutes of music, in which the somewhat aggressive stance of the piece’s opening is gradually wound down towards the subdued ‘plangite filios vestros’ (‘weep for your children’). The motion of the bass part is slowed to semibreves and breves while the upper three voices gradually sink sequentially over the range of an octave. The evidently deliberate reduction of tension in this passage creates a sense of exhausted despair that can only partly be broken for the final text ‘quoniam appropinquavit perditio vestra’ (‘for your destruction is drawing near’).
from notes by Stephen Rice © 2010