Lassus: Prophetiae Sibyllarum & Missa Amor ecco colei
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No 01a: Prologue Carmina chromatico quae audis modulata tenore
No 01b: Sibylla Persica Virgine matre satus, pando residebit asello
No 02: Sibylla Libyca Ecce dies venient, quo aeternus tempore princeps
No 03: Sibylla Delphica Non tarde veniet, tacita sed mente tenendum
No 04: Sibylla Cimmeria In teneris annis facie praesignis, honore
No 05: Sibylla Samia Ecce dies nigras quae tollet laeta tenebras
No 06: Sibylla Cumana Iam mea certa manent, et vera, novissima verba
No 07: Sibylla Hellespontica Dum meditor quondam vidi decorare puellam
No 08: Sibylla Phrygia Ipsa Deum vidi summum punire volentem
No 09: Sibylla Europaea Virginis aeternum veniet de corpore verbum
No 10: Sibylla Tiburtina Verax ipse Deus dedit haec mihi munia fandi
No 11: Sibylla Erythraea Cerno Dei natum, qui se demisit ab alto
No 12: Sibylla Agrippa Summus erit sub carne satus, carissimus atque
Partly the controversy, and the multiplication of possible intervallic relationships, reflects the fact that tuning of contemporary music had departed from the Pythagorean system expounded by Boethius, in which all the perfect intervals (octave, fourth and fifth, and their compounds) were pure but thirds and sixths were unpleasant, towards a system most elegantly codified by Gioseffo Zarlino (1517–1590) which treated thirds and sixths as pure ratios as well, the major third being 5:4 and the minor 6:5. This ‘just intonation’ system usually cannot be followed precisely in performance because the demands of tuning harmonic and melodic intervals purely are in competition, and also, if observed strictly, frequently lead to the music departing from its original pitch standard; however, for the most part the system produces clearly better results than equal temperament for chordal music.
Notwithstanding the intricacies of Renaissance music theory which it illustrates, Prophetiae Sibyllarum is one of the most arresting pieces of music written during the sixteenth century. Perhaps surprisingly, it dates from the beginning of Lassus’s career, possibly as early as 1555 but almost certainly before 1560. It was not published during his lifetime, the earliest source being a manuscript now in the Austrian National Library, which also contains the first of Lassus’s two sets of Sacrae lectiones ex propheta Job. The manuscript has a miniature portrait of Lassus as well as illustrations of the twelve Sibyls: it would appear to have been intended as a gift for Duke Albrecht.
There had originally been a single Sibyl: Herophile of Erythrae is thought to have been a genuine historical figure from the eighth century BC, though the earliest mention of any Sibyl in literature is in Heraclitus, from the fifth century BC, who names three, adding the Phrygian and Hellespontine to that of Erythrae. As in Lassus’s version, Sibyls were named after the shrine at which they spoke. Ancient Greece eventually listed nine Sibyls, with the Roman writer Lactantius (AD c300, but modelled on Marcus Varro, first century BC) adding a tenth, the Tiburtine. Sibylline writings were refashioned in Christian terms from the second century AD, and circulated widely as a complement to the Old Testament prophets who had foretold the coming of Christ; St Augustine mentions the Erythraean Sibyl in The City of God, and it is probably to her that the medieval sequence Dies irae refers in the line ‘Teste David cum Sibylla’.
The fifteenth century saw a revival of interest in the prophecies of the Sibyls, exemplifying the tendency of Renaissance Humanism to deploy aspects of the ancient world in support of a Christian message. The republication of Lactantius’s Divinae institutiones in 1465 was undoubtedly a major spur to this interest. The twelve prophecies set by Lassus include two more than any extant antique source (the additions being Europaea and Agrippa): in this he follows another fifteenth-century version, Sibyllarum et prophetarum de Christo vaticinia by Filippo Barbieri (c1426–1487), though Lassus’s ordering is apparently unique.
The thirteen movements of Prophetiae Sibyllarum are presented in a set of six pairs, with the prologue attached to the first pair. The pairs are linked by cleffing and tonality: the first, third and sixth pair have the standard cleffing pattern c1-c3-c4-f4 for the four voices (or soprano, alto, tenor and bass clefs in modern equivalents). The second and fourth pairs are in chiavette (g2-c2-c3-f3 or treble, mezzo-soprano, alto, baritone), and the fifth pair in ‘low clefs’ (c3-c4-c4-f5). Additionally the second, third, and sixth pairs have a flat signature, which the other three omit. These clef configurations are generally agreed to imply transposition: late-sixteenth-century music theorists usually advise that chiavette be transposed down a fourth, but theorists’ discussions of the low clefs are few.
from notes by Stephen Rice © 2011