The Song of the Sibyls

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Program: #11-37   Air Date: Sep 05, 2011

One of the five most-popular shows in the program's 33-year history has been Jordi Savall's exploration of the prophecies of the ancient Sibyls; we will hear the re-packaged first offering in that series.


NOTE: All of the music on this program comes from the recording El Cant de la Sibil:





The CD is on the Alia Vox label and is CD AVSA9879.

For more information:

This re-issued recording allows us to revisit one of the two or three most-popular programs in the history of Millennium. For years after our first broadcast of this work (more than twenty years ago), we still received requests for information about this extraordinary project. Notes from the recording are below the music list.

I. Llatina

II. Provençal

III. Catalana

The Sibyl of Classical Greece is the archetypal woman as prophetess and priestess. Wise woman and vehicle for divine revelation, she also symbolises archaic woman, bringing together many of the attributes which in ancient times were embodied in the mother goddesses of the Paleolithic and the Magna Maters of Eastern and Greco–Roman antiquity, such as Isis, Ixtar, Demeter and Atargatis.

The figure of the oracle of the Erythrean Sibyl in the second century BC, foretelling the advent of a golden age of mankind ushered in by the birth of a child, the son of a virgin mother, was used by Christianity to proclaim the second coming of the Messiah. The tradition of performing the Song of the Sibyl at Christmas seems to have had its musical origins in 9th–10th centuries (Saint Martial de Limoges). Although the apocalyptic visions expressed in it are searingly tragic, the music is magical and full of harmony: the beginning of each verse opens on an interval of an ascending fifth, creating in us a meditative mood as we listen to the sacred, spherical story.

For centuries, the Song of the Sibyl was traditionally sung by the oneiric voice of a young boy. This was because women were forbidden by the Church Fathers to sing in places of worship, with the exception of female monasteries. The result of this ban was that the prophetic female figure who proclaimed the message was lost to us. The patriarchal nature of the Church thus deprived women of the opportunity to act as vehicles of the divine word. Thanks to this ancient song, however, the light of the Delphic, Persian, Libyan, Cumean, Erythrean, Samian, Cuman, Hellespontine, Phrygian and Tiburtine Sibyls continues to live on in the female voice and figure.

In addition to her dimensions of wisdom and mysticism, the Sibyl has yet another profound and timely resonance: her ecological message. The Sibyl’s devastating words are dramatically relevant today, speaking as they do of the destruction of the planet, of mankind’s lack of respect for the vanishing natural world and of the brutality that has led man to regard nature as a machine.  Never has the voice of the Sibyl, expressing anguish and fear for the threatened life of our mother earth, been more prophetic than it is today.


Translated by Jacqueline Minett


CD Info

CD AVSA9879.